If you haven’t heard about the After Happily Ever After anthology,this interview series is a front row seat into the creative minds of the authors who have re-envisioned the fairy tale world beyond the final credits. Meet the talented Dimitra Nikolaidou, who tackles the Melusine myth and gives it a decidedly human interest as the worlds of fairy and humanity collide.
How did you start your journey as a writer?
Narrating endless stories to anyone who would listen, ever since I could put two sentences together. It must have been a relief for everyone when I finally learned how to write. Later on I started working as a columnist, an editor, a storyteller – everything related to writing, really, save the thing I actually wanted to do: write fiction. This is the year I realized there is no escaping fate, and I started dedicating time and energy into being an actual writer. So far, I am enjoying the surrender immensely.
You chose to examine a lesser known tale focusing on the Melusine myth, a being described as a fairy/water spirit. There are variants of this tale from France and Cyprus dating from the middle ages onward, but despite how old the stories are, they never seemed to gain the popularity of other tales. What about that tale stood out for you, and how did it take form as a reinvented story?
What struck me first is that the story appears in many variations, in so many places. Wherever you find water, there comes the story about a man who makes a fairy his wife by stealing her mantle – a union not meant to last. When this keeps happening, you know there has to be something archetypal in the core of a deceptively simple story.
The bit that always had me wondering though, was that at the end of the original myth Melusine leaves behind not only her husband of many years, but also her children. We might not see many water spirits around, but we can relate to the sundering of familial bonds. So I wondered, what if she came back after many years for her daughter’s wedding? What would she really want? How will her husband react? Why did he choose an inhuman bride in the first place – is beauty enough? And what will the children do, in the midst of such an important day?
You’re studying to attain a PhD in Fantastic Literature, so these fairy tales must be up your alley. What is it about fantasy, and/or fairy tales, that clearly has made such an impact in your life’s direction?
Funny – I study them, I write them, I analyze them and I teach them, but the question left me stumped.
There is a quality in fairy tales and myths that seems to emanate from elsewhere. Not from a different place entirely, but from an unseen dimension of our own world. Now, this is not a very academic viewpoint, but in my defense it was professor J. R. R. Tolkien who suggested that myths seem to be the language of Faerie. When we read a myth we do not as much escape reality as we descend into a different aspect of it, and of ourselves. So I could say that in myths we communicate with some of our more neglected dimensions as human beings. I am fascinated by the exchange, and I look forward to taking it further.
Plus, the friends you make! Through role-playing games, and creative writing, and even glances over books in a library, there is a camaraderie among those who delve in myth. Sharing these travels with others, as we do in After the Happily Ever After, is definitely part of the whole experience.
Do you have a favorite fairy tale or myth you’d like to share?
I am thinking of Deirdre of the Sorrows right now. In Synge’s version, beautiful Deirdre escapes the attentions of the Irish King, and goes to live in the forest with her lover, Oisin. When the Kings finds her, she chooses to come out and die along with Oisin so their love and passion will never fade.
I used to find the tragedy of the story sublime. Nowadays, I think that Deirdre made the wrong choice: if passion faded, she should have found the strength to either move on to a new lover, or stay and built a life of shared love with Oisin. Maybe be a rebel in the woods, instead of sacrificing herself in the name of a feeling never meant to last for long. So it remains a beloved story, but as I grow up I relate to it in different ways.
Would you like to share your future goals or projects with us?
I am focusing on my PhD, which becomes more interesting and engaging by the moment, writing short stories, working on a novel with fellow writer Vaya Pseftaki, teaching a creative writing course specializing on speculative fiction, attending the Iowa creative writing workshop and planning a trip to Sweden.
Honestly, the fairies can come and abduct me anytime. I need a vacation.
Dimitra Nikolaidou is a PhD candidate researching speculative fiction and role-playing games. When not examining the relationship between postmodernism and boggarts, she works as a magazine editor and freelance writer. She is the winner of 2015’s Wyrm’s Gauntlet speculative fiction competition, and she publishes non-fiction in Atlas Obscura and Cracked.