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Author Topic: PC137: The Beautiful Coalwoman  (Read 3518 times)
Talia
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« on: December 28, 2010, 02:01:52 PM »

PodCastle 137: The Beautiful Coalwoman

by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud. Translated by Edward Gauvin.

Read by Wilson Fowlie of The Maple Leaf Singers.

Originally published in La Belle Charbonniere.

“Sire, if it pleases you to take your rest here, this house is yours.”

“Thank you, old man. Heaven will be grateful for your hospitality toward its humble servant, for I am a Christian knight.”

The old man crossed himself at once. In school, Maxence had been taught the how to pay his way in the coin of word. The oldest of the children reappeared, ewer in hand.

“My thanks, boy. Tell me, would you know how to look after my steed?”

The boy gazed at his grandfather without answering.

“Of course he does, sire!” said the old man. “Off you go—you know where fodder can be found, and make sure you give the horse a good rubdown!”

The boy walked toward the horse. Maxence told him he could ride it instead of leading it to fodder. The boy smiled at last. Maxence plunged the ewer into the spring’s fresh water.

“It’s good water, it is, sire,” the old man said. “It’s kept me in good health for seventy years, it has!”

“Upon my word, seventy years! It must be good indeed—you seem quite sprightly still!”

On hearing these words, the old man couldn’t keep from contorting his face in a grin. Maxence saw he would have food and shelter tonight for a trifle.


Rated PG.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2011, 11:50:07 AM by Talia » Logged
blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2010, 09:07:42 AM »

First! Je suis le Roi sous la montagne! (Forgive me, languages aren't my strong suit, I think that's about right).

An amazing and indeed melancholy story. I'm surprised how well the 'knight errant' song translates (I didn't realize 'errant' had the double meaning in both languages).

I choose to appreciate this story as I see it: a watercolor of dark shades. There is analysis to be had, how this fits into the sort of Grimm's fairy tale standard, etc. It is a fable, as well written and touching and dark as any the old brothers cadged out of a talkative villager.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2010, 09:37:38 AM »

I lost track of it a couple of times; it seemed to have an erratic speed, initially slow and contemplative to the point of tedium, but at the end accelerating almost to invisibility.  Other than that (which I suspect is more an artifact of my poor aural comprehension skills than the story per se), it was an enjoyable dark fairy tale.  The first story I wrote and sold was likewise one of those, so I cannot disapprove lest I become a hypocrite.
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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2010, 09:43:08 AM »

Cool to see a translated work!  Not one of my favorites, but was a cool fairy tale.  I wasn't quite sure what happened at the end, he tries to flee her and succeeds, but dies in the attempt, not even able to find her again?
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Schreiber
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2010, 01:19:46 PM »

Cool to see a translated work!  Not one of my favorites, but was a cool fairy tale.  I wasn't quite sure what happened at the end, he tries to flee her and succeeds, but dies in the attempt, not even able to find her again?

Elle veut que son amour et elle veut sa revanche... she doesn't want to be friends.  Wink
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Loz
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2011, 07:29:44 AM »

I try not to complain when older stories omit things like motivation or reason for their characters doing what they do, their writers and readers were happy with people just doing things for no other reason than the story needed them to do so for the tale to continue, but though I liked the way this story was told I ended up dissatisfied. I didn't understand pretty much anything of what the Coalwoman did so I presume that in the end she's evil just because she's magical and magic isn't Christian. The Knight dies because, by not running her through on the spot, he surrenders his Christian virtue and so has to die.

The sudden ending really ruined the atmosphere Châteaureynaud had built up through his story, as though he suddenly realised he had reached an arbitrary word count or that it was 5:25 on a Friday evening and it wasn't worth missing out on vital boozing time to give a better ending. I assumed we were building towards the 'he gets back to discover he's been gone for 70 years and now the young boy is an old grandfather' trope. All in all it was a shame.
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iamafish
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2011, 07:05:53 PM »

This story started really well. I was enjoying both characters and their relationship - although i don't think it was explained well why they were sleeping together, it just seemed random. Then it just fizzled out. The knight died, the story ended, and i was unsatisfied. there seemed to be no real resolution or even conflict. I was waiting for something to happen, but it never did. Disappointing
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yicheng
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2011, 12:06:31 PM »

I really enjoyed the lyrical imagery in this story.  It drew me into the story, and I was all but shivering with the MC when he was fording the icy river and braving the snows.  I admit that I usually don't like such an abrupt ending with all its untied threads, but I figured it must be a French thing, and it kind of worked for me for some reason. 

For me, I envision the Coalwoman as a nature spirit like Circe from Homer, or a Fae of the Norse mythology.  Coal represents ashes and soot, the burning destruction of things, and the thing that we all become when we die.  I think, therefore, the Coalwoman represents Death and Dying, her coals are the Souls of living, and the boats represent Charon (the ferryman of Hades) carrying the Souls to whatever fates await them.  Once he entered the Coalwoman's world, the Knight enters the Coalwoman's kingdom, which I think is the spirit world, or the world of death.  Maybe he died already when he first attempted to come onto her island, and maybe he existed only as a spirit (which explains his initial youth and vigor), while the Coalwoman slowly fed on his life-force as evidenced by his continual aging. 

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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2011, 02:42:39 PM »

A friend of mine, who hasn't listened to it yet, asked if I read it in a faux, Monty Python style French accent.  I wonder if that would have improved its reception here.  Smiley


Ze ol' mahn crossed 'imself at wants.  In skuul, Maxence 'ad been tot 'ow to pay 'is weh in ze coin of werd.


... nah.
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yicheng
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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2011, 05:10:46 PM »

A friend of mine, who hasn't listened to it yet, asked if I read it in a faux, Monty Python style French accent.  I wonder if that would have improved its reception here.  Smiley


Ze ol' mahn crossed 'imself at wants.  In skuul, Maxence 'ad been tot 'ow to pay 'is weh in ze coin of werd.


... nah.

Don't forget to punctuate every paragraph with "Ah hon hon hon hon hon hon..."
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kibitzer
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« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2011, 02:48:37 AM »

A friend of mine, who hasn't listened to it yet, asked if I read it in a faux, Monty Python style French accent.  I wonder if that would have improved its reception here.  Smiley

You mean you weren't already? Damn. American accents -- not my strong suit.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2011, 05:02:40 PM »

A friend of mine, who hasn't listened to it yet, asked if I read it in a faux, Monty Python style French accent.  I wonder if that would have improved its reception here.  Smiley

You mean you weren't already? Damn. American accents -- not my strong suit.

I'm torn between a  Tongue and a  Cheesy.

(Also, I'm Canadian.  But that's even harder to tell from a USian accent.)
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"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham
kibitzer
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« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2011, 08:23:14 PM »

(Also, I'm Canadian.  But that's even harder to tell from a USian accent.)

ARGH, I should have known that from your "Maple Leaf Singers" tag. My humble apologies -- that's like calling me a Kiwi ;-)
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2011, 03:46:47 PM »

(Also, I'm Canadian.  But that's even harder to tell from a USian accent.)

ARGH, I should have known that from your "Maple Leaf Singers" tag. My humble apologies -- that's like calling me a Kiwi ;-)

No problem, although I understand that it's more like like calling a Kiwi an Aussie, if only from the point of view of the size and influence of the respective cultures.  I only have that on hearsay, though - not saying I'm right or anything.  Smiley
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"People commonly use the word 'procrastination' to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working." - Paul Graham
eytanz
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« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2011, 10:51:37 AM »

Didn't really work for me. Not because of the lack of action or the low-key ending, but because the low-key ending was telegraphed quite early. The coal woman told him what would happen if he left, then he left, and it happened, and nothing else did. No response on his part, no external influence, and no reflection on his part either - and note, the story was quite happy to let us share in his thoughts earlier on.

I liked the mood of the story, and how it left so much open to interpretation. If it didn't tell you the exact nature of the ending in the middle - if only she said "if you leave, you won't find what you seek" or something like that, rather describing the barren wasteland in detail - then I would have probably finished hearing it with a very different impression than I did.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2011, 05:09:04 PM »

I enjoyed this one a lot, and then was surprised by the ending, in that it had already come and gone by the time I noticed it. It made sense to me that the MC was sleeping with the coalwoman; it seemed like he was quite the ladies' man in his youth and that he had sought her out as a sort of "reliving the glory days". And I really like yicheng's theory above that he actually died of the fever, etc, that helps me to resolve the fact that while the beautiful trees were there, the cabin no longer was. All in all though, it makes for a wonderful dark fairy tale.

Also, I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of Wilson Fowlie's mellifluous voice, both speaking and singing!  Smiley
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