Study Questions for "Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland" and "Serpents"

Oddly, while today's two stories both clearly interact with fairy tale traditions, neither of them begins with the traditional "Once upon a time" opening that we saw in Spindler and Nelson's "You Were Neither Hot, Nor Cold..." As you read the stories, consider why the authors might have decided to avoid that opening despite the fairy tale nature of their fictions. Is the omission somehow a function of decisions made about narrative voice? What is the effect of beginning with factual statements instead of with "Once upon a time"? Here are a few short study questions for each story:

"Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland" [2002] by Sarah Monette

  1. Very early in this story, if the title doesn't immediately clue us into the fantasy nature of the story, we get confirmation that this is indeed a fairy tale setting. How do the names that the Queen applies to herself create expectations? Who are Titania and Mab? Why does Violet refer to the Queen as Nyx?
  2. What is the opening situation of the story? Describe who Philip and Violet are? What are their current circumstances? How do these fairy tale situations traditionally end? That is, what do we normally expect to be the state of the couple's relationship by story's end?
  3. What is the structure of the story? How does it move around in time?
  4. How does the idea of childbirth function in the story?
  5. Violet clearly has been enchanted by the Queen, but is this enchantment a violation of her true desires? What evidence can you find to support your response?
  6. How does the story's end reverse conventional expectations about how these kinds of conflicts are resolved? Does its end comment somehow on our assumptions about gender?

"Serpents" [2003] by Veronica Schanoes

  1. The story begins with two quotations. I assume that most of you are already familiar with Alice in Wonderland; what are the X-Ray SPEX? This link might help. How are these disparate references appropriate to open this particular story?
  2. As you read Schanoes' story, try to compile a list of every cultural reference that you can identify: fairy tale references, literary references, & popular music and culture references.