close up of a broken mirror with flowers

Short Story of the Day #2: “The Lady of Shalott” by Carrie Vaughn

Y’all know I love anything Carrie Vaughn puts out. This Vaughn story hits all the high notes for King Arthur kids, weird fiction aficionados, and Anne girls—so choosing to include it here is truly a no-brainer for me. Click through for some information on Carrie Vaughn’s “The Lady of Shalott” and a link to the story.

Why “The Lady of Shalott”?

For those of you who weren’t King Arthur kids, here’s a quick and dirty primer on Vaughn’s heroine in legend. Her name changes fairly often, but it’s usually some variation on Elaine of Astolat. In the oldest stories, she’s tragic and lovely—an innocent young maiden who dies of a broken heart when she’s spurned by the Guinevere-smitten Lancelot.

Today, Elaine is best known for her appearance in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” (If you aren’t already familiar with Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s version of Elaine’s tale, you can read the two versions here and here.) Originally published in 1832 and modified in 1842, Tennyson’s poem casts its eponymous heroine as a woman “half sick of shadows” and desperate for connection. She longs to see Camelot with her own eyes, but—thanks to her mysterious curse—she can only safely look at things outside her tower when they’re reflected in her mirror. And when she does finally trip the spell upon her, she knows the end is nigh.

In Vaughn’s version, triggering the curse causes things to get…weird. In the best possible way, of course. There’s a lot to love about this story, but I particularly enjoy the hand-waving Vaughn does here. We don’t need to know exactly why Lancelot wants to rescue the cursed lady in the tower, why Elaine doesn’t know the nature of her own curse, or why no one remembers where she came from, because all of these things can be explained in two words: fairytale logic. It’s fantastic.

My favorite line:

She fell in love with him, just like that, without warning, without choice, without hope.

Click here to read “The Lady of Shalott.”

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