The story of Ash & Bramble, which is more an exploded fairytale than a retelling, arose out of two Big Idea questions.
The first question came out of this experience I had back in grad school when I was reading a lot of Marxist theory and joined a student group that staged a sit-in to protest that the university basically relied on sweatshop labor to produce school-mascot t-shirts and hats and backpacks. What I learned was that our stuff comes from somewhere. We don’t have fairy godmothers who wave their wands and new t-shirts appear, wallah!—even though shopping online can be like that. But no, an underpaid, overworked laborer somewhere far away from where you live probably made the clothes you are wearing right now. She made the clothes I am wearing right now, too (pajamas from Target).
That led me to wonder: there’s all this stuff in fairytales: a dancing slipper made of glass. A poisoned apple. A sharpened spindle. A glass coffin. And of course, the gorgeous, glittering ball gowns.
So where do all of those story elements come from? Who makes it? I mean, there’s no amazon.com in Fairytalandia, and the stuff has to come from somewhere, right?
The logical conclusion is that the Godmother has a kind of fairytale version of a sweatshop, full of shoemakers, bakers-of-gingerbread, lace-makers, Jacks-of-all-trades, seamstresses…
My stitches march on, inevitable, a straggling, wandering line of foot soldiers, with here and there a casualty where I accidentally prick my finger on the needle and the tiny bead of blood is blotted by the cloth. My fingertips ache; my hands grow stiff.
The seamstress of Ash & Bramble is the one person who dares look up from her work and ask, “what is all this stuff for?”
The answer is, it’s for Story. And this Story gains power every time it gets another Happily-Ever-After. It’s the Godmother’s job to set stories up, to get the wheel turning by forcing people to play their designated roles, to provide the spindles, the glass slippers, the etcetera.
And our seamstress—her name is Pin, as far as she knows—to stop her from asking dangerous questions, the Godmother decides to put her into one of Story’s most powerful stories, Cinderella. According to Story, Pin is supposed to want the gorgeous gown, the prince, the insta-love, the marriage. Except for Pin, the glass slipper doesn’t quite fit, and she refuses to settle for one of Story’s pernicious happily-ever-afters.
She asks the second big question:
What if the Stories tell us?
And if they do, how can we escape?