And A Gun Named Rose Red
November 20, 2013 8:45 AM   Subscribe

"I did not see the appeal of a wife. We had never had one before. She would not be half as interesting as our buffalo." Read a lengthy excerpt from Catherynne Valente's Six-Gun Snow White, an adaptation of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 709 fairy tale as a campfire story set in the American west.
posted by The Whelk (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Valente's writing makes me so happy. Thanks!
posted by Lemmy Caution at 8:52 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looking forward to this!
posted by slothhog at 8:55 AM on November 20, 2013


In the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, cowboy author Eli Cash's meltdown on television is precipitated by a question about his failed novel "Wildcat." He founders to explain its failure, saying "Wildcat was written in kind of an obsolete vernacular," and then making the sounds of a gun clicking and firing before walking off the set.

But that wasn't it's failure. Cash's biggest success, "Old Custer," which, as Cash smirkingly explains, presupposes Custer didn't die at the battle of Little Big Horn, is written entirely in obsolete vernacular, as demonstrated when he reads from it:

"The crickets and the rust beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. 'Vamanos, amigos, ' he whispered, and threw the busted-leather flint craw over the loose weave of the saddle cock and they rode on in the friscalating dusk light."

I don't know what was wrong with "Wildcat," but I always wanted to read something written entirely in obsolete cowboy vernacular. As it turns out, it's just as fun as I hoped.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's some serious friscalating going on in that excerpt. Fun stuff.

It's funny — I've got this clear impression of "how cowboys talked" but it's formed entirely based on modern fiction set in the old west. I always find myself wondering how close to accurate it is. (Likewise for pirates.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:13 AM on November 20, 2013


Maybe she never wakes up. More likely than anything else, really. You can't kiss a girl into anything.*


* From my copy, dunno if it's in the link, but it might be my favorite line in this piece.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Catherynne Valente, but this novel was kinda meh after all was said and done. Great in theroy and I was into it all the way until the end when it just kinda... I don't know... fizzled.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:23 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny — I've got this clear impression of "how cowboys talked" but it's formed entirely based on modern fiction set in the old west.

There is some of this -- the wonderful book Warlock, by Oakley Hall, is written entirely in a sort of parody of this sort of speech, a western dime novel by way of the Coen Brothers. I've read entries from historical western journals and autobiographical texts, though, and they could get surprisingly flowery. There was a long tradition of tall-tale-telling and hyperbolic boastfulness, as well as a lot of unexpected slang and idioms, and all of it tends to pop up at surprising moments.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:37 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


" ... it just kinda... I don't know... fizzled."

I totally agree, WalkerWestridge.

But I'm still completely looking forward to reading "The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two", which just came in the mail.
posted by kyrademon at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunny — Yeah, Warlock is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about! And I imagine it's not totally inaccurate.

It's just funny that most of us who read that sort of thing aren't in a position to gauge its accuracy the way you are.

So I'm all "Ooh yes this sounds Very Authentic" and what I really mean is "Sounds like Warlock" or "Sounds like Deadwood" or "Sounds like Gabby Hayes" or some combination of the three. And actually I wasn't even born yet when people were still writing western stories or making western movies, so in fact I get this stuff third-hand — really, my biggest source is probably Saturday morning cartoons and Blazing Saddles and whatnot making fun of how people talked in western movies.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:10 AM on November 20, 2013


The question of "how did people actually speak?" in any era predating portable recording devices seems to me a strictly unanswerable one. The most we can say is "these are some representations from the period that purport to capture actual modes of speech"--but we have absolutely no way of verifying those portrayals or of deciding who is more or less likely to have captured something close to real speech with any accuracy.

Historical dramas set in the C19th or C18th often seem (where there's any attempt at historical accuracy at all) to be taking their cues either from the dialogue in novels of the period or from letter writing in the period, but there's really no reason to expect conversational speech to have adhered to the conventions of letter writing (a highly artificial and very consciously constructed discursive practice) or of novel dialogue. Of course, you do have deliberate attempts to convey the vernacular, usually in portrayals of working class characters (think Dickens's London lowlifes) but those, too, are highly conventionalized and its entirely unclear how much is an accurate reflection of real speech patterns and how much is simply genre convention.
posted by yoink at 10:23 AM on November 20, 2013


I teach a course on fairy tales -- filing this away as a possible story for adaptation/different versions week. Thanks!
posted by naturalog at 10:50 AM on November 20, 2013


Old Custer.
posted by LionIndex at 10:59 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The question of "how did people actually speak?" in any era predating portable recording devices seems to me a strictly unanswerable one.

That's an excellent point. Writing has its own idioms and learned behavior, and it can be awfully hard to get it to accurately represent speech. The best we can say is that some writing, like Mark Twain's, read the way people of the era thought they sounded.

That being said, we do have some recordings of people who were alive at the time of the wild west. For instance, you can hear Buffalo Bill speak here. This presents its own problems -- there was an American tradition of oratory and theater that would have affected a prepared speech, particularly from a practiced entertainer like Cody, and so only a documentary recording would have preserved the real sounds of cowboy speech. And there wasn't much by way of documentary audiorecording back then.

We can determine whether certain expressions and idioms are historically accurate, and if they are put into quotes in news stories and the like, it's a fair bet people actually said them. I'd actually be quite curious to do this sort of forensic research into cowboy speech, but I don't think I have the skillz.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:19 AM on November 20, 2013


Valente's writing is often interesting, though honestly really uneven - her attempts at dialect outside her norm - which I would say is sort of a "Rudyard-Kipling-meets-fairytales" - fail so miserably, but when she's writing to her strengths it's very, very good. So I hated the entire first "chapter" of this, but the rest seemed interesting.
posted by corb at 11:25 AM on November 20, 2013


I had a very hard time getting through Valente's The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. It devolved into a cast of random characters showing up and a string of random events. It reminded me of why I don't like Alice in Wonderland, which is pretty much that I like my fantasy with minimal whimsy. I have a copy of Six-Gun Snow White and after reading this excerpt, I will give it a try.
posted by soelo at 12:41 PM on November 20, 2013


I don't care for her The Girl Who ... series, but Deathless and Palimpsest are amazing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:18 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I'm still completely looking forward to reading "The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two", which just came in the mail.

kyrademon, Its AWESOME!!!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:57 PM on November 20, 2013


The question of "how did people actually speak?" in any era predating portable recording devices seems to me a strictly unanswerable one.

For the nineteenth century, at least, we've got plenty of great evidence about how people talked. Between Dickens, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and James Joyce, I think it's pretty easy to get a sense of the difference between how people in a variety of places and demographics spoke. Because at the very least, writers of that era were trying to convey a sense of realism, depicting character through dialogue, etc.

We also have piles and piles of personal correspondence, diaries, telegrams, journalism, and written ephemera from everyday people, who, while if they were educated the grammar on paper may not have matched what they'd have said in casual speech, it's still possible to get a pretty good sense of what Nineteenth Century English sounded like.

Definitely, as compared to Shakespearean English, or Classical Greek, or the like, we can make some pretty good guesses.
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was pretty well fascinated by the tone of voice of this one. It was downright hypnotic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:27 PM on November 20, 2013


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