If nothing else, literary criticism teaches us that binary dualities exist in every work of fiction. It’s possible for a text to be a collection of children’s stories aimed at adults; it’s possible for a narrative to be straightforward and complex; it’s possible for a story to be gay and Grimm.
Welcome to William Holden’s A Twist of Grimm: Erotic Fairy Tales for Gay Men.
Few people realize that the Grimm brothers were philologists who happened into folkloric research as a diversion from their academic studies. Excited by the prospect of preserving oral narratives, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm journeyed through rural Germany in the early 1800s, collecting and cataloguing the folk tales that are today known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The original works were published under the title Kinder – und Hausmärchen in 1812 and proved so successful a second volume was released in 1815. The stories still enjoy phenomenal success in our modern, twenty-first century world. It’s fair to say that, since those halcyon days of the early 1800s, the Grimm’s fairytales have become part of our international literary heritage. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood have all entered our cultural identity through the Grimm’s Kinder – und Hausmärchen. Furthermore, as those stories have been appropriated into broader fictions (ballets, operas, films and Disney cartoons) it’s easy to see how they’ve shaped our collective consciousness.
Bruno Bettelheim, the Austro-American child psychologist, seemed to understand the importance of these narratives in his 1976 title, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Bettelheim, an exponent of Freud’s psychosexual theories of interpretation, explained how many of these narratives are rich with sexual imagery.
It’s at this point where the majority of us take a deep breath, shake our head in dismay, and then mutter, “I can’t believe they let kids read this sort of stuff.” However, the truth is that the stories were never intended just for children. Kinder – und Hausmärchen translates literally into Children’s and Household Tales. It’s a sad fact of our times that too many readers think fairy stories are only for children and only ever were for children. The truth is: they never were just for kids.
Mitzi Szereto published adult fairy tales in, Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed. Kristina Wright published Fairy Tale Lust. Alison Tyler edited Alison’s Wonderland. And now we have William Holden’s appropriation of Grimm Tales: A Twist of Grimm: Erotic Fairy Tales for Gay Men.
This is a slim volume of short erotic gay fiction. Thirteen stories, each one based on a Grimm fairytale. The writing, as one expects from Holden, is a combination of ruthlessly efficient prose and homoerotic eloquence.
I started on “Joshua and his Many Men” a retelling of the Grimm’s original story, “Death’s Messengers.” In the original story, a giant fights and triumphs over Death. A passing youth helps Death to recover from his ordeal. As a reward, Death promises the youth that he will send messengers to warn him when it is his turn to be taken.
And Holden’s narrative follows the same structure. In this version we have a name for the youth (Joshua), and when Death’s messengers visit Joshua, they bring a salacious abandon to the story that was missing from the original.
“Death’s Messengers” is an allegorical tale. The story progresses to its conclusion with Death coming for the youth. When the youth protests that Death didn’t send the messengers he had promised, Death explains that the youth was visited by his brothers, Fever, Dizziness, Gout, Toothache and Sleep. Those five were his messengers.
On this level we can understand this working as a fable in the times of the early nineteenth century, where fever, dizziness and excessive sleep were precursors to death.
In some way, this personification of the abstract into the concrete works more effectively in Holden’s story, as Joshua is able interact sexually with Death’s messengers.
All in all, this is a fun collection of short stories. The only thing missing is an introduction to contextualize the collection. It would be interesting for Holden to say why he wanted to reinterpret these fairytales in such an adult manner, why he picked on these lesser known stories from the collection and didn’t touch the more popular stories and if there is any prospect of a further collection.But, even without that detail, the collection is a lot of fun and should help every reader get in touch with his inner child.
“Is that true, Mr. Baker…Christopher?”
“It is indeed.” He smiled. His eyes lit up. “It cannot be easy to grow up in a home without the warmth of a mother’s touch or the guidance of a father’s wisdom. But you have done just that, Master Addison. You are a strong and dapper young man for whom I have come to care a great deal.”
“I have you to thank for my guidance. I am seventeen and know nothing of life outside of this home except what you have taught me. I want to tell—”
He raised his finger to my lips, cutting off my words, and then reached into his topcoat.
“I have something for you, Addison, in honor of your birthday.”
He handed me a little silver tin. “Go ahead, open it.” He smiled as I lifted the cover. “Do you like it? It is a pin to hold your cravat in place.”
I have a penchant for period dialogue. The loss of the formality that was inherent within most forms of address during yesteryear is one of the things that make me think our society’s progress has come at a high price. Admittedly we now have internet technology, mobile phones and nyan cat games, but are any of those “advances” comparable to the thrill of being called “Mr. Lister” during an intimate tryst? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Secret Societies is set in the unenlightened yesteryear of 1724. Thomas Newton is cast out of his home by his aristocratic father. He goes to London and, as it says on the blurb: enters the underground world of male-male desire.
Holden has clearly researched this period. The story is compelling. The period detail is rich and enchanting. In short: this is well-written homoerotic fiction at its finest.
William Holden is a master of erotic storytelling and he knows how to balance complex plots, bildungsroman style character development and the vagaries of period writing.
Holden’s first book, A Twist of Grimm, remains one of my favourite titles and still sits close to my desk. One of the reasons why I respect this writer is because he is able to combine quality writing with first class erotica:
“I must have that ass of yours. Turn around and let me fuck you.”
I did as he said, knowing it would be the last ass he would ever enter. He pushed me against the stone ledge, shoved my breeches down to my knees, and plunged his rigid prick deep inside me. I yelled from the immediate and forceful thrust of his insertion. My cries of passion and pleasure echoed through the open land. My nails dug into the gritty fibers of the cold, damp stone as the assault on my ass intensified.
I knew all too well from many nights with James’s prick up my ass that he was not one who held out. His breathing became labored. He grabbed my shoulders and pulled my body to his as he thrust himself farther and deeper into my sore and hungry ass. I bent my head under my arm and peered behind our sweat-dampened bodies to get a glimpse of Mr. Willis. I could see his shadow deep in the brush. I could almost feel his eyes stroking my dangling prick.
“Oh, for the love of God, unleash your seed into me,” I begged as I felt his prick pulsing with unspent need. “Yes. Fuck my shithole. Pound me. Make me dizzy with pleasure. Oh, James, yes, I can feel your cock stroking deep within my belly!”
If I was going to nitpick I’d mention that British pronunciation favours ‘arse’ instead of ‘ass’. But that would be pretty petty nitpicking on my part. Secret Societies is a combination of mystery, romance, erotica and period drama. It contains something for everyone and deserves a place on the bookshelf of every discerning erotica reader.