New Tales for Old
By Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo

She wraps the cloth around
Her eyes to see.
The finer the weave
The more powerful is she.

– Marjorie M. Evasco, “Mandarawak”

I. Introduction

Nick Joaquin’s first book, Prose and Poems was published in 1952 and Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker was published in 1962. Both collections contain stories which today seem readily recognizable as modern tales. But for the longest time, “May Day Eve” and “Summer Solstice” were taught in classrooms as realist stories, and “The Legend of the Dying Wanton” was usually ignored. Similarly, Cordero-Fernando’s “The Level of Each Day’s Need” was passed over by anthologists, who clearly felt she was better represented by “Hunger” and “People in the War.”[1]  

For some time no other mainstream writer seemed interested in writing tales. But today, among younger writers there is a growing interest in what is referred to as “speculative fiction.” The term covers a wide range of genres which speculate about worlds different from the one we regard as “real”: science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, gothic fiction, supernatural fiction, futurist fiction, alternate history, magical/marvelous realism.[2]

My own interest is not in the entire field of speculative fiction but only in the modern tale, which is descended from the literary fairy tale and the philosophical tale; and, in particular, in modern tales by Filipino women who write in English. This essay is part of a longer study, the first part of which is on Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s tales, and has already been published. (See Hidalgo 2006, 45-76.)

Without losing sight of Maria Nikolajeva’s warning that “drawing clear-cut borders between different types of literature associated with fantasy is not only impossible but also not always necessary” (2003,138), I find it useful to refer to her categories-myth, the traditional fairy tale, modern fantasy and postmodern fantasy-because using the terms interchangeably sometimes leads to confusion.

So, first, there is myth,[3] which predates the traditional fairy tale, which, in turn, predates fantasy. Nikolajeva reminds us that the fairy tale and modern fantasy differ, first of all, in their origins. “Fairy tales have their roots in archaic society and archaic thought, thus immediately succeeding myths.”  But “literary fairy tales and fantasy are definitely products of modern times.” They owe their origins mostly to the Romantic Movement in Europe, with its interest in folk tradition and its rejection of the rationalism of the previous century. (138-139)[4]

For a long time, the fairy tale was associated with the nursery. According to Ursula Le Guinn, books written specifically for children began to emerge in the mid-19thcentury. Before that, fiction was dominated by the realistic novel.


Romance and satire were acceptable to it, but overt fantasy was not. So, for a while, fantasy found a refuge in children’s books. There it flourished so brilliantly that people began to perceive imaginative fiction as being “for children.” (2006)

In fact, fantasy may well be the only type of fiction which  crosses age-lines and bridges generations. “As the grip of realism weakened, the fantastic element began returning into adult fiction by various routes,” Le Guinn adds.  These routes include magical realism and the philosophical tale. This might be the explanation for our own writers’ indifference-it wasn’t considered “serious literature,” until very recently.

Modern fantasy has borrowed many elements from the traditional fairy tale-its cast of characters, the quest plot, magical objects like wands and invisibility mantles and potions. But there are important differences, the figure of the main character, for instance. While the fairy-tale hero is heroic, the fantasy protagonist “often lacks heroic features, can be scared and even reluctant to perform the task, and can sometimes fail.” (Niklolajeva 140)

Another difference lies “in the way fairy tales and fantasy construct their spatiotemporal relations or what Bakhtin calls the “chronotope.”[5] (Bakhtin 1981,85)  Nikolajeva observes that both myth and fairy tale take place in a magical world detached from our own both in space and in time. Tolkien’s name for it is the “Secondary World.” (Tolkien 1975, 40) Whereas the characters in myth and fairy tale “appear and act within the magical chronotope,” in fantasy, “the characters are temporarily displaced from modern linear time-chronos-into mythical, archaic, cyclical time-kairos-and return to linearity at the end of the novel.” They are either transported from the initial realist setting into another realm, or they encounter something from another realm in the “real” one. (Nikolajeva 141)

Nikolajeva also refers to Tzvetan Todorov’s famous description of the fantastic as the “hesitation” between the “uncanny” and the “marvelous.” (Todorov 1973, 25) This hesitation at the confrontation with the supernatural is shared by character and reader. “At the story’s end,” Todorov says, “the reader makes a decision, even if the character does not; he opts for one solution or the other and thereby emerges from the fantastic.” [6] (41)  

Such a decision is not necessary in postmodern fantasy which is characterized by heterotopia (a multitude of discordant universes), intersubjectivity (which presupposes the absence of a single fixed subject in a literary text, instead suggesting that the complex “subject” of a narrative has to be assembled by the reader from several individual consciousnesses), and heteroglossia (an interplay of different voices and perspectives within a narrative). (Nikolajeva 148-149) In postmodern fantasy, we face uncertainty, indeterminacy, ambiguity-typical features of postmodern literature.

“Suspension of disbelief” is another area where the modes or genres differ. In myth “the bearers of myth are positioned within its time/space” and the reader is expected to accept the events narrated as true. Myth is based on belief. “The mythic hero’s deeds are essential for the survival of his society.” (153) Examples from our own literature would be the myths recorded by Damiana Eugenio. (1993) On the other hand, the reader or listener of a fairy tale is “detached.” The tasks of the traditional fairy tale hero are impossible for ordinary human beings. The action is symbolic or allegorical and happens in a “detached timespace.”  Readers are not expected to believe in the story.” (Nikolajeva 153) Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s Bad Kings(2006), for instance, is in this mode.

In fantasy, the protagonist is an ordinary human being, [7] and there are two possible ways of interpreting the supernatural occurrences. These “can be accepted as ‘real,’ having actually taken place, which means that the reader  accepts magic as a part of the world created by the author.” Or, they can be rationalized, explained away, as dreams, visions, hallucinations, even psychological disturbances.[8] Therefore, “the most profound difference between fantasy and fairy tales is. the position of the reader/listener toward what is narrated.” (emphasis mine) (Nikolajeva 152)

Again, the situation in postmodern fantasy is more complicated. For postmodern characters, the boundaries between dream and reality are blurred. Following the developments in natural science and quantum physics, fantasy literature accepts parallel worlds as equally real. It accepts more than one reality and more than one truth. (154)

Philippine folk literature does not seem to have an equivalent term for “fairy tale.” Damiana Eugenio does use the word “fairy” in describing the engkantadas: “In these legends she is variously described as ‘a lovely woman, more goddess than mortal,’ or as ‘a fairy’ with ‘a beauty that surpassed that of any other woman they had ever seen.'” (2002, xxxiii)  She also uses the term “fairyland” when referring to the realm to which engkantadas take their human lovers to live in. (xxxv) But the folk material in her exhaustive Philippine Folk Literature Series does not include the category “fairy tale.”[9]

According to Reinerio Alba, the first efforts to introduce schoolchildren to Philippine folk material in literature in English are contained in the Philippine Readers series prepared by Camilo Osias in the 1930s. In the 50s, writers like Manuel and Lyd Arguilla, Maximo Ramos, and I.V. Mallari tried their hand at retelling folktales. And in the 60s, PAMANA published 5 books for young adults, some of which were inspired by folk tales, among them, Makisig by Gemma Cruz Araneta. (Alba 2003) Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s “Horgle and the King’s Soup,” a fairy tale, was also published by PAMANA in 1965.[10]

On the other hand, Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve,” a literary tale for adults was published in 1947; his other tales followed soon after. And, as mentioned earlier, Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s early tales were published before 1962. So fantasy (in English) in the Philippines seems to have taken a different route from the route it took in Europe, making its appearance at about the same time in literature for children and literature for adults. Some later examples of literary tales are: “The Hill of Samuel” by Alfred A. Yuson (1968), “The Bird” by Tita Lacambra-Ayala (1984), and Leoncio P. Deriada’s Night Mares and Other Stories of Fantasy and Horror (1988).

For this essay, I reread most of the personal collections of short fiction in English published by women in the last two decades; women’s short fiction included in general anthologies; and women’s tales included in the few published fantasy anthologies. I also read some unpublished tales.[11] Finally, I looked for criticism on the tale in Philippine fiction in English, but here, to my regret, I drew a blank.

My preliminary findings seem to show that, though the body of tales being produced today remains small, the tales themselves are extraordinarily varied. On the other hand, hardly any critical attention is being paid to them.

In the West, the writing of new tales and rewriting of old tales has been part of the feminist project for some time, and a considerable body of scholarship in the area now exists.[12] Moreover, attention is no longer limited to European and English tales. For example, Fiona Mackintosh has written on the engagement of Argentinian women writers with the fairy tale. (Cited in Mortensen 2006) Cristina Bacchilega has studied the work of the Caribbean-Canadian writer of fantasy, Nalo Hopkinson. (2006)

To my knowledge, this is not happening in the Philippines. My essay is a modest step toward filling that gap.

For this short study, I have selected six tales which may be regarded as modern wonder tales, and which I will discuss in pairs: “Rosa” by Nerisa del Carmen Guevara and “Orange” by Natasha Gamalinda; “A Bedtime Art Story” by Joy Dayrit and “Jan’s Door” by Cyan Abad Jugo; and “Bearing Fruit” by Nikki Alfar and “A Song in the Wind” by Maria Elena Paterno. Without claiming that there are exact parallelism in these pairings, I think the similarities in each case are striking.

Four others–“Offeratory” by Ma. Romina Gonzalez,” “Sea Change” by Virginia Villanueva, “A Ghost Story” by Francezca Kwe and “Doreen’s Story” by Rosario Lucero-belong to a different paradigm and will be considered separately.

First I shall try to determine whether these ten narratives are indeed tales, i.e. modern or postmodern fantasies. Then, like Bacchilega, I am interested in discovering “how women writers have recently extended or modified their performances of the fairy tale.” (2006) While describing these new forms, I hope to find out whether there is a quality which marks them as Filipino. And, since the tales are all written by women, I also wish to discover whether they might be considered “enabling tales.” Finally I shall speculate on the advantage-for women writers in particular-of the tale as a narrative strategy.



Marina Warner, who has both written and studied tales, prefers the term “wonder tales” to fairy tales. “It frees this kind of story from the miniaturized whimsy of fairyland to breathe the wilder air of the marvelous,” she says. I am inclined to agree with her.   Certainly it seems the more apt name for the modern tales by Filipinas I shall now turn to.

Wonder has no opposite. It springs up already doubled in itself, compounded of dread and desire at once, attraction and recoil, producing a thrill, the shudder of pleasure and of fear. It names the marvel, the prodigy, the surprise as well as the responses they excite, of fascination and inquiry; it conveys the active motion towards experience and the passive stance of enrapturement. (1994, 3)

Nerisa del Carmen Guevara’s “Rosa” (1996) is a tale of enchantment from the very first line: “Uncle Luis died outside in the garden, before the while roses bloomed. I was born just as he had collapsed on the grass, wanting more air. Both our cries reached heaven that night.”  (1996,185) The narrator is a little girl, a “spirit child,” who discovers that her real father is her dead uncle, who is also the “burning ghost” haunting the garden with the red roses.

 “Orange” by Natasha B. Gamalinda (2007) is about a young woman (the narrator) who loves another young woman named Ace. It is also about a cat whom the narrator also calls Ace, who may or not be the woman Ace.  And about the appearances and disappearances of the two Aces, both of whom may or may not be merely imagined by the narrator.

The lyricism of the language, and the evocative use of imagery is particularly suited to the Guevara tale, since the point of view is always that of the girl Rosa, the enchanted child. The language is a rendering of how Rosa perceives the world around her.            A similar strategy is at work in the enigmatic Gamalinda tale. The narrative weaves seamlessly in and out of what may be actually happening and what may be delusion or hallucination. Once in a while, the narrator herself marks the possibility that none of this is actually happening. (“I think I called her back.”)

Both tales have an “illicit”-and unhappy-love affair at the center. In “Rosa” it is the adulterous affair between Rosa’s mother and her uncle Luis; in “Orange” it is the narrator’s lesbian affair with Ace.

In both stories, a box serves as a central image. Rosa  finds a leather box in the basement with Luis’ name embossed in gold and a few personal things inside. The narrator in “Ace” has an “the orange box which lay like a casket at a wake on top of the glass table in my room. like a dead thing I forgot to bury.” Like the leather box in the previous tale, it contains fragments from a shared past-tickets of Ace’s plays, snapshots, Ace’s letters, etc. The narrator’s referring to it as a “casket” that she forgot to “bury” echoes another image in the Guevara story-the coffin in which Luis is buried in “Rosa.”

It is the leather box which precipitates the climax in “Rosa.” The child herself opens the box and lets out the secret which ends the stalemate and the prolonged suffering. (Guevara 189) In “Ace” the action is reversed. It is the box’s disappearance-even if it might have left an “indelible orange mark” on the glass table-which signals the protagonist’s recovery from the paralyzing effects of her love for Ace, or, possibly, from her madness.  (See above, Nikolajeva on the postmodern tale, 3.)

There are other images in both stories, all with associations of sex and violence and death. In “Rosa” the color red (passion, violence, sex) is in the roses “red and heavy like drops of blood;” in the girl’s red dresses which are supposed to keep the spirits away; in the mother’s “crimson-lipped smile in her photograph”; in the bloodstains on the child’s seams and hems from the yaya‘s sewing fingers. The vivid red is a contrast to the girl’s white room with its white lace curtains, the white roses in the garden that bloomed “at once as if in shock” (Guevara 185) when Luis died; in the mother’s pallor.

In “Ace” there is the olfactory image of fish (also associated with sex), a smell which permeates the entire room, including the narrator’s bed, the cans of tuna which she consumes; the dream of the five cats eating raw fish onstage and pawing through fish guts and blood. The protagonist also refers to Ace the woman as “pawing” through the contents of the orange box, and thinks she hears her meow.

Both stories contain a dream. Rosa’s  dream leads her to the truth buried in the basement. In “Ace,” the narrator’s dream hints at the reality of the narrator’s relationship with Ace-if Ace is the cat (or cats) perhaps the narrator is the fish being pawed so that its guts have spilled out? The narrator seems also to identify with the cat’s victims-the small mice.

If Kate Bernheimer is right about the “secrets in the images” in women’s fairy tales (2006, 7) I think the “secret” here has to do with love and sexuality as a powerful and possibly destructive force, something all girls, even very young ones, instinctively know.[13]

Joy Dayrit’s “A Bedtime Art Story” (1992) is about “Filberto, a whimsical young man, bored freshman in art school,” who discovers suddenly, behind his studio’s green door, that if he rubs his parents’ wedding bands against each other, and wears them together on his middle finger, “he is instantly transported into the pages of the Dictionary of Art, there to converse with any of the fine artists listed in its index.” (83) And Cyan Abad-Jugo’s “Jan’s Door” (2005) is about another bored young man, who works for a call center, and one day, on a bus, encounters a beautiful young woman named Jan, a “door artist,” whose creations seem to offer intriguing possibilities. (3)

There is a love plot in both these tales too, but it is not the narratives’ main focus. Here, the love relationship serves to shed light on what afflicts the male protagonists. Both have become dysfunctional in their own environment (Bhaktin’s “human chronotope”) and find escape or relief or meaning in the fantasy world (Tolkien’s “secondary world”). And the fantasy or magic in both cases has to do with art. Filberto’s regular forays “into” the pages of the Dictionary of Art are more exciting to him than his art classes. And Jan’s mysterious works of art are infinitely more fascinating to the narrator than the computer, earpieces, consoles, and “ratty schedule sheets” which are part of his workaday world.

But eventually, Filberto’s ennui spills over into the fantasy world. He tries rubbing the wedding bands in another way, hoping for different results. Jan’s lover steps inside the “pygmy door” and finds only “drenching rain” and a “long dirty highway” no different from his own real world, and feels “cheated. ridiculed. trapped” by the awful ordinariness of it.

In both tales it is the woman who shows the man the way out. Lilibeth teaches Filberto the much simpler art of ventriloquism and he takes great delight in it, particularly because it gives her so much pleasure. “In love, Filberto’s genius reached a peak.” (Dayrit 86)  And Jan teaches her lover that “to move forward, you’ve got to be able to look behind you and make peace with that.” (Abad-Jugo 10)        

Doors obviously function as an important symbol in both these tales. It’s behind the green door of his studio that all the magic/art takes place in Filberto’s life. And Jan’s doors (art works) represent the entrance into the other worlds her lover dreams of.  What, then, is the significance of Filberto’s firmly shutting the green door at the end of the tale, and Jan’s lover leaving Jan “standing on the sidewalk” and never looking back on her and her doors? What is the “secret” of the doors? Both tales actually make no secret of it. Dayrit’s omniscient narrator says, “But love grew, and Filberto saw that if it was to be true, there must be no secrets. The magic trips must come to an end.”  (87) And Abad-Jugo’s first-person narrator says: “One day I shall even paint a door, though I will keep it firmly shut. Well, at least until I’m ready.” (11)

Might both stories be read as cautionary tales about the danger of allowing art to dominate one’s life, or of using art as an escape from life? As in the Gamalinda tale, there are hints that the characters themselves see their incursions into the fantasy world as a form of illusion or madness. Filberto has “a nagging intuition that impells him to keep the magic trips secret. Revelation would wipe out all experience and result in amnesia: the fireflies would go wild and scatter in the fields.” (Dayrit 87) And Jan’s lover actually says: “It seems easier to believe, too, that she has never existed except as a sudden attack of the imagination on a bus ride one day.” (Abad-Jugo 11)

It must be added (as a precaution against taking the warning in the tales too seriously perhaps) that the tone of both these tales is playful and humorous. Filberto’s befuddled art teacher, Mrs. Dee-who likes to sing Don McLean’s “Vincent” to her students while making them work on paintings inspired by the song-is matched by Gil, who works in the same place as Jan’s boyfriend and claims to have “perfect relationships with four girls spread out on the archipelago.”

Another interesting aspect of these tales is that the two women protagonists-though they are loved by the men-are a far cry from the passionate, troubled women of the other two tales. Lilibeth is a girlish figure, giggling at her Filberto’s tricks, and exchanging chaste kisses with him. And Jan, though she has an affair with the protagonist, seems more sisterly than loverlike, and is described as being “surprisingly skinny and most unfortunately flat.” (4) It is almost as though another troublesome element-woman’s sexuality-has been deliberately toned down; almost as though the earlier stage of needing to aggressively assert woman’s sexuality has been outgrown, and here, though certainly not denied, this sexuality is regarded more naturally as just one aspect of life.

“Bearing Fruit” by Nikki Alfar (2007) and “A Song in the Wind” by Maria Elena Paterno (1992) are different from the four previous tales in that they do not contain a shifting between real world and fantasy world. The characters exist completely within the “fantasy chronontope.” Both tales are humorous feminist revisions of old folk tales.

Alfar’s tale is roughly based on a Bontoc legend about a young girl who is seduced and impregnated by a fruit-in this case, a mango-and sets out to find the man responsible for it.[14] The twist is that when she finds her man, she realizes that she doesn’t want him. Paterno’s tale is the old one of a mermaid falling in love with a mortal man and whisking him off to her own underwater world.[15] And, like some of her sisters before her, this mermaid has restored her human lover to his own world. However-and here’s the twist-she lets him go with one last gift: she erases her memory, only to learn that it isn’t entirely possible.

“Bearing Fruit” uses folklore’s traditional motifs-the innocent maiden, the strangely uncaring parents, the magical fruit, the quest. And everything comes in threes-it is three girls who take the road; they carry three “weapons;” there are three things that the heroine should have known and three things that she eventually learns; and she encounters three men. But the tale is told using the unusual strategy of the 2nd person narrator. It is addressed to a “you” who is actually the narrator herself. So the narrator is talking to herself, berating herself;  but she is also teaching herself what conclusions to draw from her own questions and quest. Moreover, she is effectively drawing the eavesdropping reader into the lessons, using a most engaging narrative voice young, spirited, clever, candid, funny.

“A Song in the Wind” uses an even more unusual narrative strategy: three alternating “voices” signaled by shifting typographical markers: the mermaid’s, an omniscient narrator’s  who describes what is happening to the man who was the mermaid’s lover, and short passages, which look and read like dictionary entries or parts of a scholarly paper. Like the previous tale’s heroine, this protagonist is herself an amusing deconstruction of the heroine of romantic legend and lore. This mermaid has been sitting on her rock for so long that it is hollowed by her shape. And she throws her strange song to the wind in the voice of a jaded, cynical woman of the world, tired of witnessing puny man’s futile struggles, bored with being the stuff of man’s myths. She mocks man’s attempts to define her: “Mythical! Ha! I’m as real as the waves, as this sea that you humans cannot even begin to know about or imagine.” As for “siren, hence, harlot,” she scoffs: “The trouble with you humans is that you assign names to things you do not understand, and then you believe your names.” (Paterno 2) Her human lover, having no memory, is unable to speak; his version is, in effect, silenced, a pointed reversal of roles which generally impose silence on women. Ironically, the gift turns out to be a failure for her and a curse for him.

This bored, cynical, ageless mermaid sitting on her rock, impatient with man’s ways and his myths, is juxtaposed against the young man, sitting on another rock, vulnerable, helpless and inarticulate, ashamed of his tears “the tears of a child who had forgotten what it is crying for,” gazing at the stars and at the water, reaching out for what he cannot remember. And then there is the sea, whose movement on their bodies is used as a metaphor for their lovemaking. “my cool body on his heat. His skin on my skin. The water waving first cool then warm, and him shuddering. Me and him, shuddering.” (3)

Water plays an equally potent role-both literally and figuratively-in “Bearing Fruit.”  After her titillating, exhilarating, and, as it turns out, disastrous experience on the “clear green” of the river, with the fruit which is described alternately as “impudent,” “frolicsome” and “glowingly golden,” the heroine realizes that “there is no safety in the river, no stability, not even a guarantee of welcome.” (Alfar 178) And this wide-eyed innocent village lass-turned into a plucky, competent, determined, feisty female-is a decided contrast to the scrawny youth she meets on her sojourn, and the intelligent but effete, rich young man who might have become her Prince. Only the strong, lithe, bold rogue by the river might be her match.  If she chooses him. She could very well just “do without.”

The message in the Alfar tale-that no plot is fixed, no ending inevitable-is no secret. The message in the Paterno tale is more subtle, more complex. It has to do with myth-making and with the roles that entrap both those who tell the myths and those about whom they are told. The mermaid’s tale would tear the myth to shreds; but within the tale, the mermaid’s efforts to erase her lover’s memory and erase him from her own memory (which would destroy the myth) are futile. Ironically, the “scholarly text” has the last say. “Such fanciful stories are perhaps attributable to a folk imagination that seeks to transform an otherwise unchanging environment by infusing it with magical elements.” (Paterno 6)

In these two tales the characters are firmly within the fantasy world from beginning to end. But that world has been made to stand on its head.

Even this cursory glance at this small selection of tales should serve to confirm that in the hands of these women writers, the modern wonder tale is reinventing itself boldly and imaginatively.

But are the tales actually wonder tales? I hope my readings have demonstrated that indeed they are. In the first four narratives, the ordinary collides with the fabulous, and we find the Todorovian hesitation at the confrontation. The Alfar and Paterno narratives, on the other hand, are fairy tales turned upside down and inside out. And in all six, we find  “echoes and elements of the traditional fairy tale embedded in the narrative like so many fragments, as if the old tales had fractured under immense pressure.” (Park and Heaton 1992, xii) Thus we encounter magical objects, golden rings, enchanted fruits, secret doors, caskets, fairy songs, haunted houses. Finally, the tales’ plots contain the four elements identified by Tolkien as the facets or values of the good fairy tale: fantasy or magic, recovery from despair, escape from danger; and consolation; (48) although in most of the tales, this last element is wrapped in ambiguity. What is missing from these modern fables is the traditional happy ending. Nonetheless these endings are not dark and grim. As Bacchilega says of Hopkinson’s work, “Each story takes the protagonist and us the readers to the threshold of transformation or just beyond it, into the liminal moment when the ending is the beginning of another story.” (2006)

What is “Filipino” about these tales? It is a Pinoy middle-class imagination at work here. Rosa has a yaya. Rosa’s mother sends for an albularyo to try to get  the mute child to speak. Gamalinda’s heroine has a yaya as well, and studies in a convent school. Ace goes home to Roxas, learns chabacano, returns to Manila to take the Nursing board exam. Filberto and Lilibeth grew up in the rice fields and bamboo groves of Libtong. Jan’s lover works in a call center and tramps through streets clogged with jeepneys and garbage. Of course Alfar’s tale unfolds in a countryside unmistakeably Pinoy.  And even the mermaid, the most elusive figure, refers to dugongs.

But perhaps more Pinoy than all that is the humor which underlies most of these tales. The comedy is obvious in the tales by Dayrit, Abad-Jugo and Alfar. Gamalinda’s narrator is a clutz and the Shakesperean tragic “hero,” Ace, wants to be a nurse, like the hordes of Pinoys who want to emigrate. There is something campy about Paterno’s worldly mermaid. Only Guevara’s tale is somber.  (Perhaps Pinoyhumor is finally coming into its own in our literature in English?)

Are these enabling tales?   To begin with, they are transgressive of conventional morality. The dominant emotion in “Rosa” is the father’s anger not the mother’s guilt;  there was love between her and the gentle brother Luis. Nor does Rosa seem dismayed by the discovery that she is a love child. Gamalinda’s narrator is pained by Ace’s inconstancy, not by her being a lesbian. Jan and the narrator in Abad-Jugo’s tale become lovers without any qualms about not being married to each other. At the end of Alfar’s tale the narrator has decided that her being pregnant need not mean that she must marry the child’s father, or marry at all. And to say that the issue of right and wrong is a ticklish one in Paterno’s tale is to put it mildly.

These tales may also be considered empowering because the female protagonists seize control over their lives, or help the male protagonists to do so.[16] Her yaya’sstories give Rosa knowledge, and empower her.[17] After the woman’s death, she looks for the rest of the story and finds it in the basement. She brings up the box, forcing her parents to confront it. Then she chooses to leave this house-her prison-and go with her dead uncle. In a sense, though she chooses death, she has been set free. When Ace the woman goes away, the narrator reverts back to her old state-solitude and surviving on canned tuna. She seems to be sinking back into a depression. But the fact that she no longer calls the cat “Ace” and that she has put the box away are good signs. She’s moving on. So this, too, is an enabling tale. One might choose to pick up the pieces and go on, or one might choose to end it all. What matters is that one chooses.

In “Jan’s Door” and “A Bedtime Art Story,” it is the male characters who are prone to ennui and vulnerable to the dangerously seductive power of art; and the female characters (including the woman who is an artist) who have their feet planted more firmly on the ground, or “in the real world.” Though she might be man’s muse, woman is also his anchor. She gives him stability and keeps him sane.

The women narrators of “A Song in the Wind” and “Bearing Fruit” are clearly determined to reject the old narratives about themselves. And, though Paterno’s mermaid appears to have been foiled, she does get to speak, and her voice is loud and clear. Finally, Alfar’s narrator seems on the verge of another marvelous adventure, and this time, an adventure of her own choosing.

To return to Bacchilega, “In the end, a ‘positive’ or ‘liberating’ change has occurred, but there is no resolution. only a twinkle of optimism.” (2006)

We might ask one last question: why do we write tales like these and why do we read them?  Susan Sellers reminds us that in today’s tales, “fairies can just as easily be alien space craft or even an accommodating bank manager.” (16) But, because of their form, these tales are a link with the past. And, as A.S. Byatt puts it: “it is what is old in the new that compels assent for the new.” The literary fairy tale, she says, is “a wonderful, versatile hybrid form,” which draws on old dreams and fears and narrative motifs and “uses them to think consciously about human beings and the world,” combining “the new thought of the time with the ancient tug of forest and castle, demon and witch, vanishing and shape-shifting, loss and restoration.” (1995)

Citing Bruno Bettelheim’s identification of the connections between fairy tales and the powerful motivations and emotions that drive childhood, Sellers suggests that these connections “continue to resonate in adults and that this explains the genre’s enduring appeal as it fuels, shapes, alleviates and alters our fears and dreams.” (Sellers 16)   

This might explain the hold of tales on the modern imagination, but it does not account for why the form of the tale might be the most effective strategy for telling these particular stories.

In an earlier essay on “The Dust Monster” by Gilda Cordero-Fernando and “The Walk” by Joy Dayrit, I noted how several Filipino women writers used fantasy to tell their tales of trapped women. “Perhaps fantasy lends itself as strategy for empowering female protagonists in literature, because it so often serves as a female strategy for coping in real life.” (Hidalgo 1998a, 26) But this is a bit too simple an explanation.

A closer look at the six tales will reveal that on one level they are really about storytelling; they are self-reflexive postmodern narratives. Like the postmodern tales of Dinesen, Byatt, Le Guinn and Winterson, they “reflect on the nature of narrative, and of their own narrative in particular.” (Byatt 1995) In short, they are metafictional.[18]

There are “texts” within texts in all of them. In Dayrit’s there is the Dictionary of Fine Art, which allows Filberto to enter a world where he discovers things he will never learn in the classroom. In Abad-Jugo’s there are the doors which are the objects on which Jan “writes” and through which she tries to communicate with the narrator. In Guevara’s, there are the yaya’s stories and the photos that Rosa finds in the basement, from which she pieces together her family’s story. In Gamalinda’s tale there are the Shakesperean tragedies which served as the first link between the two girls; the love letters which the narrator wrote for Ace; and Ace’s letters to the narrator, which are a kind of trap, and which the narrator must get rid of in order to be free. In Alfar’s there are the oral tales-and the whole folk tale tradition and the role it imposes upon young women-the plot the protagonist will deliberately reverse. In Paterno’s, there is both the tradition of the sirena in the old tales and the “scientific” definition of the mermaid in the textbooks, both of which are “misreadings.” This “song” is her own version of the story-“put that in your books.” As we have seen, what these authors have done is to write against the grain, to refashion the old narratives.

We have also noted that, on another level, these narratives are also modern tales of love.

The form of the tale, with its roots in the past, thus becomes a most appropriate and artful way of reflecting on the art of storytelling itself; and of reflecting on, imagining, and retelling the oldest tale of all, and doing it as modern Filipino women.

The tale is an inherently feminist genre, says Marina Warner. Its wonders disrupt “the apprehensible world in order to open spaces for dreaming alternatives.” (1995, xvi) In her paper on Philippine speculative fiction, the young fictionist and scholar, Anna Felicia Sanchez, would take it even farther.

The elements in speculative fiction make the genre-or mode, as some critics would insist-transgressive. Knowledge of these elements-the novum, the fantastic, the icon, the mega-text-equips us with the ability to harness this transgressive potential into something fully relevant to the Philippine experience, whether in matter of nation, class or gender. (2007)


III. Marvelous Realism

There is magic and mystery in the next group of tales too. But I believe it is a different sort of spell they cast. They belong to a different category of narrative.

In Ma. Romina M. Gonzalez’s ” Offeratory” (2003), a ten-year-old girl asks her father why he has put a dish of fried chicken drumsticks on top of a ladder near a clump of bamboo outside the house, and learns the story of a tree spirit who fell in love with a woman, and when she refused him, turned her into the man who is telling her this story.

In Virginia Villanueva’s  “Sea Change” (2005), the narrator has memories of having been rescued from drowning in the Jolo sea when she was ten by a mermaid with long green hair; and, at 36, with a family of her own and a successful career as a medical doctor, she meets the mermaid again. This is not a love story between man and woman, for Serenata, the mermaid, does not return the affections of the WHO parasitologist who wishes to make her his bride. Rather, it is the story of the bond between the mermaid and the mortal woman whom she saved as a child. But in the interstices of the foregrounded plot, is the failed love story of the narrator and her husband. And, once again, the mermaid comes to the mortal woman’s rescue. Serenata in this tale is both the enchantress of the legends and a playful, childlike friend.

Francezca Kwe’s “A Ghost Story” (2007) is a crossover into gothic fiction, replete with crumbling mansion, beveled mirror, severed hand, pale ghosts,  bones thrown out of graves, madness and violent deaths. It rambles and digresses, drifting off here and there, returning fitfully to the main story line, which is the young narrator’s efforts to discover the “truth” about the old house and its ghosts. Her efforts are thwarted by many factors-the lack of reliable witnesses, the lady of the manor’s total inaccessibility, her own departure for college in Manila and involvement in student politics, etc. When she returns to her hometown, it is to find that the old town has irrevocably changed. But Lola Concha has emerged from seclusion and morphed into a Born-Again Christian, and is herself eager to talk of the past. So the narrator finally hears the story of the old house’s strange tenants, natural and supernatural.

Rosario Lucero’s “Doreen’s Story” (2003) is much more complex than any of the other tales in this cluster. As in “Offeratory” and “A Ghost Story,” there is a tale-or tales-embedded within the main story, but the frame here is itself a complicated one.  The story within the frame is being told to the narrator by Doreen Fernandez in a restaurant, with constant interruptions, caused not just by the arrival of the different dishes, but by the narrator herself. She repeatedly digresses into anecdotes she has heard from other people (like Sam, an NPA commander who once found himself face to face with a tamawo), or with information culled from her own research-about zigomars, for instance, and about the cholera epidemics that hit the province during the “American period.” Moreover, it is later revealed that the narrator is actually recounting all of this to a third character-Jonathan-after Doreen’s death, and Jonathan has his own views on some portions of the narrative. (Both Doreen Fernandez and Jonathan Chua are real persons, which opens up the possibility of this narrative’s being, not fiction at all, but creative nonfiction.)

The tale that emerges-in fits and starts, and amidst many perambulations and circumlocutions-is about the tortured (but also comic) relations of the lord of the manor Don Isidro, his wife, and their daughter Anabella. Doreen’s death should logically bring the tale-Doreen’s-to an end. But the narrator decides to write her own ending to it, because “my generation needs its own legends too.” (49)

These four stories are a delightful mix of mundane and mysterious- medical doctors and WHO scientists consorting with mermaids and witches; a simple village lass transformed into a man by a spurned amorous spirit and departing for Saudi Arabia as an engineer; ghosts and demons colliding with wealthy, middle-aged, Born-Again ghostbusters in a decaying mansion; a student activist suffering from depression and obsessed with a haunted house; a woman who subscribes to Harper’s and The National Geographic allowing herself to be flogged by her husband for an infidelity never actually consummated; a beautiful, reclusive heiress who, upon her death, “will be found to have produced 12 novels, 122 short stories, 7 novelettes, 5 corridos, 8 narrative poems of 100 to 1,000 stanzas each, 231 short lyrics, 7 long plays,  24 short plays and dialogos in verse, 7 volumes of essays and two autobiographies.” (49) 

Are these wonder tales? Is this fantasy? There are no borders dividing the “real world” from “fairyland” in these tales. Nor is there any apparent skepticism about the events narrated in the narrator’s tone, although it is impossible to miss the Lucero narrator’s occasional sly wink. Even the narrator of “The Ghost Story,” who is unsure of what exactly happened in the old mansion, does not doubt that it happened. In fact the narrators all use a fairly straightforward matter-of-fact tone even while chronicling the most astonishing matters. Perhaps it is no coincidence that all four of these tales have a provincial setting, where the links between “modern” life and the traditional culture remain strong.

And yet urban legends abound in Metro Manila about all sorts of strange beings—from the white lady haunting Balete Drive, to the doll Maria Leonora Teresa (given by Tirso Cruz III to Nora Aunor) which has been sighted in different places in the country, to the ghost lurking in UP’s Abelardo Hall and the ghosts wandering about the UST’S Main Building (site of the old American concentration camp), to themanananggal who used to terrorize the residents of Tondo. Not to mention spirits of departed relatives who make their presence felt in the wakes of rich and poor alike; and the many seers and fortune tellers who leave their cubbyholes in Quiapo to make house calls in the Makati villages.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 the world became conscious of the literature of the Latin-American “Boom,”[19] and the term “magical realism” became common currency in academic circles.

Actually, the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, one of the most influential precursors of the “Boom,” objected to the term “magical realism.” In an essay first published in 1949, he offered instead the term “marvelous realism.” According to Carpentier, “the entire history of America” is “a chronicle of the marvelous real.” And by the “marvelous real” he meant “certain things that have occurred in America, certain characteristics of its landscape, certain elements that have nourished my work.” (1995a, 88)

The term “magical realism” he attributed to Franz Roh, a German art critic, who, according to Carpentier, was simply referring to “painting where real forms are combined in a way that does not conform to daily reality.” (1995b,102) Among the examples cited by Carpentier was Chagall, “with his painted cows flying through the sky, donkeys on rooftops, upside-down people, musicians among the clouds-elements of reality but transferred to a dreamlike atmosphere, an oneiric atmosphere.” This, Carpentier said, was a mystery all right, but “a manufactured mystery.”  This was Surrealism.

In contrast, there was “our own marvelous real. encountered in its raw state, latent and omnipresent, in all that is Latin American. Here the strange is commonplace, and always was commonplace.” For this larger-than-life reality, a different way of writing was required.

The description of a baroque world is necessarily baroque. I have to create with my worlds a baroque style that parallels the baroque of the temperate, tropical landscape. And we find that this leads logically to a baroque that arises spontaneously in our literature.” (106)

In short this literature isn’t about magic or fantasy. It is about a reality that seemsmagical or fantastic, but is not; it’s a marvelous reality.

Garcia Marquez sounded the same note in his Nobel lecture, when he referred to the region’s “outsized reality.”

Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. (1982)

The rejection of the conventions of social realism, therefore, has its basis in the belief that these are inadequate for the rendering of the life and culture of the Latin American countries. “Marvelous realism” is a way of perceiving reality, not just a way of rendering it. As Kumkum Sangari puts it, “Marvelous realism is a way of knowing, a transformative mode, “answering an emergent society’s need for renewed self-description and self-assessment.” (1990, 221) It displaces establishes categories, questions certain western myths of “progress” and “modernization,” asserts another realm of (pre-industrial) possibility, acknowledges that perceptions are relative, but historically determined.

A western reader encountering a fictional character who has fallen ill, because he has offended the guardian spirit of a tree, will either assume that this is a metaphor for the consequences of a lack of concern for the environment; or that he is reading a fantasy tale in which spirits inhabit the same space as human beings. In fact, it is neither metaphor nor fantasy. For in our own country, there are many who will fell a tree, or cause one to be felled, only after begging the guardian spirit’s leave or placing some kind of offering at the tree’s roots.

Our own many-layered reality in the Philippines is just as difficult to render in realist fiction as is Marquez’s Colombia or Salman Rushdie’s India or Ben Okri’s Nigeria. Small wonder then that our writers should in like manner invent and borrow strategies that work better for their purposes.

Thus, Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows (1983), Alfred A. Yuson’s The Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café (1988), Erwin Castillo’s The Firewalkers (1992), and Vicente Garcia Groyon’s Sky Over Dimas (2003) are examples of what Linda Hutcheon calls “historiographic metafiction” (1995, 71-91) and use a plethora of strategies connected with postmodernism and  marvelous realism. (I have written about these elsewhere. See Hidalgo 2005, 296-334.) Most recently, there areBanyaga by Charlson Ong (2006) and Salamanca by Dean Francis Alfar (2006).

The four tales which we have been discussing are on a similar vein. They are told in a rambling, digressive, self-reflexive fashion-a style which characterizes, not just the fiction of the Latin-American Boom, but the fairy tales of the 17th century Frenchconteuses, the modern tales of Isak Dinesen and Jeanette Winterson, and those of Gilda Cordero-Fernando. And two of them-Kwe’s and Lucero’s-are  wonderfully funny. To prepare for the exorcism of the haunted house, Kwe’s ghost busters are “told to reread the passage on the temptation in the wilderness, as well as the fifth installment of a comics series penned by a converted, former Satan worshipper, divulging the tendencies of minor devils.” Lucero’s Anabella brings home a mermaid, who had belonged to a tribe of tamawos who had lived deep in the forest, but had lost her family to malaria when the forest was cut down, and had mutated into a mermaid by feeding off the marine life in the mangrove swamp.

But these are not fantastic tales. Todorov’s “hesitation” does not happen here. It does not occur to Cita’s daughter, or to the doctor invited by the WHO parasitologist to witness his betrothal to a mermaid, or to the woman listening to Doreen’s account about Anabella’s friendship with another mermaid, to doubt the reality of what they are hearing or witnessing. The exception is possibly the student narrator in Kwe’s story, who is combination of romantic and skeptic, antiquarian and activist. (She goes to the exorcism carrying a dictionary rather than a bible, having picked up the wrong book in her haste!) Because she closes her eyes at the critical moment during the haunted house’s exorcism, she is unable to say for sure what did or did not occur. However, she experiences the terror and witnesses its effects on her companions, particularly the weeping Lola Concha. Here are narratives in which most Filipino readers will recognize echoes of stories they may have heard of or perhaps even lived through themselves.

There is much violence, and even cruelty, in these tales. Cita’s son dies because he eats a guava out of which worms spill out and crawl into his throat and choke him. His sister dies mangled by a mad dog that somehow escapes its chains. Rodolfo in Kwe’s tale hangs himself from a chandelier. Her young female narrator is kept in a small cell with a dirty toilet bowl, and other male prisoners, as well as the cops on duty, smirk and howl while watching her do her business.” Don Isidro uses his whip, not just on his servants, but on his own wife.

Commenting on the violence in the work of Latin American women writers, Suzanne Bassnett suggests that, given the history of women’s repression, “what may have once been deemed subjects that were not to be spoken of are now transformed into the savage material of fiction.” (262)

But, in fact, the old European fairy tales-as well as our own folk tales-are full of violence. In her introduction to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, which she edited, Angela Carter says: “.The past was hard, cruel, and especially inimical to women, whatever desperate stratagems we employed to get a little bit of our way.” (1991, xxii)

And, of course, violence is not limited to women’s tales, for how else to describe the battle scenes in Yuson and Castillo, or the mysterious manipulations in Joaquin, or the labyrinthine twists and turns of fate in Ong, or the murder and madness in Groyon, or the general mayhem in Alfar?

There are no “happily ever after” endings to these tales either. I am reminded of this bit of dialogue in Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping:

Tell me a story, Pew.
What kind of story, child?
A story with a happy ending.
There’s no such thing in the world.
As a happy ending?
As an ending. 
(2004, 73)

Still, these tales come to rest on a note of calm. Order is restored, albeit temporarily. Life goes on. As, indeed, it does in the world as we know it.

Are these enabling narratives? I believe that most of them are. Villanueva’s doctor has found her moorings, with the mermaid’s help: Serenata refuses to accept the human suitor she does not love, which gives the doctor the courage to face the end of her own loveless marriage. Kwe’s narrator’s determination to learn the truth about the old house is partially rewarded. Anabella succeeds in carving out a life of her own choosing despite the awful constraints imposed upon her. Only Cita remains fettered by the vengeful tree spirit’s curse.

Why these stories, then, and why these strategies to tell them? These are works of retrieval and re-imagination. They are a refashioning of materials we have always been familiar with, but have not bothered to write of, perhaps in acquiescence to the idea that they were not important-were perhaps even “backward.”

“The search for modernity led us to discover our antiquity, the hidden face of the nation,” announced the Mexican Octavio Paz in his Nobel Lecture. He called it an “unexpected historical lesson.”  

Between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity. (1990)

Nick Joaquin was the first of the modern Filipino fictionists in English to recognize this importance of the link between past and present. So Cave and Shadows traces our roots to our pre-Christian past. Following his lead, Yuson, Castillo, Groyon and Alfar have borrowed protagonists from history or imagined others who could well have existed, and plunged them into adventures and misadventures, some gothic and melodramatic, others hilarious and rambunctious, to bring the story into the 20th and 21st centuries.

The four women storytellers have revived the gods and spirits of house and garden and forest, remembering song and legend, family lore and village gossip, weaving thereby other versions of our collective story.

Writes Gilda Cordero-Fernando:

Educated urbanites have varied attitudes towards the ways of their ancestors. The Christian who takes his faith seriously fears, distrusts, and condemns these beliefs and practices as works of the devil. Non-churchgoers have been as critical though for different reasons. Priding themselves on their scientific spirit, they lambaste colonialism for destroying the indigenous culture. And yet they scorn the ways of ordinary, not-so-educated Filipinos as “superstitious.” (1991, 156.)

But not these four.

Lucero, in particular, writes not only of but from the complex, multifarious culture of Negros Occidental, and she revels in its richness, using a compelling narrative voice-intelligent, curious, humorous, irrepressible. This is accomplishment enough. But she has also brought to bear on her material a prodigious imagination and a comic vision,comic in the classic sense of being, not merely funny, but both critical and celebratory.

Villanueva brings to life another world-Muslim Jolo and its many paradoxes and contradictions. She has told me that she is actually most drawn to writing nonfiction. “At my age, I have so many true-to-life stories to tell.” What she does, she says, is fictionalize these stories “when I want to make sense or draw some kind of insight into some particular experience.” (2007)

The much younger Gonzalez and Kwe are fascinated by our folklore. Gonzalez says that during her childhood, she would hear “fantastic stories” from older family members and helpers “who claimed to hail from aswang-infested areas in the Visayas and an elderly man my dad employed out of charity, who fancied himself an expert in amulets.” The scene with which “Offeratory” opens is a scene she says she witnessed herself. (2007)

And Kwe is herself part of the “aswang-infested” land-Jaro, Iloilo:

I want to keep alive in my stories the myths of my country: the half-human being tayho, the mischievous, dwarf-like kama-kama on their earthen mounds, the mantayo peering down from the crowns of thekapok trees in the dense forests. From the tales of my childhood glimmers the enchanted lake tucked in the Lambunao mountains, where the water tastes like the sea, and where a ship’s foghorn can be heard calling, on some nights. (2007)


IV. Conclusion

I have identified a third type of tale, but  have decided not to include it here because I have not yet found enough examples. I refer to narratives which may not have any magical or fantastic element at all, and yet cannot possibly be regarded as realist. They are not concerned with the development of a realistic plot, but with the unfolding of a destiny which often has to do with a quest. Action is thus allegorical, symbolic. And though it might be happening in this world, even in particular cities or towns whose names we recognize, language and tone and image contribute to create the sense of enchantment, as though a gossamer veil had been thrown over the scene, to mute or heighten color and sound and shape, so that the effect of the whole is akin to poetry.

Le Guinn points to the work of Borges and Calvino which she believes follow an “earlier tradition”-the tradition of Voltaire and Kafka-the satiric or philosophic tale. (2006)  Isak Dinesen, referring to her own work, called them “gothic tales.” Jeanette Winterson calls her stories and novels “new fables.”

I realize now that when I wrote some of my own tales, like “The Warrior” and “The Woman in the Lighthouse (1994), and some of the embedded tales in my novel, A Book of Dreams (2001), like “The Tale of the Spinster and Peter Pan” and “The Tale of Fernando,” this was the effect I was working for. The only other such tale that I have identified so far is Gizela Gonzalez’s “The Fortune Teller.” (1997)

But I am sure there are more. Or perhaps there are other types of tales we have yet to identify and name.

In Latin America, the Boom has given way to the “Post Boom,” and the Post Boom to “McOndo” and “la generacion del crack.” But as the Bolivian Edmundo Soldan puts it, “The writers of McOndo have grown up and the visceral reaction against magical realism has given way to the vision of a Latin American literature in which dissimilar proposals and influences coexist.” (2004)

The same is true of the literary scene in the Philippines today. Alongside realist fiction are modern wonder tales and marvelous realism, futurist fiction and science fiction, gothic fiction and crime fiction, fan fiction, flash fiction, chick lit and slipstream. And women writers are engaging with these different forms, finding imaginative ways of using them for their own transgressive and enabling purposes.

All literature is an attempt to give form and coherence to the turmoil and chaos that surrounds us. “Being able to write a story around the chaos of your own narrative allows you to see yourself as a fiction,” says Winterson, “which is rather comforting because, of course, fictions can change. It is only the facts that trap us.” (2002)


[1] Nick Joaquin’s modern tales adults are in Tropical Gothic (1972). Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s are included in Story Collection (1994). Both writers have also written  stories for children. Joaquin’s are in Pop Stories for Groovy Kids. (1981). Cordero-Fernando’s are in Bad Kings (2006). Her translations of the Lola Basyang tales are in The Best of Lola Basyang (1997). Her retellings of Philippine myths and folktales are in The Soul Book (1992) and A Treasury of Stories(1995). 

In Volume 2 of the ground-breaking anthology, Speculative Fiction,editor Dean Francis Alfar writes: “In essence, speculative fiction is a type of story that deals with observations of the human condition-just like realism-but offers the experience through a different lense.” (2006, ix) Elsewhere he has described speculative fiction as including, along with science fiction and futurist fiction, fantasy and horror, “original fairy tales, revised fairy tales, folk tales, retold folk tales, myths, modern fantasy, traditional/epic fantasy, alternate history, and interstitial/slipstream, among others.” (2007) 

[3] Damiana Eugenio, in her voluminous compilations of Philippine folk material, used William Bascom’s definition of myths as “prose narratives which, in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past.” (cited in Eugenio 1993, xxiii) Angela Carter uses the term myth “in the sense that Roland Barthes uses it in Mythologies-ideas, images, stories that we tend to take on trust without thinking what they really mean, without trying to work out what, for example, the stories of the New Testatement are really about.” (Cited in Katsavos 1994)

[4] Ursula Le Guinn concurs with this.  “Myth, legend, and folktale are ancestral to, not forms of, modern fiction. Elements of myth and legend may be used consciously or unconsciously by fiction-writers, but we don’t write myths. The nearest we come to it is fantasy.” (2005) Susan Sellers, on the other hand, does not distinguish myth from fairy tale. As they are used today, she says: “The terms seem currently synonymous, even though I recognize important differences in their historical evolution and I continue to see a happy ending as the peculiar province of the fairy tale. I am also aware of the ongoing tendency to “gender” the two, and the hierarchy which the equation of myth with masculine and fairy with feminine produces.” (2001,16)

[5] Bakhtin’s “chronotope” is “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature.” (1981, 85) 

[6] Christine Brook-Rose rejects Todorov’s requirement that the fantastic must involve the supernatural. Her view is that the defining feature of fantasy is the hesitation itself, the unresolvable ambiguity of a text. She suggests further that this type of structural ambiguity is a characteristic of the strategies of postmodernity. (1981, 63-65) 

[7] Northorp Frye’s “modes” and “heroes”-mythic, romantic, high mimetic (tragic), low mimetic (comic), and ironic-in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) antedate this schema by several decades. 

[8]Nikolajeva’s position seems a restatement of Todorov’s. The reader’s acceptance of the magical would qualify the text as “marvelous,” and explaining it away as imagined or illusory would qualify it as “uncanny.” Le Guinn rejects the option of explaining away the magical in some rational fashion. For her, suspension of disbelief is essential. “There is no agreement to pretend that its story happened, might have happened, or might ever happen. Its invention is radical. With the informed consent of the reader, fantasy deliberately avoids plausibility in the sense of congruence with the world outside the story.” (2005)


[9] Maria Delia Coronel in the introduction to her Stories and Legends from Filipino Folklore, says: “Some sixty-seven fairy tales and legends first appeared in a special issue of UNITAS, a quarterly journal published by the University of Santo Tomas, in December 1966.” (1968, 6) But within the text itself, all the materials are simply listed as “stories.” In A Treasury of Stories  E.A. Manuel and Gilda Cordero-Fernando have a category called “folk tales for all ages,” and another one called “tales of wonder.” The latter are described by the authors as “classifiable as ‘romances’ in the western literary sense of the word.” (2001, 211)
[10] Reinero Alba’s article presents a fairly good summary of the history and status children’s literature in the Philippines in both English and Filipino. (2003).

[11] I refer, for example, the anthologies of poetry and fiction published every year by Likhaan: the UP Institute of Creative Writing, from 1995 to 2002; Songs of Ourselves edited by Edna Zapanta Manlapaz (1994); Fast Food Fiction edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus (2003); A La Carte: Food and Fiction edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marilyn Ysip Orosa (2007); Nine Supernatural Stories (2002) edited by Lara Saguisag and April Timbol Yap, Afraid  (2005) edited by Danton Remoto, Speculative Fiction  I (2005) and Speculative Fiction II (2007), both edited by Dean Francis Alfar. The unpublished stories which I read  are mainly written by my own creative writing graduate students. Others have been submitted by award-winning young writers for possible publication in an anthology of tales I am working on. And Prof. Nino de Veyra of UP in Mindanao provided access to the undergraduate thesis of Ms. Giesele Pilapil, which is a collection of her own tales. 

[12] To mention just a few examples, there are Elizabeth Wanning Harries’ Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale (2001), Susan Sellers’ Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemorary Women’s Fiction ((2001), and Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches edited by Donald Haase (2004). M Charlene Ball, reviewing Susan Sellers’ book, writes of how myth (which Sellers does not distinguish from fairy tale) can “lend itself to subversion and resistance, for truths can be written under the guise of mythic fantasy that cannot always be told in a realistic mode.” (2004)

[13] “Sex, birth and becoming. All this disgusts and enraptures the girls, makes them burst with excitement. I don’t think the rapture I felt reading fairy tales had to do exclusively with their themes of sex and danger. But sex did figure.” (Bernheimer, 2006)

[14] A version of this tale appears in A Treasury of Stories by Manuel and Cordero-Fernando (1995, 219-227).

[15] Eugenio recounts several such “mermaid legends.” (2002, 325-333) 

[16] M Charlene Ball writes: “(Myth). can also lend itself to subversion and resistance, for truths can be written under the guise of mythic fantasy that cannot always be told in a realistic mode. Even though many feminist theories have seen myth as regressive, women authors have frequently used myth to subvert oppressive structures.” (emphasis mine) (2004, 229) 

[17] The yaya or the aunt as a wise old woman or good witch figure, more in touch with nature and therefore more able than her mother to help the young girl protagonist is a recurring one in the fiction of Filipino women in English. (See Hidalgo 1998b, 34 and 64)  

[18] Jessica Tiffin, writing about A.S. Byatt, says than “fairy tale has some element that could be said to be inherently metafictional, and thus it is particularly well adapted to the kind of self-conscious play in which Byatt engages. Byatt’s writing, she adds, “highlights constructedness as inherent to narrative in a way that problematizes reality itself as well as the literature that represents it.” (2006, 47)

[19] The so-called Boom was really a “finite burst of commercial activity, caused by the Barcelona publishing house Seix Barral,” with its international novelists’ conventions, literary prizes (like the Biblioteca Breve Prize, given to Mario Vargas Llosa in 1962), and the series Nueva Narrativa Hispanica which reinforced the sense of coherence, importance and international identity of the New Narrative in Latin America. (Swanson 2005, 84-85)




Abad-Jugo, Cyan. 2005. Jan’s door. In Philippine Speculative Fiction I, ed. Dean Francis Alfar. Pasig. Kestrel IMC, 1-11.

Alba, Reinero. 2003. Nurturing children’s literature in the Philippines. July

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