The Big Idea: Sarah Prineas

Happily Ever After… but why? And to ultimately what end? Author Sarah Prineas considers this in Ash & Bramble, and she’s not the only one who asks.


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 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?


Ash & Bramble: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s|Signed copies from Prairie Lights

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

12 Comments on “The Big Idea: Sarah Prineas”

  1. Please forgive the pedantry, but the exclamation of magical appearance you’re looking for is voilà. A “wallah” is a counter clerk, more or less. A chai-wallah would be someone selling chai, for example.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of people using “wallah” who didn’t actually know the correct spelling, so it was my first thought, too; it’s not so obviously beyond the pale that you might think that as to be clearly a joke.

    The summary is giving me a lot of resonances with Pratchett’s “Witches Abroad”, which I liked very much.

  3. Thanks for running this series, by the way. Most of them are interesting enough that I pull the sample version from iBooks to give them a try.

  4. Dagnabbit. I created a separate folder for Big Ideas email. I vowed not to read them to keep my reading list manageable given my average life expectancy.

    And then I read one. This one. *sigh* Onto the ‘to read’ list it goes.

    On a tangential note, NPR’s Planet Money did a series on the manufacture and life cycle of a t-shirt a while back. Very interesting stuff.


  5. I assumed it was a deliberate misspelling of voilà, but now I am, er, enchanted, by the idea of the Godmother waving a wand and shouting “Wallah”– and the t-shirt wallah comes with new clothes.

  6. Yes, that to-be-read pile is not getting any smaller. Perhaps I need some magical sweatshop workers too, to help me deal with the Story backlog.

%d bloggers like this: