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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"When the Clock Strikes" by Tanith Lee

First appeared in Lin Carter’s Weird Tales #1. Reprinted in various year’s best and major retrospectives by Marvin Kaye, Saralee Kaye, Jack Zipes, and Arthur W. Saha.

A narrator introduces the reader to a story two hundred years old. As they await a carriage, the narrator and reader are also in our past. The city where they wait, was formerly prosperous, obtained by a Duke "treacherously." Except his thoroughness in destroying his rivals overlooked one person: a young woman.

The woman is a witch who poisons the Duke to suffer but not die. She wanted the Duke to observe the destruction of his son. However, the Duke catches her and her daughter in the act of witchcraft. So she kills herself and bids her daughter act as though her mother's witchery is a horrid surprise.

Everyone buys the daughter's mourning (supposed dismay over her mother). Though attractive, she dresses so dirtily that people gradually believe her ugly.

The narrator plays a little coy with the reader about which familiar fairy tale this is. I didn't figure it out until late in the tale:
"Possibly you have been told the story? No? Oh, but I am certain that you have heared it, in another form perhaps."
The tale is Cinderella. Like "Red as Blood," the young woman connives, but she is the protagonist in what has become a revenge tale. The source fairy tale treats this as a rags-to-riches: The unjustly abused are lifted up, the abusers abused. Lee's version mirrors the transformation of a Shakespearean into one of tragedy. She exacts revenge on the Duke and his son.

The clock is played up. The number 12 is Death and the narrator is death personified. And/or the protagonist. The facts that suggest this are that she is drawn to this place of destruction, and that she knows the old story so well, and that she says witches are long-lived. The reader presumably may be awaiting the carriage of death, to be hauled off to whichever destination.

Where we had Christian protagonist in "Red as Blood," here the protagonist serves Satanas. The tales counterpoint one another.

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