Thursday, June 9, 2011


by Allison Pang

"When I was alive, I believed--as you do--that time was at least as real and solid as myself, and probably more so. I said 'one o'clock' as though I could see it, and 'Monday' as though I could find it on the map; and I let myself be hurried along from minute to minute, day to day, year to year, as though I were actually moving from one place to another. Like everyone else, I lived in a house bricked up with seconds and minutes, weekends and New Year's Days, and I never went outside until I died, because there was no other door. Now I know that I could have walked through the walls."

~~ Peter. S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

I take my influences where I can get them and there's very little out there that *hasn't* influenced me in one way or another. Like Jeffe, I was an early reader - I don't remember my first books, but I was reading the newspaper aloud to my mother by the age of five. By fourth grade, I was reading full fledged adult fantasy novels. By sixth grade I was reading Clan of the Cave Bear. It was not unheard of for me to stay up and read over 600 pages in a single night in high school.

Not to brag my about my reading prowess - I suspect most writers are early readers. In some ways, I think we have to be - we have to know what it is that moves us in order to produce something that moves our readers. (Good or bad - a reaction is a reaction, thanks.)

My influences are many - music, for example is a big one - it can trigger memories I'd squashed for ages or literally flavor an event forever. (The soundtrack of my life, perhaps? It's rather large and eclectic and varied, the way it should be.) Movies, of course - for a while there, I was obsessed with The Terminator. Or Aliens. (I can still probably recite 90% of both of them - they were on heavy rotation during my high school years, anyway.)

If I took a gander at the two pieces that influenced me in all three spheres, one would have to be The Last Unicorn. The book as a whole is a yearly read, and has been for over 25 years. I first saw the movie on VHS for a birthday party when I was in 2nd grade (1982, I think?) and watched it over and over. I recorded it on my little hand held tape recorder  and listed to it in its entirety almost every single night for months after that. (Yeah, okay, I admit I was a tad obsessive. And broken.) And eventually I found a copy of the soundtrack (only produced in Germany, who knew?) I own three copies of the DVD - two in blue ray (the latest release should be the final, cleaned up/uncensored version. Finally.) Yes, I can probably recite it word for word in its entirety, even today.

But the craft of the writing is some of the best I've ever seen. There is a poetic rhythm to the sentences and turns of phrase that should be ridiculous, but aren't. For a "modern day" fairy tale, it contains some of the most poignant moments of literature that I've ever read. If I pay a bit of homage to the unicorn with a certain diminutive version of my own, it's only because I knew I'd never be able to write the real thing.

The other piece would be the original Little Mermaid. Not the Disney version - but the one full of all that pain and suffering and sacrifice.

Then the little mermaid raised her lovely white arms, stood on the tips of her toes, and glided over the floor, and danced as no one yet had been able to dance. At each moment her beauty became more revealed, and her expressive eyes appealed more directly to the heart than the songs of the slaves. Every one was enchanted, especially the prince, who called her his little foundling; and she danced again quite readily, to please him, though each time her foot touched the floor it seemed as if she trod on sharp knives.

~~ Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

Even though that's a translation, I still find it terribly beautiful and heartbreaking every single time I read it. (And I have several editions). Both stories have all the elements of things I love - adventure, sacrifice, a Quest, romance, loss and hope. And yes, that's why there's mermaid imagery in BoD. (Write what you know and all that, right?)

When it comes down to it,  both stories are really about very lonely people searching for the thing they think will make them happy.

And that's pretty telling, too.


  1. What a beautiful post. I've never read either story, but I definitely have to find them and read them now. Thank you.

  2. Lovely stories. THE LAST UNICORN and WATERSHIP DOWN are forever associated in my memory as the most beautiful modern fairy tales.

  3. I agree, Laura - loved both of those. Got copies on my shelves!

  4. The *original* Little Mermaid tale might be the first time I was angry at a hero. Now, I'm just angry at Disney for ruining the moral of the story.