Short Stories 366:223 — “A Scent of Roses,” by Catherine Lundoff

coverIf you’ve been around this blog at all in the last few years, you know I love a queer re-telling. I love writing them (I try to do one every holiday season, even, a tradition I started with my retelling of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), and I adore reading them. It’s not difficult to understand the allure: the vast, vast majority of the stories we’re told are incredibly not-queer, so queering those stories feels like setting the balance back just a tiny bit, and saying ‘we are here, we always were here, and that legend can include us.’ So, I’m always down for a retelling, and “A Scent of Roses” from Catherine Lundoff’s Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories takes the Tam Lin legend and gives it a lovely queer denouement.

And it is a denouement, in that the events of Tam Lin have happened. Burd Janet has won against the Fairy Queen, yes, but now she’s finding her life with the rescued Tam Lin to be… well. It’s not great, is what I’m saying. It’s not terrible, but imagine what it might be like to be married to someone who has seen the splendour of the fairy world, and now has to farm. Only the fairy world has left him “odd” and the cows don’t like him, and the daily drudgery is borderline impossible to bear, and so Burd Janet is doing all the world, Tam Lin is basically a drunkard, and all-in-all, Burd Janet is not having the happy ending she thought she was in for.

The reappearance of the Fairy Queen is the catalyst of this story, but it’s Burd Janet’s realization of her feelings about the Fairy Queen—and what she might be willing to do to live a different life than the one she has apparently been given—that queer this tale up a few notches and not only sets a new tone for the legend as a whole, but to my mind gives Janet something much, much closer to her due. I mean, the woman faced off against the Fairy Queen. She deserves something a mite more impressive than a handsome fella with barely any functional skills, no?

I asked the author where the idea for this one came from, and I love her take:

I’ve always loved the ballad “Tam Lin,” but I never thought Tam was a great match for Burd Janet. I mean, she’s mortal, pregnant and basically defenseless and goes up against the Queen of Air and Darkness anyway? So I wrote my own story about her.

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