Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Northboro School Visits (Part 2 of 5): Peaslee

On day two of my Week of Awesomeness, I visited Peaslee School in Northboro. Here's a photo of me and the very awesome library teacher Nancy Kellner at the entrance to Peaslee:

Nancy and Me in Peaslee School

One of the highlights from this day was the book repor
t frogs. "What are book report frogs?" you ask. Well, I'll show you:

Book Report Frog #1

Book Report Frog #2

When the students came back from summer vacation, one of the teachers had each student in her class choose one book they read over the summer and write a book report about it. They wrote them up on cut-out drawings of frogs on lilypads. Two (TWO!!!) students did their reports on INTO THE WILD. How awesome is that? I'm now suddenly much more fond of frogs than I ever was.

Not that I ever really disliked frogs. I'm wary of toads, though, due to the fact that I once stepped on one. Completely accidental, but I've always had this vague fear that someday his kindred will seek their revenge...

Anyway, Tuesday didn't end with the end of school. That evening, Nancy Kellner and I stopped by Innovations, the hair salon in the center of Northboro that was the model for Rapunzel's Hair Salon. Two of the same people work there, and they haven't aged a bit, which makes me suspicious that they really are fairy-tale characters in hiding...

Nancy and I then met Leigh King, the super-nice libraria
n from Lincoln Street School, for dinner at a restaurant near the Agway rooster. Agway is closed now and no one knows how long the rooster will be left to roost here so we took pictures:

Leigh, Me, and the Rooster

Nancy, Me, and the Rooster

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Northboro School Visits (Part 1 of 5): Zeh

I am hereby dubbing last week my Week of Awesomeness. Last week, I drove up to Northboro, Massachusetts (my hometown and the setting for INTO THE WILD), for a week of school visits. I visited all four elementary schools plus the middle school in Northboro (one school per day). I gave a total of twenty presentations and met 600-700 kids. It was AWESOME.

My first stop was Zeh School, which used to be Oxford Academy when I lived in Northboro. I learned two important things on this first day:

1) The elementary schools in Northboro now have mascots. (Zeh is zebras, Peaslee is pandas, Lincoln Street is polar bears, and Proctor is penguins.) This makes them far cooler than they were when I went there because it opens up the door to some rich, eccentric alum someday donating an actual zebra, panda, polar bear, or penguin to be housed in the school, which would be AWESOME.

2) I love school visits. This was a somewhat shocking discovery for me, given that the mere thought of doing an announcement in assembly in high school would turn me into a quivering mass of jelly. But I think they're really fun. I love talking about writing and telling students why I think it's the most magical thing in the world. I love the looks of horror on the students' faces when I tell them I did 30 drafts of INTO THE WILD. And I love meeting kids and answering questions and signing books and... well, all of it.

Best moment at Zeh School was when I came into the library about ten minutes early for my presentation. A class was in there so I snuck into the back and sat quietly in a seat behind a pillar. A few seconds later, I see a face pop around the pillar and then pop back. Then another. And another, until about a dozen kids are all peeking out at me, whispering, "It's her! It's her!" Kind of made me feel like a rock star. Also made me feel like looking behind me to see who they were talking about.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Northboro (Part 7 of 7)

Last but not least on my photo-tour of locations from INTO THE WILD... Bancroft Tower! I don't want to give away any spoilers by saying how this appears in the book... but if you recall that this is a book about Rapunzel's daughter... and you're at all familiar with Rapunzel's fairy tale... and her famous high-rise accommodations... I think you'll figure it out... :)

Bancroft Tower (Isn't it just perfect?!)

Me, my Postcard, and the Tower

Bancroft Tower is actually in Worcester, the city near Julie's hometown of Northboro. When I was growing up, Forum Theater used to use it as the setting for Shakespeare-in-the-Park.

You've probably noticed that in many of the pictures on this photo-tour I'm holding up a postcard of the cover art for INTO THE WILD. The idea was to give this postcard a tour of all the sites from the book. While that may sound a bit odd, it was a lot of fun to do. It was also something of an homage to a similar kind of photo-tour that my husband and I did when we got engaged. We were in England at the time, so we visited all the tourist spots in London and took photos of my hand with the engagement ring held up in front of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London... Yeah, we're kind of cute. Or dorky. Or both.

I'll be posting soon about my week of school visits in Northboro. Thanks for joining me on this INTO THE WILD tour!

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Northboro (Part 6 of 7)

Paris has its Eiffel Tower. St. Louis has its Arch. San Francisco has its Golden Gate Bridge. And Northboro (my hometown and the setting for INTO THE WILD) has...

... the Agway rooster!

The Agway Rooster

I'm not the only one who thinks the rooster is emblematic of Northboro. When the Boston Globe ran an article about me and the book last July, I offered them a whole bunch of photos. It was this picture of me in front of the Agway rooster that they decided to print with the article!

Rooster and Me

I'm told that Agway is closing soon, which makes me sad. Many of the locations in INTO THE WILD already only exist inside the book. The Dew Drop Inn closed when I was in elementary school. The local warehouse store, Spag's, is now no longer Spag's. The Dairy Hut is now called Beezers. But these places are still part of the Northboro that's in my heart, which is why I put them in the book.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Northboro (Part 5 of 7)

The photo-tour of sites from INTO THE WILD continues...

Here is the exact spot where Julie enters the Wild:

I'm not going to go into details here because I don't want to give any spoilers, but this is looking down West Street from the intersection of West and Crawford in Northboro, Massachusetts. Picture this as you read chapters nine and ten.

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Northboro (Part 4 of 7)

Continuing our photo-tour of Northboro... In chapter seven, Julie runs into this library:

Northboro Public Library

... and ducks behind the book return box inside this entryway:

Side Entrance to Library

I went to this library constantly when I was growing up. I have clear memories of discovering Trixie Belden in this library. And Ruth Chew. And Lloyd Alexander. And the book that I took out most often of all: Alanna by Tamora Pierce. My friend Gillian loaned me that book in fifth grade (not-so-coincidentally, the same year that I decided that I wanted to be a writer). I remember being very nervous to have a book that was checked out to someone else. If I failed to return it... disaster!

There's harsh punishment if you are at fault for not returning a friend's book. First, the library gargoyles (all libraries have them, even if they're not visible) taunt you. Next, the Cat in the Hat trashes your house, and all the rabbits from Watership Down eat your entire yard...

Anyway, I used to take out so many books from this library that my mom had to institute a rule simply to keep her back from breaking: I could only take out as many books as I could carry. So I got really good at stretching out my arms and fitting a zillion books between my outstretched fingertips and my chin.

They recently started a major renovation project for the Northboro Public Library, so it is currently under construction. In a year or two, it will look totally different from how both Julie and I remember it. But it will still house Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Pierce, Ruth Chew... and now Sarah Beth Durst!!! OMG, that's such a cool thought. There could be some kid in Northboro taking my book out of that very library that I went to and maybe thinking to him/herself, "I want to be a writer too..."

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Northboro (Part 3 of 7)

Today's Northboro photo features the gas station that Julie sees on TV in chapter 5 and in person in chapter 6 of INTO THE WILD...

Gas Station (pre-Wild)

"Premium unleaded was now next to an oak tree instead of a window squeegee dispenser. Vines were twisted around the pump nozzles. Moss covered the credit card displays. Julie leaned closer to the TV. Was that moss spreading? The TV focused on the pavement. Green (oddly vibrant for October) advanced across the blacktop like an army of worms. Tendrils snaked forward, and the asphalt cracked. Thicker vines shot into the cracks, widening the splits. The street crumbled."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Trailer for Into the Wild!

I'm still in Northboro, but I must interrupt my Northboro posts to show you what can only be described as THE COOLEST THING EVER!!! Teen-bloggers-extraordinaire, Miss Erin and Traci, made a BOOK TRAILER FOR INTO THE WILD! They wrote a script, acted out scenes from my book, edited it, put it to music, and posted it on YouTube. I just found out about this today and am sooooo touched that they would spend the time to put this together. And OMG, it's awesome! Check it out:

Was that not the coolest thing ever?!?! Click here to tell Miss Erin how great a job she and Traci did, and click here to rate the video on YouTube.

Wow. Now please excuse me as I go watch the video for the 47th time...

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Northboro (Part 2 of 7)

As I said in the prior entry, I'm going to be in Northboro, MA, visiting schools all week. I'm really, really, really excited about this. Northboro is the town I grew up in. It's the place where I started writing. And it's my main character's hometown too.

Julie Marchen lives on West Street. Her friend Gillian lives around the corner on Crawford Street (also coincidentally, in the same house that I grew up in). They eat extra-cheesy pizza from the Northboro House of Pizza and drink cherry Slush Puppies from Lowe's Meat Market. They buy school supplies and toothpaste at the CVS next to Julie's mom's hair salon, they see the Agway rooster every day, and they attend Melican Middle School...

Today's photo from Northboro is Julie's school (featured in chapter three of INTO THE WILD):

Julie's School

I'll be visiting Melican on Friday.

When I lived in Northboro, it was actually just called the Northboro Middle School. "Melican" is a new addition to the name. You may also note that the town is spelled "Northborough" on the sign. Northborough was always the official name of the town, but we always dropped the "ugh." Not sure when the "ugh" came back into fashion. Guess today's Northboro(ugh) residents are much classier than we were. :)

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Northboro (Part 1 of 7)

I'm in Northboro!!!

I know what you're thinking: Why the three exclamation points? (Or perhaps you're thinking: When is the next season of Project Runway? Should I buy new socks? If mice could talk, what would they say?) The three exclamation points are due to the fact that I grew up in Northboro, MA. I lived there from birth until college. By some crazy coincidence, it's also the town that is transformed into a fairy-tale kingdom in INTO THE WILD. I have fiv
e back-to-back school visits in Northboro this week:

Monday 10/22: Zeh School
Tuesday 10/23: Peaslee School
Wednesday 10/24: Lincoln Street School (my old elementary school!)
Thursday 10/25: Proctor School
Friday 10/26: Melican Middle School

So in honor of these school visits, I thought I'd do a series of blog posts with photos of locales featured in INTO THE WILD. First up: Rapunzel's Hair Salon! This is the salon owned by Julie's mother. I got m
y hair cut at this place for twenty years.

Rapunzel's Hair Salon

Yes, in the real world, it's called Innovations, but that's just because in the real world, Rapunzel is a bit sneakier about how she uses her name. :)

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Monday, October 15, 2007

World Fantasy Convention Program

I just found out my schedule for this year's World Fantasy Convention. And it's AWESOME! Snoopy Dance of Joy!

I was going to wait until closer to the event to blog about my schedule, but I'm way too excited about this to hold it in.

The World Fantasy Convention (WFC) is one of my favorite cons. (Click here and here for my trip report from last year's WFC.) It's an annual conference where readers, writers, editors, agents, artists, librarians, and booksellers gather to discuss the fantasy genre, practice flying on our telepathic dragons, and select our pet griffins for the year. (Most fantasy writers lease their griffins. It's far too expensive to purchase them outright these days.)

Anyway, this year's convention is being held in Sarasota Springs, New York, on November 1-4, and the attendee list is incredible: Betty Ballantine, Charlaine Harris, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin, Patricia McKillip, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen... and on and on. I was NOT expecting to be on the program at all. But I am! TWICE!

Saturday 1pm - Panel: There's an Archetype in My Soup!
Much fantasy deliberately employs elements of fairy-tale and myth, often after much scholarly research. But there's still the old argument that if you have to learn an archetype, it isn't one, that these patterns are universal in human storytelling. What is the mythic "buzz" we all know when we see it, even when we have difficulty defining it?
Elizabeth Bunce, Sarah Beth Durst, Mark Ferrari, Margo Lanagan, Tim Powers

Saturday 3pm - Reading: Young Adult Writers
Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Beth Durst, Tiffany Trent

I feel like a fairy godmother just drifted down from the sky, tapped me on the head, and said, "You may go to the ball!"

I really hope I don't trip over my glass slippers. Or cluck like a chicken. (Yes, I know, it's an irrational fear, but just think how embarrassing it would be if it happened!)

I can't wait for November!

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Review in Locus Magazine

These days, I don't do a whole lot of lurking by the mailbox or waiting by the phone. I'd like to say that this is due to an increased level of maturity or self-assurance, but I don't think that's it since I check my email approximately once every 18 seconds. A much more plausible explanation is that I just don't get much interesting mail or many phone calls (except for telemarketers who invariably ask to speak to my mommy, since I apparently have the phone voice of a four-year-old -- I never know what to say when they ask that, since it was drilled into me at a young age that it's unsafe to admit that your mom isn't home).

Anyway, I just spent the last week lurking by my mailbox. Not literally. You don't want to lurk by our mailbox. It's draped in spiderwebs. And they're not those pretty Charlotte's Web kind of spiderwebs, all glistening with dew in the morning and causing you to muse on the ephemeral beauty of nature and yada yada. We're talking I-eat-bugs-the-size-of-raccoons kind of spiderwebs. Seriously, it looks like we're decorated for Halloween year-round. My lurking was more of the watch-for-the-mailman-then-pounce variety.

You see, on October 2nd, I got an email from a friend that said, "Congrats on the great review of Into the Wild in the October issue of Locus!"

The what?!?

My October issue hadn't arrived yet, you see, and I'd given up hope that Into the Wild would be reviewed in Locus. (Locus is a trade magazine for the fantasy and science fiction publishing industry. It's the only magazine that I read cover to cover the instant it arrives -- I even study the ads.) So I sauntered out to the mailbox, fought my way through the spiderwebs with a machete, and checked the mailbox. No Locus.

Next day, no Locus.

And the next, no Locus.

The following day, I forgot to bring my machete, was caught by a giant spider, used a pocket knife to saw my way through the cocoon... Okay, that's totally not true. I don't carry a pocket knife.

Anyway, it seems that my mailman has a unique delivery schedule for my copy of Locus. Usually, the magazine arrives around the first of the month, except for months when I'm desperate to read it. Then it comes around the 10th! I should have remembered this from a previous waiting-for-Locus experience. If I had, I could have saved myself much lurking, because sure enough, it arrived today!

So that you don't have to fight any of your own spiders, here's the full text:

"Julie seems like a normal kid, but her mom's Rapunzel, the wicked witch is her grandmother, and there's a piece of the Wild living under her bed trying to turn her sneakers into seven-league boots. This young-adult fantasy isn't a retelling of fairy tales as much as it is about the nature of fairy tales, but it manages to have fun with a lot of the old favorites, from the seven dwarfs as difficult dinner guests to Rapunzel as a hair stylist. Somehow all the fairy tale characters managed to escape their endlessly cycling roles, reducing their world, the Wild, to the tangle under Julie's bed. (They tried to keep it in the cellar, but it did weird things to the plumbing.) Any use of magic feeds the Wild and makes it stronger. But then someone manages to make a forbidden wish and sets the Wild free -- and the first person to disappear back into the Wild is Rapunzel. The Wild quickly becomes a forest and starts to take over the town. Fairy tale refugees are fleeing, the police have no clue what they're up against, and it's up to Julie to rescue her mom and save the world. It's an interesting take on fairy tales." -- Carolyn Cushman, Locus Magazine

Oh, and now that I'm writing this, I realize that I never posted about two other reviews that I recently came across. This one from Teen Book Review just makes me blush...

"INTO THE WILD is one of the most original fantasy books I've read in ages. These fairy tales aren't what you think they are. Rather than changing a fairy tale like is often done in books, Sarah Beth Durst takes every fairy tale you've ever heard and makes it real, and dangerous. And she does so brilliantly! I can't even find the words I'm really looking for to describe how amazing this book is. Run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore or library and get a copy today!" -- Teen Book Review (click here for full review)

And thanks to the wonders of the internets, I found this from the Leaf-Chronicle newspaper of Clarksville, Tennessee:

"INTO THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst combines realistic fiction with fantasy to come up with an extraordinary tale of fitting in and courage." -- Debbie Shoulders, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle (click here for full review)

No spiders were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs

I ran across a whole bunch of great obscure fairy tales while I was doing research for INTO THE WILD. It's been a while since I've shared one with you (sorry!). So without further ado:

The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs (from the Brothers Grimm)

A poor woman gives birth to a son with a caul, and it's prophesied that he'll marry the king's daughter.

Wikipedia (that source of all knowledge, if not accuracy) tells me that a "caul" is leftover amniotic membrane, not (as I originally thought) a hood worn by a religious order. That's a cowl. I am much relieved. It's enough of a miracle that a woman's body can produce a baby -- to ask her uterus to knit accessories at the same time seems a bit much.

The king hears of the prophecy and is displeased. Masquerading as a benevolent stranger, he approaches the boy's parents and offers to raise the child as his own in exchange for copious amounts of gold. The parents agree. The king then puts the baby in a box and tosses him into a river.

Um, don't boxes float?

The box floats downstream...

Told you so.

... and is found by a miller within a mile of the king's castle. The miller and his wife raise the child with all the best virtues.

As opposed to the not-quite-so-good virtues? So does this mean he's kind and brave but has rotten table manners?

One day, many years later, the king visits the mill, learns that the miller's son is a foundling, and realizes that this is the same child, now grown. He asks the miller if the boy can carry a letter to the queen for him in exchange for two gold pieces. The miller agrees, and the king writes in the letter, "As soon as this boy arrives, he is to be killed and buried."

Quite a letter. He clearly expects the queen to obey. Does he send these kind of letters often? His wife must seriously dread going through the mail. I can picture it: "Bill, bill, bill, order of execution, bill, bill, credit card offer..." I think I'd just stop all mail delivery. Hey, maybe that's why the king is using the boy instead of the USPS...

The boy sets out for the castle and becomes lost.

Isn't the mill a mile from the castle? Aren't castles kind of big and, y'know, visible from far away? Perhaps "sense of direction" is a lesser virtue?

He reaches a small cottage and is greeted by an old woman. He explains he's bringing a letter to the queen and asks to spend the night, and she tells him, "You've stumbled on a robbers' den. When they come home, they'll kill you." The boy says he's not afraid, and he stretches out on a bench and falls asleep.

Bravery is one of the best virtues. Common sense... Not so much. Now I appreciate the importance of a good night's sleep as much as the next person, but I think I'd pull an all-nighter if I were faced with certain death.

When the robbers come home, they break the seal on the letter, read it, and feel sorry for the boy. The robbers then destroy the letter and write a new letter in its place that says, "As soon as this boy arrives, he is to wed our daughter."

Aw, that's sweet. Hey, weren't they supposed to be bloodthirsty robbers? Was it possible that the old woman was exaggerating a teeny, tiny bit so she wouldn't have to have a houseguest? Gotta remember that trick...

The boy continues on to the castle and marries the princess. They live together happily until the king returns home. In a rage, he says, "If you want to keep my daughter, you'll bring me three golden hairs from the head of the devil."

Whenever I lose my temper, I always demand to be brought impossible things. Just the other night, my husband forgot to take out the trash, and I told him, "Well, now you must bring me the seashell from whence Aphrodite was delivered unto the foamy shore."

The boy says, "I'll do it. I'm not afraid of the devil."

This is why I like this story: instead of a hero conquering impossible odds for the sake of a beautiful princess who is a complete stranger, here we have a guy going to hell and back for his wife. I like that a lot.

He leaves the castle and journeys to the next city. The guardsman at the gate asks him his trade, and the boy says, "I know everything."

What a bizarre thing to say.

The guardsman says, "If you know everything, tell us why our fountain is dry when it used to run with wine." The boy says, "When I return, I will tell you."

Maybe someone forgot to pay the wine bill? Or maybe the bill didn't arrive because the queen stopped all mail delivery...

He continues on to the next city. The guardsman at that gate asks him his trade, and the boy again says, "I know everything." And the guardsman replies, "If you know everything, tell us why our golden apple tree is bare." The boy says, "When I return, I will tell you."

Ooh, ooh, I know, I know! It's winter! No? Okay, how about: you picked them all! No? All right, I'll wait and see.

He continues on to a big river and tells the ferryman that he knows everything. The ferryman says, "If you know everything, tell me why I must row back and forth without relief." The boy says, "When I return, I will tell you."

Okay, this one I totally know. It's in, like, twelve hundred other tales and myths. If the ferryman [spoiler removed], then he'll be free!

On the other side of the river, he finds the entrance to hell. When he goes inside, the devil isn't home, but his grandmother is sitting in a large chair.

I love the idea of the devil's grandmother as a character. What does she think of her grandson's occupation? Does she boast about him to the ladies at the senior center? Does she still have the crayon drawings that the devil did in preschool? Does she knit him embarrassing sweaters for the holidays? (Do any grandmothers actually do that outside of novels?)

She asks what he wants, and he says he needs three hairs from the devil's head in order to keep his wife. He also says he needs to know about the dry fountain, the bare apple tree, and the ferryman's curse. The devil's grandmother agrees to help him. She transforms him into an ant and hides him in the folds of her skirt.

Ooh, cool, ant transformation! Guess there are perks to the devil's-grandmother gig.

When the devil comes home, he lays his head in his grandmother's lap and asks her to pick lice out of his head.

Lice-picking, not a perk.

As she does so, she plucks a hair out of his head. "Ow!" the devil says. "Why the devil did you do that?"

Okay, fine, he didn't really say that. I just couldn't help myself.

She says, "Oh, sorry. I fell asleep and had a bad dream. I must have grabbed your hair in my sleep." She explains that she dreamed about a fountain that ran dry. The devil says, "Hah! If they only knew that all they had to do is kill the toad under the fountain!"

Kill the toad? Why? What's with the toad? Is it a magic toad? Why is it stopping the fountain? Is it deliberate? Is this an anti-alcohol protest?

He relaxes again, and she plucks a second hair from his head. "Ow!" he says. She apologies again and says that this time she had a dream about an apple tree that's now bare. He says, "There's a mouse gnawing at the roots. If they kill it, gold apples will grow again."

But what about the toad? I want more about the toad! And why is the devil giving out all this information? Seems to me his grandma is acting a bit suspicious. I have had many a nightmare in my lifetime and not once have I ever plucked out someone else's hair in my sleep.

He falls asleep, and she plucks a third hair. This time, she claims to have dreamed about the ferryman. The devil says that if the ferryman gives his pole to someone who wishes to cross, he'll be free and someone else will be trapped rowing for all eternity.

Hah! I was right! I told you! Ten points to Griffindor!

At dawn, the devil departs, and the grandmother transforms the ant back into the boy. She gives him the hairs, and he thanks her profusely before heading home. On his way home, he tells the ferryman and the two guardsman what he learned, and they all reward him with gold.

Wait, wait, isn't he going to do anything, you know, heroic? So far, he's charmed two old ladies into helping him and that's about it. Shouldn't he have to fight a dragon or maybe do something unspeakably clever?

When he reaches the king's castle, his wife greets him happily, and the king asks him where he obtained all the gold. The boy tells the king that he found it after crossing a river. The bank, he says, is covered with gold instead of sand.

Okay, that's a little bit clever.

The king rushes to the river and calls to the ferryman. The ferryman hands him his pole and then runs away, and the king is trapped ferrying people back and forth for all eternity. The end.

In case you're interested in reading my other ramblings about obscure (and not-so-obscure) fairy tales,
here are links to: Snow White, Godfather Death, The Tinderbox, The Princess in the Chest, The Juniper Tree, Molly Whuppie, Tatterhood, Jack My Hedgehog, and The Wishing Table.