Oct 26, 2013

Don't Look Behind the Bookshelf: Day 9

Dont Look Behind 
the Bookshelf
Welcome to Day 9 of Don't Look Behind the Bookshelf, you cursed creatures. (You can see yesterday's post here.) You have braved being behind the bookshelf for nine days now, crouching in the dust and spiders and bones. Since you have been so brave, you are getting another reward. Princes and princesses, please bow and curtsy for...


Rosamund is the author of Cruel Beauty, which releases next year. The book is based on Beauty and the Beast, but with some twists of the Greek mythology variety. So it's only fitting that, in a world full of enchantment, Rosamund shares her...

Top Three Favorite Curses

1. The House of Atreus
I've always been a big fan of cursed families, where you have a hard time figuring out what's the curse and what's the just the result of growing up in a really awful family. And of all the awful, cursed families in myth and legend, the House of Atreus is one of the most impressive.

To begin with, there was Tantalus, a king who was on such good terms with the gods that one evening they came to his house for a banquet. Unfortunately, Tantalus wanted to cook the gods something completely amazing and unique. So he chopped up his son Pelops and served him with gravy. The gods were not amused; after restoring Pelops to life they condemned Tantalus to an eternity of suffering in the Underworld: he would stand knee-deep in water that flowed away whenever he tried to drink, while a branch of fruit hung just out of reach above his head. And this is (for real) where we get the world "tantalize."

Pelops was a much nicer man than his father, except for that one time when he killed his rival who was also seeking to marry the beautiful princess Hippodamia. The rival cursed Pelops as he died--and that curse certainly delivered. Pelops married Hippodamia, but his sons, Thyestes and Atreus, fought over the throne of Mycenae. Atreus won and exiled Thyestes--but then he found out that, sometime during all the fighting, Thyestes had found time to sleep with Atreus's wife.

So Atreus invited Thyestes home for a banquet of reconciliation, where he served him a beautiful platter of meat that turned out to be Thyestes's two sons.

(The cannibalism revenge ploy turns up multiple times in Greek mythology. Seriously: never, ever trust a Greek bearing meatloaf.)

Thyestes wanted revenge. He went to consult an oracle, who told him the best method was to have a son with his daughter. So he did. That son was Aegisthus, who a few decades later killed Atreus.

But meanwhile, Atreus's son Agamemnon--yes, that Agamemnon--had grown up, become King of Mycenae, and joined the Trojan War. (Because Agamemnon's brother was that Menelaus, who wanted his runaway wife back.) They were all ready to launch their thousand ships, except there was one problem: no wind. It turned out that they had offended the goddess Artemis.

So Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigeneia. Artemis was pacified, the winds blew, the fleet sailed. Everybody was happy except for Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra, who was kind of upset about her daughter being murdered. When Aegisthus turned up in Mycenae, she had a marvelous idea for revenge: have a torrid affair with Aegisthus and kill Agamemnon when he came home. She sewed him a special bathrobe that was actually a straitjacket, and once Agamemnon was immobilized, she hacked him to pieces with an axe.

Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then lived happily ever after . . . until Agamemnon's son Orestes grew up. Orestes was faced with a terrible dilemma: in ancient Greek culture, if your father was murdered, you had a duty to avenge him. Let your father's murderer live, and you were the scum of the earth. But if you killed your mother, you were also the scum of the earth.

Orestes picked the "vengeance" horn of the dilemma. He killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Immediately, the Furies--the goddesses of vengeance--pursued him across Greece and drove him mad.

But there is a happy ending! Orestes finally took refuge in Athens, where the goddess Athena organized a trial. A jury of Athenian citizens ruled that Orestes was not guilty, the Furies were pacified, and the curse was finally broken on the House of Atreus.

2. The Ring of the Nibelung
Sometimes a curse isn't on a family or a person. Sometimes it's on an object. Lots of people still get hurt, though. That's what happens in Wagner's famous opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung.

There's a lump of gold that's hidden at the bottom of the Rhine and guarded by the beautiful Rhinemaidens, because if you forswear all love then you can forge the gold into a ring that will let you rule the world. And who wants to live in a world ruled by somebody like that?

Along comes a dwarf named Alberich, and after the Rhinemaidens absolutely refuse to date him, he decides he might as well steal the gold, forswear love, forge the Ring, and rule the world. Except Wotan, king of the gods, steals the Ring from him. Alberich promptly curses the Ring: anyone who owns it will die. Wotan wants to hang onto the Ring anyway, but--luckily for him--he has to give it to the giants Fasolt and Fafner as payment for them building Valhalla. The curse immediately starts working: Fafner kills Fasolt so he can have the Ring all to himself, and he goes off to become a dragon. As you do.

Several years later, Wotan's mortal son Siegmund is wandering through the forest when he finds his long-lost and extremely attractive twin sister Sieglinde. Even though Sieglinde is already married, and (let me repeat) his twin sister, the two fall instantly in love and run away into the forest.

This is not the curse, by the way. This is just how they roll in Wotan's family.

Except for Wotan's wife Fricka: she is the goddess of marriage and not sleeping with your siblings, and she is absolutely furious. She demands that Wotan help Sieglinde's husband kill Siegmund, and Wotan reluctantly sends another one of his children--the valkyrie Brunhilde--to sabotage Siegmund in the coming battle. Except that Brunhilde gets a giant crush on Siegmund and tries to help him instead, so Wotan shatters Siegmund's spear himself. To punish Brunhilde's disobedience, Wotan strips her of her powers, puts her into an enchanted sleep, and dooms her to marry the man who wakes her. But then he relents enough to surround her with a wall of fire so that only a very brave man will wake her and force her to marry her. Because that's what loving fathers do.

Meanwhile, Siegmund and Sieglinde's son Siegfried (this family is not imaginative when it comes to names) grows up in the forest knowing nothing about, well, pretty much everything. He kills Fafner the dragon and obtains the Ring, but doesn't know it's cursed. He then finds Brunhilde, who is the first woman he's ever met, and promptly falls in love with her. Since he's amazingly strong and brave and looks just like his father, she falls in love with him right back.

In case you haven't been keeping track: Brunhilde is his aunt. This may or may not be part of the curse.

But what happens next is definitely the curse: Siegfried goes off adventuring, leaving Brunhilde with the Ring (because nothing says "I love you" like getting your girlfriend cursed), and meets a king named Gunther, who he immediately decides will be his BFF. What Siegfried doesn't know is that Gunther is not only totally evil, he's really desperate for a wife. And Gunther's sister Gutrune is really desperate for a husband. And their half-brother Hagen, who is Alberich's secret son, is desperate to carry out his father's revenge and obtain the Ring.

So Gunther, Gutrune, and Hagen give Siegfried a magic potion that makes him forget Brunhilde and fall in love with Gutrune. Gunther says he'll only let Siegfried marry Gutrune if he gets Gunther a bride too . . . like maybe this amazing ex-valkyrie who lives on a rock surrounded by fire. So Siegfried heads back to the rock and drags Brunhilde back to Gunther's hall for a double wedding.

Brunhilde isn't happy about this, and promptly demonstrates why you won't like ex-valkyries when they're angry: she conspires with Hagen to kill Siegfried. Gutrune dies of grief, Hagen kills Gunther as they fight over the Ring, and Brunhilde realizes that maybe she didn't want to kill the love of her life after all. She flings herself on Siegfried's funeral pyre, calling on the Rhinemaidens to reclaim the Ring from her ashes. Which they do, after drowning Hagen when he tries to stop them.

Meanwhile, despite the overflowing Rhine, Siegried and Brunhilde's pyre sets Valhalla on fire, and the entire world burns down. The end.

3. East of the Sun, West of the Moon
But sometimes, you have curse stories that are not about fifteen generations of blood, incest, and cannibalism; sometimes you have stories about breaking curses. One of my favorites is the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."

There's a poor peasant with a large family, and they are all starving as poor peasants' families are wont to do. One night, a great white bear turns up at their cottage and says that he will make the peasant rich if he gives him his youngest daughter (who, like so many youngest daughters of peasants, is amazingly beautiful) for a wife.

The youngest daughter is not enthusiastic about marrying a polar bear, but after her father reminds her twenty times that they're all starving, she decides to take one for the team. It turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to her: the bear takes her to a beautiful enchanted palace; when he comes to her every night, he has the form of a man. She falls in love with him and she's perfectly happy except for one thing: she misses her family.

So the bear takes her home for a visit, warning her that she must not talk to her mother when it's just the two of them. You know what that means: she ends up talking to her mother alone, and the mother wants all the hot, sexy details of her marriage, and that's when the girl reveals that she's never seen her husband's face. He doesn't allow her to have any lights in the room.

The mother tells the girl that her husband must be a troll and gives her a candle to light after he has gone to sleep. The girl gives into her doubts and lights the candle, and sees that her husband is actually a beautiful prince. But as she stares at him, three drops of tallow fall onto him from the candle, and he wakes. He sadly tells the girl that if she had trusted him for a year, he would have been free from his curse, but now he must marry the troll princess. Then he vanishes.

So the girl sets off on an epic quest for the troll palace, which she only knows is "east of the sun and west of the moon." After many trials, she reaches the palace and finds out there are only three nights left until the wedding. Using treasures she gained on her journey, she bargains to be allowed to sit beside the prince for those three nights. On the first two nights, he sleeps through her visits because the troll princess drugs him; but on the third night, he refuses to drink, and so he's awake when the girl comes in. Together they hatch a plan: he will tell the troll princess that he's taken a vow to marry only the woman who can wash the three drops of tallow out of his shirt. It's impossible for trolls to wash a shirt clean; when the troll princess realizes this, she explodes from fury, and the prince and the girl head home happily together.

If you think this story is vaguely familiar, that's because it's a mad fusion of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" with the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The first time I read it, it was like a bomb going off in my brain, because I'd never connected those two stories before, but suddenly it seemed obvious that they were all part of one whole. And that was one of the things that led me to write my novel Cruel Beauty.

Beauty or the Beast?
Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: January 28, 2014
Pages: 352
Goodreads Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

it's enchanting
“A completely engrossing tale.” — Alex Flinn, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of BEASTLY and TOWERING
“A dazzling and clever retelling, CRUEL BEAUTY is delightfully dark, lushly romantic, and utterly spellbinding. I adored it, and can’t wait to read Hodge’s next novel!” — Sarah J. Maas, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series
“What a stunning debut. This is a book you will want to read as fast as you can for the intricate plot and as slowly as you can to savor the gorgeous world-building and the ravishing love story.” — Sherry Thomas, author of THE BURNING SKY

The Cruel Creator
Rosamund Hodge loves mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. Her debut novel, Cruel Beauty (a YA fairytale fantasy, where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast), is due out from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins in Winter 2014.

Website Twitter Facebook

Up for Enchantment?
Thank you once again for stopping by Don't Look Behind the Bookshelf! I hope you learned a little bit about curses and remember to follow Rosamund on the web and check out out her book when it releases. Cruel Beauty is sure to be deliciously cruel, especially for fans of its inspiration.

If you're up for more of Don't Look Behind the Bookshelf--just a few days left!--then be sure to come back tomorrow. The post and author is guaranteed to be extra Halloween-y. We all like costumes, right?

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