cookie dough (thenewbuzwuzz) wrote,
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I'm still not over the fairytale references in "West of the Moon, East of the Sun"

Remember when I wanted to make a mood board for WotM,EotS, but got distracted by the intertextuality and made something more like a list of references in picture form? Well, at minimal prompting from dancingdragon3 over at myth_fan, I threw together a post about the fairytale references and parallels in the fic that distracted me. I violently dislike how disjointed and incomplete this post is (and, also, it did the thing where it sounds like a draft for a school assignment), but if you're prepared to wade through it, I'd love to know what other WotM,EotS readers think about all the varied fairytaleness. I'm certain there's a lot that other people have noticed or remembered about WotM,EotS and I haven't!

Links to fic

Here's some of the plot of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", the Norwegian fairy-tale, courtesy of this fairy-tale's Wikipedia page. "The White Bear approaches a poor peasant and asks if he will give him his prettiest and youngest daughter; in return, the bear will make the man rich. The girl is reluctant, so the peasant asks the bear to return, and in the meantime, persuades her. The White Bear takes her off to a rich and enchanted castle. At night, he takes off his bear form in order to come to her bed as a man, although the lack of light means that she never sees him.
When she grows homesick, the bear agrees that she might go home as long as she agrees that she will never speak with her mother alone.. ..her mother insists that the White Bear must really be a troll, gives her some candles, and tells her to light them at night, to see what is sharing her bed.
The youngest daughter obeys, and finds he is a highly attractive prince, but she spills three drops of the melted tallow on him, waking him. He tells her that if she held out a year, he would have been free, but now he must go to his wicked stepmother, who enchanted him into this shape and lives in a castle east of the sun and west of the moon, and marry her hideous daughter, a troll princess.
In the morning, the youngest daughter finds that the palace has vanished. She sets out in search of him. Coming to a great mountain, she finds an old woman playing with a golden apple. The youngest daughter asks if she knows the way to the castle east of the sun and west of the moon. The old woman cannot tell her, but lends the youngest daughter a horse to reach a neighbor who might know, and gives her the apple. The neighbor ..does not know the way.., but lends the youngest daughter a horse to reach a neighbor who might know, and gives her the carding-comb. The third neighbor.. lends the youngest daughter a horse to reach the East Wind and gives her the spinning wheel.
The East Wind.. takes her to the West Wind. The West Wind does the same, bringing her to the South Wind; the South Wind does the same, bringing her to the North Wind. The North Wind.. takes her there.
[Some stuff that doesn't seem relevant to the fic] The prince and his bride free the prisoners captive in the castle, take the gold and silver within, and leave the castle east of the sun and west of the moon."

1. The set of fairy-tales that KnifeEdge has used fits Spuffy wonderfully. It’s mostly "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" , related to the story of Cupid and Psyche, which KnifeEdge mentioned in the final author’s note and which is also referenced in the Wikipedia article I just linked). The obvious reason why this is so great is the Beauty and the Beast aspect with Spike starting out as a monster. But trust is also a central theme in these fairytales – the characters create it, break it, rebuild it - and so do Spuffy, both in canon and in the fic.

2. So the fic is pretty much built on a fairytale, and it really reads like a huge, epic, marvellous fairytale (although there’s plenty of mundane stuff mixed in). There's a real sense of wonder and big binding, destiny-shaping magic, and outlandish adventures that I loved. I felt the fairy tale vibe most of all when Buffy went on a quest to the winter dimension and various helpers gave her significant items. In a sequence of four chapters (“The East Wind”, “The West Wind” and so on), Buffy met previous Slayers, Drusilla, and Spike's mother, who showed her aspects of Spike that she needed to understand and accept in order to continue the journey. Buffy got a token of passing each of these challenges – Spike's coat, Xin Rong’s sword, a railroad spike, and a song that Spike’s mother loved. I love the hell out of the fact that KnifeEdge made these mystical talismans out of Spike's history. (The pattern actually started in the human world. Xander gave Buffy some camping supplies, survivalist handbooks, and his lucky charm from “The Replacement”, and Willow and Tara charmed a necklace for her so it would light up, let her find Spike and find her way home and let her become unnoticeable and unfindable.)

3. It's not JUST the fairytales. All sorts of wintery and Northern creatures show up in Sunnydale. The mare, Krampus, Jack Frost, Svartalfar in the winter world… I think the mare was especially awesome. We got to see it attack waking people, too (I guess it would resort to that if someone tries to, you know, slay it).

4. Giles thinks the Northern monsters are migrating in because of the drop in temperature, and if that's not awesome fantasy worldbuilding, I don't know what is. (He turns out to be wrong, but still.)

5. The winter creatures don't only have an ecology, some of them also have a culture and religion. A way into the story, the Scoobies find out Jack Frost belongs to a certain race of demons that worship Hel. And Jack mistakes the hell goddess that comes to Sunnydale for Hel, and that's why he serves her. Complex motivations for minor bads, yayy!

6. It's season 5, but there's no Dawn and no Glory, BUT it is still remarkably season-5-shaped . The mare replaces the Queller demon SEAMLESSLY. There's also opportunity for Spike to say “It’s always blood” and also to get tortured by a hell goddess while resisting her plan to hurt Buffy and those she cares for. That's because there's a hell goddess! I don't want to mention her name, because the suspense is a big deal in the fic (kind of like with Glory, actually), but she's winter-related and older than Hel. Speaking of building fantastical elements on canon, "shut up, Spike" will NEVER sound the same.

7. There's deep winter in Sunnydale, Buffy bundling up in the warmest gear that will still let her slay, and a Spuffy snowfight. This was just damn cute.

8. There's poetry, which always makes Spuffy better. In this story, it continues some themes and images that also appear in other ways, like the ying/yang imagery with Spike as the moon to Buffy's sun. Also, "dead can dance" (e.e.cummings reference) really is a pretty good description of Spike.

9. What made me happiest of all: it's not just a fusion with one fairytale plot, it's a bunch of them, all reinforcing the themes from different angles AND making a reread like an Easter egg hunt.
From “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, there's the POLAR BEAR (Jaws) that helps Buffy and Spike escape the hell dimension. So much bear goodness! It worked wonderfully with Spike’s strong feelings about bears (“Pangs”). In “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, the bear is the bridegroom; here, the bear turned out to be Spike’s spirit guide (like Buffy’s mountain lion in “Intervention”). I just noticed that Buffy's insistence they *freed* the bear, not stole it, echoes the ending of the fairy-tale.
I really love that Buffy nicknamed her mystery vampire Mr. Gordo, thus joking about sharing a bed with an animal. At least one of the fairy-tales of this type does involve a pig as the mysterious bridegroom (“The Enchanted Pig”, thanks, Wikipedia).
Given that all this is going on, when Buffy told Spike she loved him and he lost his game face, all I could think of was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (which is based on a French fairytale, of course).

10. In the imagery and themes of the fic, there are countless versions of yin/yang motifs. Sun/moon, fire/ice, love/hate, human/monster, Slayer/Vampire. Spuffy complement each other and become stronger together. (There’s a ritual towards the end of the fic that is all about this. Not exactly a claim.) Since the big bad of the fic was going to tip the world into perpetual winter, but Buffy and Spike thwarted her plan and restored normal weather, it's almost like a Spuffy solstice story. Thanks to Vampire/Slayer love and understanding, the warmth will return after winter and the world will go on...

There's more stuff I could babble about, like whether or not the not-a-claim ritual has any significant resemblance to the wedding of Eros and Psyche, and how neat it is that Psyche means Soul, and stuff from the synopsis that has obvious ties to the plot of the fic (Willow as the distrustful mother), but I might never stop, and also, the phone already ate one draft and is now refusing to do backspace, so this is what you get. End babble.

Now that you know some of what went through my head...

the it 4 reals.JPG

“COOL DATE IDEA” Tumblr post by peach94 and nobodyontheice (used both at the top and bottom of the board):
Yummy Sushi pajamas:
Mr. Gordo: buffyfannumerouno on SlayAlive forums
“shut up” hearts drawing:
“Checkpoint” and “Touched” screencaps from
Shut mouth:
Moon&Sun necklace by Hairy Growler (second photo)
Tale as Old as Time by TheLagunaCollection on Etsy
Eros and Psyche via Pinterest (supposedly by David Vance)
Campfire photo by Elena Shumilova via
“East of the Sun, West of the Moon” fairytale illustration by William Stout via
Spiral staircase photo by Tom via
Icy cave photo by John Mitchell via
Polar bear tracks photo by Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir and/or Mark Wilson via

Tags: fic recs, mythology, spuffy
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Well, I loved it. But I'm biased.

Also, hi!

I commented over there, but I'll add here: if you have any questions about the story or about any of the details you picked up on, feel free to ask.
Hey. :)
Oh, um, okay, do you have any comments on why the fairytale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" spoke to you, out of the wide world of similarly themed stories out there? Maybe you'd like to talk about any myth stuff that you hadn't originally planned to include but that fell into place while writing? (At least, that's how I imagine it would go. I have no idea how one plans and executes something of that sheer size, plus, with two viewpoints on the same timeline AND nods to multiple outside sources.)
Hmmm. I guess the story partially came out of having (at that time) recently re-reading the original fairy tale. I've always liked fairy tale retellings, and I've always been drawn to that particular one. It used to be Beauty and the Beast that was my favorite, until I discovered East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I particularly liked that the heroine in EotS is very active. It's not just declaring her love for the prince that breaks the curse, she has to go on adventures and seek help and do something that's deemed to be impossible in order to undo her mistake. Like Psyche venturing into Hell, and ultimately being granted deification so that she can be with Eros. It's one of the very few fairy tales where the heroine is the active HERO. I'd recently read Edith Pattou's novel "East" (which is a retelling of the story), and been binge watching Buffy. I think the two ideas kind of just melded together in my head.

As you said, the theme of developing love through trust was a major building block of the story. The "monstrous" bridegroom and the reluctant but heroic girl sort of naturally fit into any vampire/human love story, too. Everyone does Beauty and the Beast, though, and I wanted something that would be more surprising and also that felt -- not like Spuffy shoehorned into a fairytale (with Buffy in puffy dresses and Spike as a platinum blonde beast) -- but like actual canon that happened to fit into a fairytale storyline.

And the funny thing was, the more I looked at it, the more I could see the world of Buffy slotting into the fairy tale's outline. Season Five, in particular, with Spike at his most malleable -- learning that he's in love with Buffy, and Buffy learning to trust him, really fell in with what I was trying to write. There were even elements that I really wanted to keep, because they fit: Olaf and Anya, for instance, really lent themselves to a story focusing on Scandinavian folklore. But if I was going to delve that deeply into Season 5, I had to figure out what to do about Glory. Can't have competing hell demons, so in the end I decided to just replace her with one of my own making. But that meant that there was no need for Dawn, since Dawn's entire existence in Buffy's life was a result of Glory. I know some people were super stoked to see me write Dawn out, but I kind of like her as a character so ... I guess that's my one small regret.

Once I made that decision, though, everything sort of slotted into place. I've honestly never written something that came together as fluidly as this story did. Every time I'd hit a new episode, I could see how it fit into the overall story arc, and how minor pieces of canon could become part of it. Willow as the distrustful mother (although really it's all the Scoobies and Giles who fulfill that function), people from Spike's past becoming the winds, the talismans, all of it just ... fit. I did a lot of research on different Scandinavian mythological creatures and even they started to fall in seamlessly. The Mare replacing the queller, the Svartalfar replacing Glory's minions, Olaf remaining Olaf the Troll-God, Spike's fear of bears. It kind of all just worked? I honestly think I managed to work in just about everything I had originally planned on putting in, mythology wise.

The one piece you skimmed out of the Wikipedia summary, though, as not feeling relevant ... I'd argue that's not entirely true. In the original fairy tale, the girl "wins" because she can do something the troll queen cannot, something that's very basic and easy and human to do. I'll admit that I stretched this concept a bit, but it comes back to Buffy's "gift" -- love is pain, Buffy is full of love, and that gives her a strength that cannot, in the end, be beaten. She's still willing to sacrifice herself out of love for not just someone -- in this case, Spike instead of Dawn -- but for the world. It's something that the villain cannot understand or do.

That was all fairly long-winded, and I'm not even positive I answered your question. I have a head cold, though, so we can blame any incoherency on that. :)
This is fascinating, thank you!
"I particularly liked that the heroine in EotS is very active. It's not just declaring her love for the prince that breaks the curse, she has to go on adventures and seek help and do something that's deemed to be impossible in order to undo her mistake." Yes, that's an awesome thing! And particularly suitable for Buffy, because by season 5 she's really much better at doing than saying the words. Also, it makes sense you'd need to make an actual effort if you want something important to happen.

"not like Spuffy shoehorned into a fairytale (with Buffy in puffy dresses and Spike as a platinum blonde beast) -- but like actual canon that happened to fit into a fairytale storyline"
Oh, yes. I think this makes the difference between "ooh, neat" and "WOW!!!". :D The fairytale doesn't constrict canon, it... just brings slightly different things into focus? After all, s5 wasn't primarily a romantic love story - though, OMG, I think I just really got what you said about love and Buffy sacrificing herself for Dawn/Spike/world. It's like the fairytale was already within canon and you brought it out.

I like Dawn, too! But I think I somehow didn't even notice she wasn't there when I first started reading. It's not like there was a Dawn-shaped hole...

Damn, if I'd found time to reread the fairytale and maybe read Apuleius, and reread the fic paying attention to the right things, and stop to think, and word things precisely... that would be more like what this story deserves. But I'm glad you liked hearing my thoughts anyway, and I loved hearing yours.

Get well! :)