Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two & Twenty Dark Tales: An Interview with Georgia McBride

Two and Twenty Dark Tales is a YA anthology of Mother Goose retellings edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink, and published by McBride's own Month9Books. Some of the stories read like secret histories, as though the familiar nursery rhymes are eroded fragments of something much older and darker. Some play with the actual history of the rhyme; Nancy Holder's "The Lion and the Unicorn" offers new and sinister explanations for the witchy obsessions of King James. Other stories shift the rhymes into contemporary settings and entirely new layers of meaning; Gretchen McNeil's "Tick, Tock" has cell phones, pop culture references, and imperiled babysitters.

The Inkpot: Last year the critic Meghan Cox Gurdon complained of "Darkness Too Visible" in the Wall Street Journal. Notable responses to that pearl-clutching editorial include Maureen Johnson's in The Guardian and Sherman Alexie's in the WSJ. Can you recap for us how Two and Twenty Dark Tales came out of that controversy?

Georgia McBride: I have always thought fairy tales and lullabies were dark, especially Mother Goose Rhymes. When I was asked to respond to the article, I talked about how dark Disney stories are, and yet, parents don't seem to mind dark cartoons or fairy tales so long as there is a happy ending. I listed themes like death, servitude, blackmail, starvation, imprisonment, abduction, poisoning, murder and more in these stories. I began to think then that we had it all wrong, that YA hasn't become dark. That lullabies sung sweetly can soothe and relax us, but just beneath many of them is a hint of something... dark. We grow up with these stories as the foundation for our imagination. YA literature is the natural extension of this dark foundation. And that is how my idea to do dark retellings of Mother Goose rhymes came about.

Define darkness. What is a "dark retelling"?

GM: I asked my writers to take the rhymes they were most fond of and imagine the darkest motivations behind them. Why is Wee Willie Winkie running through the town in his pajamas in the middle of the night? Why would Humpty Dumpty, so frail a being, climb so high atop a wall? And why would Jill push Jack down the hill? We all know that is what REALLY happened.

Talk about the importance of unhappy endings. 

GM: Painting happy endings to tragic and worrisome stories does not always allow for the reader to calm the unsettling feeling of some stories--because the reader knows it isn't authentic. Some stories are supposed to end badly. Some stories are supposed to be told at night, with all the lights on, or around the campfire. Some stories are meant to be dark.

The protagonist in Leah Cypess' "Clockwork" learns courage from years of living as a mouse, and she faces down a predatory witch because she's used to that kind of fear by now. She draws power from her mousey powerlessness. What other sorts of power are explored in these tales? What sorts of power do you want your readers to notice and take away with them? 

GM: That is one of my favorite stories from the anthology. It sends a powerful message indeed. There are themes of powerlessness throughout the anthology, but it is that feeling that often forces the characters to act. Sometimes the acts are heroic and courageous and, at other times, in the case of Humpty Dumpty, readers will be left in tears. Other important themes in the anthology are love, loss, fear, and, of course, magic! Wouldn't we all love to have a bit of magic?

What's your own earliest memory of Mother Goose rhymes? Which rhymes have continued to haunt you into adulthood and parenthood?

GM: My parents always sang Mother Goose Rhymes to us like “Ring Around the Roses,” and read rhymes such as Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpty. I continue to be haunted by questions surrounding Jack and Jill's possible sibling rivalry and the troublesome Humpty Dumpty. It sparked me to tell Humpty's story in poem format in the anthology. Every time I think about poor Humpty, it brings me to tears.

This unique collaboration’s proceeds (from the first 5,000 copies sold) will be donated to, an organization that fosters the advancement, reading, writing and acceptance of young adult literature worldwide.  


  1. Already knew I was getting this anthology because it includes some of my favorite authors--but I didn't know that the proceeds are going to YALitChat. That's fantastic! Great interview and can't wait to read it.

  2. Thank you both for this interview--and I think bringing out the darkness lurking in Mother Goose is a brilliant idea! You have really got me wanting to read TWO AND TWENTY as soon as possible.....

  3. Great interview about a fabulous anthology! And thank you so much for mentioning Clockwork specifically. *blushes* This was my first time writing a story for a themed anthology, and I was really nervous about it, so I'm so happy it seems to be mostly well-received.

  4. Oh, I can't wait to read this - and so many stories from our own Inkpot! Makes me think - have we ever done an Inkies anthology? Great interview Will!

  5. Thank you so much for interviewing me about this wonderful anthology. It is my absolute pleasure to send more dark stories out into the world.

  6. Dark stories are perfect for this fall season, so I'm enjoying reading them during this wonderful month of October. How great that proceeds from the first 5,000 sales will go to an organization that supports writers of young adult literature.


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