We're thrilled to share the first post in the Short & Sweet column written by forestofglory. Short & Sweet is an ongoing short fiction column full of recs and short fiction goodness, and forestofglory will drop in each quarter to share what she's been reading and what short fiction she's excited about. We're so happy to have her; please give her a warm welcome (and read her recs!).
Here are six stories featuring animal brides, a trope about animals who turn into women and marry humans. Sometimes they have choice about this and sometimes the human forces them. This trope can take a lot different forms and the worlds in these stories are varied. Animal brides allow authors to explore ways women are viewed and desired. The trope lets the authors examine a variety of animals and animal archetypes.These stories deal with entitlement and freedom. They frequently draw on fairy tales and myths. This collection hits a lot different themes and moods from cute to creepy. Overall this list a bit darker then what I really generally rec but I love all of these stories.
"The Contemporary Foxwife" by Yoon Ha Lee (4,763 words) — So this is probably one of my favorite stories ever, it's so cute and sweet. It's a bit of an outlier here being the happiest story and also the only story to feature a male animal bride, and the only story with science fictional elements – it’s set on a space station.
"The Animal Women" by Alix E. Harrow (8,534 words) — Content note: race in America, violence, attempted sexual assault. I got really sucked into this story set in the US south about how women’s voices are repressed. It is pretty dark in places but had an ending I found hopeful. While the women in this story aren’t brides, their animal affinities are important, and the story shares many themes with other animal bride stories.
"The Fox Bride" by Mari Ness (1,308 words) — This one really plays on the animal nature of the animal bride and also the way stories have of taking over reality. It's extremely unromantic about animals and what they are like.
"Dragon Brides" by Nghi Vo (3,620 words) — Rather than a story about dragons who marry men, this a story about women who marry dragons. Or rather about a princess who was once captured by a dragon. But it feels thematically of a piece with the rest.
"Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon (5,000 words) — I love how the author uses the desert myths and legends here. Between that and her depiction of desert fauna and flora she really brings the desert to life. I also really enjoy Grandma Harken–it’s nice to see an old woman be the hero of a story and I enjoy her no nonsense attitude.
"Foxwife" by Hiromi Goto in The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm ed. Ellen Datlow and Terrie Windling — This story gives us a glimpse of such an interesting world I always wish the author would write something else set there. I also really like how Goto uses aspects of Japanese myths.
These stories are about many types of animals and multiple genders, but they've all stuck with me, and changed how I think about women and desire. Looking at women and marriage through the lens of animals let me understand some of the ways women are objectified and treated as less than human. Particularity the way the fox (and the prince) are treated in Mari Ness' story where they aren't given a choice about their marriage. Though other stories have aspects of this too: for example, the careless way Grandma Harken's grandson treats the Jackalope wife. But the trope can also explore the ways women have power even in situations where they seem powerless. "Animal women" makes this point especially well. Ultimately, animal brides is a varied trope which is why there are so many great, but very different, stories featuring them. I hope you will take time to read some of these.