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Yuletide letter 2018

(Context: Yuletide is an annual fanfiction gift exchange for fandoms with relatively few fics, notable for its large number of participants and the high average quality of stories. I'm participating again this year, once more offering and requesting only public-domain fandoms, with a focus on poems.)

Dear Yulemouse,

Thank you for offering to write in at least one of these fandoms. They are awesome, and you are too. I can only hope you enjoy writing a story as much as I will reading it -- for certainly, there will be squees ringing off the mountains when it arrives given, yanno, it's in a fandom I want yet so rarely find.

The best way you can please me is to have fun. Wit, sex, dramatic irony, and cracktasticly silly rom-com are all possibilities, but go with whatever floats your boats. Gen, het, slash (including femslash), and poly are all great, as clean or smutty as you want. As a partial guide to the sort of things I like, my stories on AO3 is as good as anything. Turn-offs (do not want!) are humiliation-based humor, sadism, and explicit torture. Find something and make it your own, the thing you love writing, and it's easy odds I'll like it.

The rest of this are expansions on my Optional Details Are Optional, with notes on resources.

The Tay Bridge Disaster - William McGonagall
Requested characters: none (nominated were Train, Storm Fiend, Passengers, Sensible Men)

What this is: Victorian disaster porn by the worst poet in the English language. It should be read aloud (Scotch accent optional, though it helps with the Edinburgh/sorrow rhyme) to fully appreciate it. McGonagall was utterly incompetent at meter and strained the limits of syntax to achieve the most banal and predictable rhymes possible. Plus there's Victorian-grade bathos and the clunkiest, tacked-on, moralizing conclusion to ever thud an ending (don't drop it on your foot).

Needless to say, I love it.

Possible prompts: The Storm Fiend's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. The Little Train That Couldn't. Retell it in Virgilian hexameters. Retell it in the style of Hopkins. Or Ted Hughes. Or a music-hall melodrama. Or a Chinese opera. Or a high school AU with h/c. If you want to try being remotely serious, you could parallel a relationship between two passengers with that of the train and the storm fiend. Or anything else you want to -- as long as you have fun with it.

Above all, give it your worst. (For love of all the gods, don't give it your best. This doesn't deserve anyone's best anything except mockery.)

Note that in terms of DNWs, very bad poetry does not count as torture or sadism, even when used to torture a character.

Source: The McGonagall Online site has the complete text and extensive background information, as well as his other two poems about this bridge, The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay and An Address to the New Tay Bridge, which bookend this to form an inadvertent trilogy.)

Hell Gate - A.E. Housman
Requested characters: Narrator, Ned, Portress

What this is: A short narrative poem by the author of A Shropshire Lad. An unnamed narrator travels to the gate of hell for an unstated purpose, where they recognize one of the gatekeepers as well as an armed guard upon the wall. The latter immediately shoots Satan, after which he and the narrator escape the afterworld. Compares to Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" in atmosphere and number of unanswered questions, but the writing style and theme are rather different.

Primary prompt: Backstory of the three main characters. Alternatives, if that doesn't spark you: Ned's version of the main events. A post-canon return to rescue the Portress.

For any of those, feel free to write a triangle, a broken OT3, or any other permutation of relationships.

Two decisions about the canon to be aware of:
  • Whether the Portress is Sin, Death, or a third entity. I personally identify her with Death, who apparently has the key to the Gate, but the lines are ambiguous and the other interpretations are supportable. Go with whatever makes the most dramatic sense.
  • Whether the Narrator is Terence of A Shropshire Lad. Assuming Terence is the speaker in any poem in Last Poems frankly strikes me as unsupported speculation, but doing so here does open up extra details about the characters -- especially if, as with many of Housman's poems, his relationship with Moses Jackson is a present shadow. On the third hand, if the narrator is female, all the relationships change greatly from the standard interpretations.

Source: "Hell Gate" was originally published in Last Poems, which is available on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere. It you want context cut for portability, here's the text on its own.

Táng Cháo | Tang Dynasty RPF
Requested characters: Lǐ Bái, Dù Fǔ

What this is: The golden age of Chinese civilization, nominally lasting from 618-907. The characters I'm requesting, both from the High Tang (late 7th to mid-8th centuries), are frequently regarded as the two greatest poets of the language. Despite their greatly different styles, they were friends.

Primary prompt: Li Bai claimed to have taken up the sword in his wandering youth -- in other words, that he was a youxia. What, then, about other Tang poets? So -- a wuxia story in which Li Bai and Du Fu have an adventure.

Questions to consider as part of this: Just how strong is Li Bai's drunken master style? Is Du Fu's ill health in his last years of his life the result of having acupressure points sealed? Is Wang Wei equally adept at martial-arts painting as martial-arts poetry? --and does switching styles give him any advantage? How dangerous are the sect elders of the Hanlin Academy?

This prompt is, of course, entirely an Optional Detail That's Optional, and any other story about them is welcome. As long as you have fun, I'll probably like it.

Sources: There are many, many translations of poetry of the High Tang, especially Li Bai and Du Fu -- including books devoted to them, separately and together. Be aware that those aspects of Du Fu's poetry that make him great -- such as his compression, formal excellence, and innovation -- are precisely those that do not translate well. Some online resources include this page and that one. A.C. Graham's Poems of the Later Tang includes works from the last decade of Du Fu's life, which may shed light on his aftermath, and are also just about the best translations of him I've found.

Liáo zhāi zhì yì | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio - Pú Sōnglíng
Requested characters: (none)

What this is: A collection of nearly 400 marvel tales from the early Qing dynasty, most dealing with the supernatural, the out-of-place, or just plain bizarre. The manner is playful, often satiric, and always ironic with a strong dash of sympathy for his characters. There is, also, a lot of sex, in just about every flavor except explicit femslash--and more than one story can be read as encompassing that.

Prompt: Anything. Seriously, anything -- especially if it brings out Pu Songling's strange, ironic humor. Feel free to riff any story in the canon (and there's plenty to chew on, what with all his ghosts, fox spirits, dreamworlds, romances, and obsessions) or write a new one in his manner.

I've written in this fandom, if you want a couple samples of what I like about it.

Resources: Wikipedia is a surprisingly decent starting place, with the main article as well as several on individual stories. My current favored translation, which is among the most easily found, is John Minford's (Penguin Classics) selection of about a third of the stories. I've also enjoyed this China-published version, which has more tales; Sidney Sondergard published the first complete translation into English few years ago, but I haven't read it. Project Gutenberg has Herbert Giles's Victorian translation of many better-known stories, which is predictably bowdlerized (pro-tip: if Giles says a man and woman suddenly get married, in the original they actually had sex) but still evocative. And finally, here's another Yuletide participant's glowing description of things that can be done in this fandom.


Originally posted at https://larryhammer.dreamwidth.org/699698.html (where it has comment count unavailable comments). You can comment here or there.