THE RED CROWN | Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom.
⇒The fable is a time-honored literary form, easily one of the oldest, and it’s put to really effective use in “The Red Crown” by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom, published last week over at Hobart.
What is a fable? It’s, like, a story with talking animals and shit.
Okay, it’s more than that. It’s a story, traditionally a folktale, featuring magical elements including but not limited to anthropomorphized animals, that typically resolves into a clear-cut moral or maxim.
At least, that’s how various Wiki and dictionary definitions have defined it. In my mind, I often conflate the term fable with fabulism, which is a term that’s variously defined but typically amounts to some kind of magic realism: fantastical elements occurring in everyday situations (see, for instance, Garcia Marquez and Borges, which you should already have read by now, and if you haven’t stop wasting your time with this blog and go read One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Aleph, stat). Still, fables and fabulism are etymologically connected, I suppose.
“The Red Crown” is a great example of both fable and fabulism, but what I appreciate most is its subtle application of both. Basically, this is a story about a Fox Queen who gets caught in a trap, must resolve her situation by desperate means, and triggers a far-reaching transformation as a result. That’s all I’ll say about the plot.
The magical element of this story, while pivotal to the story’s resolution and implications, is used with restraint. The fantastical occurrence that takes place (the talking foxes notwithstanding) is presented in a very natural, why-of-course light, in which it seems as if the transformation that occurs is the most natural and obvious thing in the world. I really love when a story is super-subtle with its use of magic (I’m a big fan of the late Garcia Marquez, but subtlety was never his strong suit).
Bergstrom’s modern fable is not one that–to my mind–can be reduced to a simple moral or lesson the way many allegories can be. Perhaps this is a product of the story’s contemporary creation. Even if the plot is simple and very traditional in its presentation, the author’s/our postmodern culture is very resistant to simple explanations; readers are usually skeptical of morals and parables. This piece does not call for the reader to come away with any simple truth–really, the piece probably has a few layers of meaning. You can take a lesson away from this piece, but you don’t need to.
Personally, I’m no fan of parables or instructional stories; I think they de-prioritize a whole lot of what makes a great story so beautiful. Thankfully, “The Red Crown” does not go out of its way to teach but simply works to entertain and engage the reader, ultimately just asking the question, Why are foxes red?
The author answers the question through beautiful metaphors, rich-yet-economical style, and a heavy dose of folklorish authenticity. I look forward to reading more from this author.