Strange Horizons, 28 November 2005

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"Tall Jorinda" by Marly Youmans

If the material of the fairy tale has its roots in Europe, the tall tale is all-American. The challenge of subduing the continent seems to call for heroes on an exaggerated scale: everything about them must be the biggest, the tallest, the strongest. In "Tall Jorinda," Marly Youmans has created a female version of the tale, and her heroine is fittingly larger than life. "Birds nest in Jorinda’s hair. Careless, shawled in cloud, the slopes of her body stretch across the Blue Ridge." When she and her lover meet,

Their playful struggle, strength against strength, gave birth to its own atmosphere. In the mountain clouds, darted through by lightning color, the giants flung themselves at passion. The Blue Ridge mirrored their turbulence—thunderstorms trapped the settlers in their cabins, mudslides sealed the roads out of the valley.

And in the next summer, the census taker could barely record the names of all the new babies who arrived in the valley.

But the differences between male and female are as notable as the similarities. While Jorinda’s lover, the Bunyaneque Jack Flint, strides westward across the continent, cutting trees and busting sod along his way, she is tied to the land on which she was born, which in a real way gave birth to her. She cannot follow him, and eventually he moves on while she becomes more and more a part of the land. The reader may be reminded of Tolkien’s Ents, except that it is the woman who remains behind and passes into legend. Yet this is a legend tied to a specific time and place, to the Blue Ridge mountains and the history of the people who have lived there.