Message From The Author

Author's Message

There seem to be a preponderance of stories floating around the great group literary mind right now that concern a girl whose heart is torn between two men. A triangle is the technical term, but rarely is it an actual triangle--one of the men is usually clearly inferior, and the two men rarely have anything but enmity for the other--more of a V than a triangle. We as a culture obviously find this fascinating--a woman defining herself by the man she chooses.

Deathless engages with this trope--Marya Morevna’s first lover is Koschei the Deathless, the immortal Tsar of Life, who shows her all manner of magic and power. Eventually, she meets Ivan, who is human, like her, and pulls her back toward the world of the living. Koschei offers a wild, amoral life, preserved forever, beyond human experience. Ivan offers a normal marriage, the real world, which, though destroyed by war and starvation, is still Marya’s home. Her solution is one I always long to see and rarely do--I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that I dislike triumphalism and concrete win-conditions in any book, let alone in a romantic entanglement. Also, when writing about devils and fairy tale girls, one has a little latitude to head for kinkier shores.

I think that part of the reason we’re interested in this in a zeitgeist sense is that women are still struggling to find narratives where their desire, their gaze, their identity is the central issue. Men become (as women have been in male narratives for centuries) embodiments of ways of living and loving, ways of being. The choice is only superficially about which partner the heroine chooses--she is really choosing which version of herself to pursue and become. It’s a safe way of talking about this process of growing up and self-determination. It’s heteronormative, linear, and doesn’t threaten to upset the whole societal apple cart of girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl makes more girls and boys.

Deathless came from many places. The desire to retell a Russian fairy tale and explain how Koschei the Deathless, such a figure of power, ended up in the basement of a mortal woman, chained to the wall. To tell the story of Leningrad and the war. To write about the passing away of the old world of magic and integration with the new world of politics. To retell the many stories I have heard of life in the Soviet Union. But I also wanted to try my hand at telling that old/new tale of the girl who loved two men, and to end it as I have always wanted to see it end, and to make literal the subtext I see moving under the surface of all those triangles.

- Catherynne M. Valente


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