"He gazed at the sky. Hannah went back to thinning carrots."
October 11, 2020 5:27 PM   Subscribe

"The Dryad’s Shoe" by Ursula Vernon (as T. Kingfisher) is a fun Cinderella retelling about a girl who has zero desire to attend a ball.
It is not much use being angry when you are eleven years old, because a grown-up will always explain to you why you are wrong to feel that way and very likely you will have to apologize to someone for it, so Hannah sat on the edge of the raised bed and drummed her heels and thought fixedly about when the next sowing of beets would have to be planted.
posted by brainwane (28 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Every time I read an Ursula Vernon story I'm like, this is it, this is exactly how I want to be able to write, and then I stare at it trying to absorb its power of storytelling into my brain cells. Haven't gotten it yet.
posted by Cozybee at 5:50 PM on October 11, 2020 [11 favorites]

The bird beamed as encouragingly as something with a small, immobile beak can beam.

That was delightful!! Thank you.
posted by katecholamine at 6:04 PM on October 11, 2020

Wonderful story, and full of wonderful observations tossed off very casually:
Hannah did not have any difficulty interacting with people; she just had little interest in doing so. She went to the village school long enough to learn to read, but never particularly embraced it, except insomuch as there were herbals and almanacs to be read. People in books tended to do very dramatic (or very holy) things and none of them, while trampling their enemies or falling in love or being overcome on the road to Damascus, ever stopped to notice what was growing along the sides of the road.
for example.
posted by jamjam at 6:24 PM on October 11, 2020

So much respect for Ursula Vernon. Wow.

I've read the entirety of Digger several times now, and it always gets me... gets me... it just gets me, okay?

And I was literally telling someone fifteen minutes ago that I think they'd like A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking.

Thanks so much for this!
posted by atavistech at 6:26 PM on October 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

Oooh, did not realize that she was the author of Digger, which I loved!

This is delightful. Brainwane, your FPPs are *chef kiss*
posted by bunderful at 6:56 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love this and I don't know if I would've come across it otherwise so thank you, brainwane!
posted by vegartanipla at 7:17 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is one of my favourite of her short stories, many of which are collected in some anthologies.

I also recommend Toad Words and The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight.
posted by jeather at 7:31 PM on October 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is a delight. Her omnivorous sourdough starter and The Luggage should have a movie together.

One's a bucket of bubbling dough. One is a homicidal trunk case. When they're on a mission, stay out of their way!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:07 PM on October 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

That was WONDERFUL, thank you.
posted by centrifugal at 9:40 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just excellent.
posted by freethefeet at 11:16 PM on October 11, 2020

That is delightful. I love it and am looking forward to reading it to my daughter. Definitely going to read more of Vernon / Kingfisher's work. Thank you so much!
posted by pipstar at 3:52 AM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

um.. i did not know digger. i have been reading digger for HOURS. i suspect there are several more hours in front of me. what have you done?
posted by Clowder of bats at 3:54 AM on October 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I've been binging Ursula Vernon books and stories lately, but I hadn't seen this one -- once again, thank you brainwane! For those who are not already deeply in love with l'oeuvre de Vernon, please also check out the following, all available to read for free online:
- Nebula-winning short story Jackalope Wives and Hugo-nominated novelette The Tomato Thief, in which the extremely competent Grandma Harken tends her garden and takes care of business in a delightful weird West world.
- Summer in Orcus, a novel in which 11 year old Summer makes a deal with Baba Yaga.
- Digger, a webcomic that you should read without knowing anything about it.
posted by ourobouros at 8:53 AM on October 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

I feel many people here might enjoy finding out that if you support Ursula on Patreon for $5/mo, you get all of her self-pubbed books (as T. Kingfisher, mostly) for no additional cost. She just posts the links to the files! It's the BEST THING EVER. Honestly I support a bunch of people on Patreon and this is the one that I get the most actual return from. There are like five or six novels and a short story collection available to Patrons now, it's so worth it.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 AM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Ursula Vernon is a national treasure and makes the world a better place through her presence and her art.
posted by tdismukes at 9:06 AM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you feel like scaring the hell out of yourself, I strongly recommend “The Twisted Ones” under her T. Kingfisher name. It’s SO GOOD and scared me so badly I couldn’t walk in front of our kitchen window (which has no blinds) after dark for a couple days for fear of what I’d see outside.
posted by skycrashesdown at 11:41 AM on October 12, 2020

Thank you so much for this post, and for the recommendation of A WIZARD'S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING. It was so delightful-- thrilling, with great characterization, lots of heart and many laugh-out-loud moments. I binge read it in a day, and then I subscribed to the Patreon so I could get all her free books (thank you restless_nomad). I can't wait to read all of them!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 4:12 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Once you've finished The Twisted Ones, The Hollow Places will fill that void.

Vernon's practical heroes don't give me hope so much as take away the hopelessness. Even the horror (I hate horror) is comforting.
posted by JawnBigboote at 6:07 PM on October 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Long-time Ursula fan here. While I liked The Twisted Ones, it didn't seriously scare me (probably because I live in a city and haven't spent much time in wilderness lately or among trees after dark).

On the other hand, I'm partway through The Hollow Places and got seriously creeped out the other morning on a walk through my neighborhood at the sight of a semi-decrepit school bus. Consider yourself warned. (In my defense, it had a serif font!)
posted by Lexica at 7:13 PM on October 12, 2020

Well I just spent more time than I want to admit main-lining up through about Chapter 7 in Digger. Thank you for the introduction! Digger's inner monologue runs.. like the smart, smartass characters I wanted to write when I was a teenager only done, y'know, right. I like it a lot.
posted by Alterscape at 7:35 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you very much, ourobouros. Just for the information of people like me who read Jackalope Wives from a link in a previous post, The Tomato Thief which ourobouros links is in the same universe and features one of its most appealing characters in a subsequent adventure.
posted by jamjam at 2:35 AM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher is indeed an absolute treasure. Don't miss her annotated fairy tales, published as The Halcyon Fairy Book but also to be found online; I think the first is here.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:20 AM on October 13, 2020

Vernon's stories have a *lot* of depth.

When Grandma Harken confronts the villain of The Tomato Thief he doesn't name himself, and she describes him as looking like a bear and thinks of him as the "cold-king":
I do not care what the land likes,” said the cold-king. “This is a dreadful land.”

“Then why’d you come here at all?”


The cold-king stretched. “I did not choose. I hid myself in the seeds of a thistle and when I woke again, I had crossed an ocean and was rolling and rolling across the hills of this terrible, dry place. But soon I shall be done growing back, and until then, my old enemies will not find me.”
He says he hid himself in a thistle, but he describes a tumbleweed, and one of the other names for tumbleweed is 'Russian Thistle', which first showed up in the US in 1877 in South Dakota after being introduced accidentally in flax seed by Ukrainian farmers.

He turns out to be hard to kill, and that put me in mind of a Russian folk character called Koschei the Deathless who appears in a quite a bit of American fantasy (including Keith Taylor's Bard series, for example):
Koschei, often given the epithet "the Immortal", or "the Deathless", is an archetypal male antagonist in Russian folklore. The most common feature of tales involving Koschei is a spell which prevents him from being killed. He hides his soul inside nested objects to protect it.
A feature which duly makes an appearance.

Grandma Harken calls on St. Anthony, and makes it clear by comparing him to a Kachina that this is no mere verbal affectation for her.

Which causes me to wonder whether Vernon herself is Catholic.

Does anyone know? I'd like to send her a note about implications of some stuff she talks about, but what I have in mind could offend the sensibilities of certain subcategories of devout Catholics, and I'm not willing to do that.
posted by jamjam at 8:07 PM on October 13, 2020

I am about 95% sure she recently talked on Twitter about going to some sort of Christian elementary school but no longer believing in Christianity.
posted by jeather at 5:05 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ok, I think it was this one, where she went to Sunday school and talks about being culturally Catholic, which checks out based on her old podcast The Hidden Almanac and all its saints.
posted by jeather at 7:01 AM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you, jeather and Lexica.
posted by jamjam at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2020

I adore Ursula Vernon's work - I don't buy many books these days but hers are an auto-purchase as soon as they come out. I also have a couple prints of some of her sketches that are one of my prized purchases.
posted by brilliantine at 11:56 AM on October 14, 2020

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