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Author Topic: PC392: The Lady’s Maid  (Read 5962 times)


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on: December 01, 2015, 07:57:23 PM
PodCastle 392: The Lady’s Maid

by Carlea Holl-Jensen

read by Kim Lakin-Smith

Guest hosted by Keffy Kehrli, host of the Glittership podcast

First appeared in Fantasy Magazine’s Queers Destroy Fantasy! special issue. Get the full issue here!

Sometimes she wonders about the girls whose heads her mistress wears. Sometimes, though not often, she wonders where they came from, who they loved. She wonders who, if anyone, keeps their memory now.

Mostly, though, she doesn’t trouble herself. It is her lady’s right to take what she desires. Everything is hers, as far as the eye can see: the mirrored sitting room and the marble statues in the courtyard and the deer in the forests to the east and the endless farmland, now fallow, to the west—all hers. Any passing milkmaid with a handsome head of curls, any traveling fortuneteller with changeable sea-green eyes—they are all hers, too, if she wishes it. This is the order of things.

Rated R.

Carlea Holl-Jensen was born on a Wednesday. Since then, her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pindeldyboz, Shimmer, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Underwater New York, Lightspeed, and Fairy Tale Review. She holds an MA in Folklore from Indiana University, Bloomington, and an MFA in Fiction from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is also one of the editors of The Golden Key, an online journal of speculative writing.

Kim Lakin-Smith is a Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy author. Kim’s short stories feature in Interzone, Black Static, Behind the Sofa: Celebrity Memories of Doctor Who, Best British Fantasy 2013, Sharkpunk, The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, and more. She is the author of gothic science fantasy, Tourniquet, and YA novels, Queen Rat and Autodrome. Her novel, Cyber Circus, was shortlisted for both the BSFA Best Novel and the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel 2012. With a background in dance and performance, she has narrated stories for Dark Fiction Magazine, Word Punk, Tales to Terrify, PseudoPod, and, of course, PodCastle! Follow her on Twitter @theginfairy.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: December 23, 2015, 08:28:47 PM by Talia »


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Reply #1 on: December 04, 2015, 08:45:08 AM
Oof. Definite shades of Catherine Bathory with a dash of the Fisher King. This was practically Pseudopod territory.

I found myself wondering about the mechanics of the magic that allowed the lady to change heads. Where is her consciousness? Does head 5 remember what happened when she was wearing head 17? Was it the lady's use of the magic that ruined the land, or just because she is a poor ruler? Do other enchanted castles drain the life from the land around them? Can the lady leave the castle?

I'd definitely like to see more of this world, which is always a good thing. Well done.


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Reply #2 on: December 04, 2015, 11:05:59 AM
PodCastle for drabblecast listeners.   ;D ;D


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Reply #3 on: December 04, 2015, 02:17:18 PM
I thought this story was interesting, but I was very distracted by the fact that it was a retelling of a story from Ozma of Oz, and that no one ever mentioned that is where the story came from! The little Easter Eggs hidden everywhere were a joy, from the jade statues (later in the book they travel to the land of the Nome King who turns people into jade), to the description of Dorothy as a dreamy farm hand who's aunt and uncle no longer need her and staring at the sky day dreaming of a tornado to take her away, and on and on. At the end I was left trying to figure out the repercussions to the rest of the story if Dorothy is left to go free. Would she not meet up with Ozma? If Dorothy and Billina the talking hen don't meet up with Ozma, then how would Billina rescue Ozma at the end?! Would they all be destined to remain ornaments forever??

This was the first Oz story given to me as a kid, and so has a soft spot in my heart. It was fun to revisit the world, and from a very creepy point of view too. These stories are full of minor characters who are who they are and do what they do with a very strong sense of inevitability, which was described in incredible detail from the maid's point of view.

I suggest anyone who wants to read more from this world read some of L. Frank Baum's other Oz stories, there are many of them, and each more interesting than the last. From the Shaggy Man with his Love Magnet, to Ozma herself, the bewitched princess, and on and on, they are delightful and highly original and very much worth a read!
« Last Edit: December 04, 2015, 02:20:27 PM by likeomg126 »


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Reply #4 on: December 06, 2015, 07:47:20 PM
For me, when I was a kid, Princess Langwidere and her many heads was the most chilling of the Oz villains. She's one of the reasons why I think Ozma of Oz is the best of the many Oz books--better even than the Wizard of Oz. I enjoyed revisiting her and I think the author did a great job of upscaling the horror elements so that adult readers would feel the same chill.


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Reply #5 on: December 07, 2015, 07:20:33 AM

I thought this story was interesting, but I was very distracted by the fact that it was a retelling of a story from Ozma of Oz, and that no one ever mentioned that is where the story came from!

I completely missed this, but I'm blaming it on not having read any Oz books in at least two decades. No wonder the world at large seemed so fascinating.

Now if you excuse me, I'm off to download some classic children's literature.


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Reply #6 on: December 07, 2015, 08:30:22 AM
I thought this story was interesting, but I was very distracted by the fact that it was a retelling of a story from Ozma of Oz.

I was not aware of that either.  I have only read the first book in the Oz series.  I didn't really like it, so I didn't read any others.


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Reply #7 on: December 07, 2015, 07:03:47 PM
weird, and disturbing story.
I picture the little maid keeping the Lady headless, feeding with tweezers like they did with the headless chicken.


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Reply #8 on: December 07, 2015, 09:00:07 PM
Disturbing and creepy! I had no idea this was an Oz retelling, but that makes a lot of sense. I kept waiting for the maid to kill the Lady and make a run for it, but it turns out that she's just as messed up as her mistress!

The image of the Lady headless and unresponsive, in stasis until she receives her next head... yeesh!


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Reply #9 on: December 08, 2015, 04:24:57 PM
Ugh, creepy!  In a good way.  The imagery in this story was really striking, especially the insertion of the fingers into the severed esophagus and fiddling with the exposed spinal cord.  What a creepy person the lady is, and how creepy we find out her maid is too.  And I did end up asking a lot of logistical questions, like where the memories are stored, and whether there is any memory of her headless time, even if it's a dream.  Some of that in-between time seemed to imply sexual which would make it a pretty clear rape toying with the body while it's helpless and unable to give consent.  I thought it worked well for the story, because I didn't get the impression that by the end of the story I'm supposed to think the maid is anything but as horrible as her mistress.  (I guess I'd call it rape even if it wasn't specifically sexual in nature because it is still exploiting another's body for one's own pleasure without consent)

I love Oz, but I'm mostly familiar with the adaptations of the original story.  I read more of the books as a kid but have retained very little of it.  I had no idea this was Oz-related.  I like it all the more for it and I want to go read the Oz series again.


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Reply #10 on: December 08, 2015, 05:13:19 PM
I recognized this as an OZ story almost immediately.  I read a bunch of OZ books as a kid - never Ozma of OZ, but we listened to the Land of OZ audio tape over and over with Tip, Jack Pumpkin Head, and the witch Mombi.

Back in the 80's the movie Return to OZ put the witch Mombi in the place of Princess Langwidere and did an amazing job of depicting the room with all of the mirrors and the heads - it was memories of that movie and the old audio tape that made me keep expecting the maid to turn out to be Ozma herself which would have made a lot more sense than for Mombie to turn Ozma into the boy Tip.  But my Oz timeline is probably all messed up.


Great story, and you guys matched up the reader perfectly.  Kim Lakin-Smith was the perfect voice for the story.  Good job.


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Reply #11 on: December 11, 2015, 06:07:11 PM
As a friendly reminder, all the Baum books are in the public domain and Gutenberg is your friend:  That said I do own a full hardcover set of the Baum Oz books. Because they're great.

The film Return to Oz incorporated some of this and had the horror elements cranked up. That was a seriously dark film that opened with doctors trying to electroshock Dorothy into being normal. I've read some interesting analyses of that film including a queer interpretation. This story resonates with a bunch of those same issues.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”

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Reply #12 on: December 12, 2015, 05:52:06 PM
I had no idea this was Oz-related, so thanks to @likeomg126 and co. for the references.

...the Shaggy Man with his Love Magnet...

I'm going to spend the rest of the day chuckling over All Of The Jokes(tm) this is going to inspire, and probably won't be able to explain to my family exactly why. ("Oh, I was just reminded I need a haircut.")

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Reply #13 on: December 17, 2015, 05:45:24 PM
I totally got the Mombi/Oz vibe throughout this story. Creepy flashback to the 80's.

This is why kids from the 80's are tougher than later generations. This was produced by Disney!

Narrator/Voice Actor


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Reply #14 on: December 19, 2015, 04:06:55 PM
Such a terribly rich and resonant story. First and foremost, this is a tale of the little maid, long servile and accepting of her lowly place in the service of a horrific mistress until she suddenly awakens to an awareness of her own power and becomes drunk on the sensation.

The most obvious expression of this is the scene in which the maid toys with the Lady's exposed esophagus and spinal column. While not exactly explicit material, the delivery of this horrifying scene is almost disturbingly quasi-erotic, and this is no accident I suspect: The author wants us to realize that what the maid does here is plainly a violation of her mistress, and to see the nasty thrill the maid has at the sudden awareness that when her mistress sits headless she (the maid) holds all the power here.

But she goes on to reflect on what the Lady would do without her. She is, after all, the last loyal servant who has not fled the castle, and the Lady depends on her utterly. In this sense, she now sees that even when the Lady is not headless, the maid still holds enormous power. Dependence upon someone is (in a way) a lever by which they hold power over you. The more complete the dependency, the greater the power. So in a way, the docile helplessness of the Lady's headless form is a metaphor for her helplessness to care for herself without the maid's constant help.

Under the guise of a colorful tale of fantasy, this story makes you reflect on the paradoxical nature of service and power. When an obviously fictional tale can make you reflect on something that has very real ramifications, but manages to do so without beating you over the head with it, that's always a hallmark of great fiction.


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Reply #15 on: December 19, 2015, 09:28:22 PM
A very interesting, enjoyable story (did not know it was Oz-related).  The finger-in-the-esophagus part creeped me out a bit... Exquisite narration.


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Reply #16 on: December 20, 2015, 02:38:05 PM
I'm also in the list of people not seeing the Oz reference...but that didn't diminish my feelings about this creepy story. I liked it a lot. The ick factor was high when the Maid stuck her finger where I don't think fingers belong, but, that hlped me realize just how disturbed she was.

Good job all around!


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Reply #17 on: December 31, 2015, 12:43:16 PM
Hm, should have read my Marvel Comics adaptation of Ozma of Oz first... also didn't get the reference and listened to the story twice. Quite well written, though it was difficult to follow at times.