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Author Topic: PC300: Ilse, Who Saw Clearly  (Read 5773 times)
Talia
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« on: February 27, 2014, 09:59:22 AM »

PodCastle 300: Ilse, Who Saw Clearly

by E. Lily Yu

Read by Wilson Fowlie (of the Maple Leaf Singers)

Originally published in Apex, 2013. Read it here!

Once, among the indigo mountains of Germany, there was a kingdom of blue-eyed men and women whose blood was tinged blue with cold. The citizens were skilled in clockwork, escapements, and piano manufacture, and the clocks and pianos of that country were famous throughout the world. Their children pulled on rabbit-fur gloves before they sat down to practice their etudes, for it was so cold the notes rang and clanged in the air. It was coldest of all in the town on the highest mountain, where there lived a girl called Ilse, who was neither beautiful nor ugly, neither good nor wicked. Yet she was not quite undistinguished, because she was in love.

One afternoon, when the air was glittering with the sounds of innumerable pianos, a stranger as stout as a barrel and swathed to his nosetip walked through the town, singing. Where he walked the pianos fell silent, and wheat-haired boys and girls cracked shutters into the bitter cold to peep at him. And what he sang was this:


Ice for sale, eyes for sale,
If your complexion be dark or pale
If your old eyes be sharp or frail,
Come buy, come buy, bright ice for sale!

Only his listeners could not tell whether he was selling ice or eyes, because he spoke in an odd accent and through a thick scarf.

Rated PG.

Thank you so much for being with us for 300 episodes!

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: March 21, 2014, 07:05:58 PM by Talia » Logged
Varda
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2014, 09:09:59 PM »

First off, HAPPY 300TH, PODCASTLE!!! Is this a good place for us listeners to add our nostalgia to the party? I'll tuck it into a spoiler-wall so as not to derail the story feedback. Smiley

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

As for the story, I liked it! Perfect classic fairytale vibe, completely with inexplicably horrific images (eyeballs getting carved out of their eye sockets! Eyeballs MELTING FROM THEIR EYE SOCKETS!) that never seem to degenerate all the way into horror. I have to admit that I kept thinking of that guy from "Pan's Labyrinth". I especially enjoyed how the ending didn't wrap up in typical fairytale fashion: Ilse has to work hard to learn the eye-making trade so she herself can restore sight to her village. Her sweetheart has moved on, but Ilse doesn't hold it against him. And Ilse herself is so changed by her adventure that she is ready to see the world voluntarily. It's basically a coming-of-age story. Well done.

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Moritz
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2014, 05:05:57 AM »

Congratulations! It was an awesome story with a great fairytale vibe. And the protagonist named after my late grandma. Excellent narration, too.

Minor nitpick about the wordplay at the beginning: In German, Eis and Augen don't sound alike...
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zoanon
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« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2014, 10:28:40 AM »

this was pretty, and kind of just sad. things just didn't work out for Ilse did they.
two parts in particular:
Ilse stayed for a year with the doctor and she NEVER got new clothes? he felt so entitled to her hand that when she rejected him he threw her out... ug.
not to mention she gets home where everyone is fine, and her sweetheart has married a girl with almost the same name as her (brilliantly read that part by the way, oh Ilse.... this is um ..Else...)

I hope her story after the end was better.
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Floss
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« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2014, 11:04:28 PM »

This episode was wonderful. It reminded me of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen - both feature a young girl travelling through new places to fix something, and both are set in the same general region of Europe. The girl is aided by strangers throughout the land and finds a queen at the end of her journey (though the one in Ilse is considerably kinder than the Snow Queen).

Comparisons aside, I liked how eyes were used as a motif while clocks weren't, even though the introduction made me think they would be, how the eye-seller didn't end up being pure evil, but inconsiderate. Most of all, though, I loved that Ilse learned how to change eyes.
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danooli
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« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2014, 07:06:19 AM »

Floss mentioned a few elements of the story that made it stand out to me.  The eye-seller not being evil, merely inconsiderate was one, and also the Queen being relatively nice in not standing in way of Ilse learning (well, at least for a year).  I liked how those were rather unexpected and went a bit contrary to many themes in Fantasy stories.  I also was impressed that Ilse didn't break down when her beloved had married someone else in her absence, but instead eventually set out again on more adventures.

Now, on to the celebration!!!!

Happy 300 Episodes PodCastle!!!  May the next 300 all be as wonderful as the first! I wasn't around at the VERY beginning of PC, but I did start listening in 2009, so I've been around for a couple of years.  My life has been altered, to say the least, by the Escape Artist family, in wonderful ways, and I am so grateful to you all for the spectacular productions week after week.  I love you guys.  All of you, EA people and forumites as well.
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« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2014, 09:54:36 AM »

Hmmm.... I liked much of the story. The imagery of the eye salesman cutting out the eyes of all the townspeople and popping new ones in was creepy and gross.  Who would've thought you couldn't trust a guy who would ask you to pay to cut you blind?

Did anyone actually think the wizard's intent with the eyes wasn't evil?  He is a shifty bastard, ready to change his tune at the slightest change in circumstance.  He's engaged to a queen and he's ready to throw that away for Ilse, is that the act of a man whose word you can trust?  It's not exactly an obscure fact that ice will turn into water when the temperature rises.  So, I think his act was about as innocent as sawdust in the gas tank of an old lemon.  He knew what he was doing, and when he got caught he just pretended he didn't know it would happen--along the lines of "I'm not a bad man, just a bad wizard" kind of BS.

Interesting that Ilse kept her sight because of her love, but in trying to get everyone's sight back, lost her love.  It seemed like the story wanted to make a tragedy out of that loss, but she did leave town without telling anyone including him where she was going and then was gone for more than a year without sending a letter or anything.  From his point of view, I can see why that wouldn't seem like the act of a person who's gonna come back.

Am I wrong, or was there an explicit nod to Tiger in the BSE in the mention of the wizard's travels?  That was cute.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a plot arc, but when she finds the wizard he trains her and sends her home, and the people whose sight she was trying to save were kind of indifferent to her efforts--which was strange, since they only reason they survived the previous year is because she was around to do the harvest, I would've thought they'd all have died in her absence.  I'm glad that she has the valuable skills that will allow her to travel and adventure in the world, but I could've done with more conflict.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2014, 08:23:49 PM »

...
Am I wrong, or was there an explicit nod to Tiger in the BSE in the mention of the wizard's travels?  That was cute.
In the end, I was hoping for more of a plot arc, but when she finds the wizard he trains her and sends her home, and the people whose sight she was trying to save were kind of indifferent to her efforts--which was strange, since they only reason they survived the previous year is because she was around to do the harvest, I would've thought they'd all have died in her absence.  I'm glad that she has the valuable skills that will allow her to travel and adventure in the world, but I could've done with more conflict.

I caught what might have been a nod to Tiger in the BSE, but IIRC it was vague enough that it might have been something else.

Yes, I thought there was an odd kind of indifference all around. The villagers didn't seem angry over their eyes melting, they didn't overwhelm Ilse with thanks for doing the harvest, etc., she didn't bother to tell anyone why she was leaving, the eye surgeon was just hmm/oops over the village going blind because of him, the queen shrugged and delayed the marriage for a year, Ilse didn't do anything about the woman who kept her silver and warm clothes, and she survived the long trip home without warm clothes or, as far as I can tell, food.

Despite that, I rather enjoyed the story, because of its imagination and unexpectedness, and the cool once-upon-a-time detachment was certainly an interesting style.
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ChairmanDances
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« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2014, 09:49:26 PM »

A little disappointing for a 300th episode.  Some of the images and concepts were cool and had a real fairy tale vibe, but some of the scenes just seemed tacked-on (the crow, the woman who keeps Ilse's clothes, etc.) and didn't add to the story.  Despite her travels, Ilse doesn't really get anywhere.  Sure she learns the magician's arts, but upon her return the villagers seem to have accepted their fate so her efforts seem to have been for nothing.

Definitely a shout out to Tiger in the BSE!
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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2014, 08:27:23 AM »

A little disappointing for a 300th episode.  Some of the images and concepts were cool and had a real fairy tale vibe, but some of the scenes just seemed tacked-on (the crow, the woman who keeps Ilse's clothes, etc.) and didn't add to the story.  Despite her travels, Ilse doesn't really get anywhere.  Sure she learns the magician's arts, but upon her return the villagers seem to have accepted their fate so her efforts seem to have been for nothing.

That's pretty much how I felt about it too. It felt very fairy-tale-y, but in that "simplistic" fashion, which is to say "here is a problem for the village that our Plucky Heroine goes off to solve, having adventures and being helped along the way, and in the end she learns a Valuable Lesson." I kept wanting something else to happen, something that subverted tropes, but other than the fact that the sweetheart met someone new there wasn't much of that (IMO). Good writing, good narration, but average story.
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2014, 11:50:23 AM »

Yeah, I get that fairy tales can often have this detached air to them, but IMO that's a bug, not a feature. Certainly the writing was beautiful, and the narration was stellar. However, it's hard to fight the feeling that it was all just one pointless, half-hearted endeavor after another.

Having just finished Catherynne Valente's "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making" (arguably a fairy tale) is probably driving this home for me. That story is full of heart and characters who really love each other. They have deeply felt desires that drive them, and their actions have deeply felt consequences for their friends and foes. In my opinion, that is unfortunately what was missing from Ilse's story.
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Chuk
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« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2014, 04:50:56 PM »

I liked the fairy-tale quality with the slight twists. Also, excellent reading.
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« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2014, 03:10:40 PM »

This was the first E. Lily Yu story that finally grabbed me. There's a bunch of layers on this thing, and provides good food for thought.

I enjoyed the fairy tale format, and appreciate that it could be read as innocently or as dark as the reader would like. Is the wizard malicious or just incompetent? Is a kiss just a kiss? Just because a fairy tale is dark, doesn't mean it has to be explicit. Much like "The Great God Pan" it gets a lot more gruesome once you notice the non-consensual relations lurking behind the clean facade.

I also liked the subversion of the fairy tale format, particularly with the ending.

Sidetrack: Varda, are you contending that Pan's Labyrinth is not horror?
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« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2014, 03:52:16 PM »

Sidetrack: Varda, are you contending that Pan's Labyrinth is not horror?

Say wha?! The eyeball-hand-dude is pure nightmare fuel. If that's not horror, I don't know what is. I just meant that it follows a fairy tale format. I think many fairy tales are quite horrific. In fact, the "happy" fairy tale ending of Pan's Labyrinth is one of the most horrific things about the movie... yiiiiiikes. Still traumatized, all these years later. @_____@
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« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2014, 04:49:00 PM »


Sidetrack: Varda, are you contending that Pan's Labyrinth is not horror?

Say wha?! The eyeball-hand-dude is pure nightmare fuel. If that's not horror, I don't know what is. I just meant that it follows a fairy tale format. I think many fairy tales are quite horrific. In fact, the "happy" fairy tale ending of Pan's Labyrinth is one of the most horrific things about the movie... yiiiiiikes. Still traumatized, all these years later. @_____@


That's what I thought but your flow threw me off. You move from saying something didn't wander into horror and then you cite Pan's Labyrinth. I need to go rewatch that movie since I have now fully digested Machen's "The Great God Pan".

I'm gonna say it. "Ilse, Who Saw Clearly" fully qualifies for horror. But you have to look back behind the pretty things in front to see it.
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« Reply #15 on: March 27, 2014, 05:15:32 PM »

That's what I thought but your flow threw me off. You move from saying something didn't wander into horror and then you cite Pan's Labyrinth. I need to go rewatch that movie since I have now fully digested Machen's "The Great God Pan".

I'm gonna say it. "Ilse, Who Saw Clearly" fully qualifies for horror. But you have to look back behind the pretty things in front to see it.

Yeah, good point - not my most elegantly-worded comment of all time, for sure! Smiley

You'll be amused to know that Mr. Varda agrees with you about the horrificness of Ilse. I was all, "Hey you have to listen to this story, it's a great subversion of the fairy tale format!" And upon finishing it, his response was, "Wow, that was really dark and pessimistic. She got taken advantage of by pretty much everyone."
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