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A Wild Swan: And Other Tales Summary & Study Guide Description
A Wild Swan: And Other Tales Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
NOTE: The following version of this book was used to create this Study Guide: Cunningham, Michael. A Wild Swan and Other Tales. Illustrations by Yuko Shimizo. Paperback edition. Published by 4th Estate, London, 2015.
A Wild Swan: And Other Stories is a short-story anthology by best-selling author Michael Cunningham. The stories in this collection are retellings of many popular fairy tales with a modern twist and a unique perspective.
In “Dis. Enchant.” the first-person narrator assures readers that they are safe because they can blend in. It is those who do well in life who are at risk of being cursed, and indeed they claim it is understandable as they arouse jealousy and resentment. They claim that there are spells which can be learned easily for those who wish to take down such people.
In Cunningham’s retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story “A Wild Swan,” twelve princes are transformed into swans by their stepmother, who spares the girl because she assumes they will bond, but they do not do so. The girl manages to create a spell to undo the curse but she is interrupted when trying to carry it out, so one of the princes is left with a swan's wing. The other princes go on to lead normal lives except for the prince with the swan's wing, who ends up leaving home and trying to fit in elsewhere. He attracts attention initially but he is ultimately lonely. He tries to think of ways he can make the most of his predicament but settles for resignation. His brothers end up having troubles of their own despite being normal again, while the prince with the swan's wing spends time with those who are cursed like him. He realizes that he is lucky compared to many of them, and that the wing might, in the end, be a good thing.
In the story “Crazy Old Lady,” the Crazy Old Lady leads an unconventional life from the beginning, taking many lovers and marrying three times before deciding that she would rather be alone. She loses touch with her friends who end up leading conventional married lives, and when she comes into wealth she buys a plot of land and builds a house made of candy. She takes great care of her home but soon becomes lonely again, waiting for visitors to come by. Eventually a boy and a girl come along and start eating the house, and when the Crazy Old Lady tries to stop them, they throw her in the oven.
The story “Jacked” focuses on Jack, a highly unreliable boy who sells his family’s last cow for a handful of beans which he is told are magic. His mother is angry with him for doing so until the beans grow overnight into a giant beanstalk reaching into the sky. Jack climbs the beanstalk and sees a giant's castle. He knocks on the door and a giantess lets him in. When the giant comes home sensing Jack, the giantess hides Jack and he steals the giant's gold and escapes back down the beanstalk to his home. He keeps going back up the beanstalk to be invited in by the giantess and he keeps stealing things, one by one, including the giant's prize hen who lays golden eggs. Soon the house is empty except for a self-playing harp which Jack then steals too, and the giant catches him this time and chases him down the beanstalk. Jack cuts the beanstalk down, killing the giant, and Jack only feels slightly guilty as he and his mother continue to live a prosperous life.
In “Poisoned,” a conversation between Snow White and the prince takes place. The subject of jokes about apples comes up, and it emerges that the prince wants Snow White to re-enact the moment he discovered her in the coffin. Snow White recounts how she used to live with the dwarfs and how much they probably miss her, and the prince expresses regret. He still encourages Snow White to undertake the request, telling her what he loves about her, before she finally relents. They agree to do the act for twelve minutes, and he tells her to position herself exactly as she was in the coffin. She positions herself the way she was at the time, and the prince continues his inner monologue, speaking to her, reminiscing about when he saw her and kissed her for the first time.
In “A Monkey's Paw,” the White family is a normal family that lives in a remote cottage, with the son working at a local factory. One day a friend of Mr. White returns from travelling with a monkey's paw which he wants to get rid of immediately. He warns them to make modest wishes only. Mrs. White wishes for two hundred pounds and the next day they receive news that their son has been killed in an accident and they will receive compensation of two hundred pounds. Mrs. White wishes for her son back and he returns as a walking corpse to the house. They try to accept him and to live life as normal but the son wants to be released eventually and Mr. and Mrs. White begin to resent each other's presence. They are all aware that the monkey's paw remains somewhere in the house, with one more wish ready to be granted to whoever is first to make one.
In the story “Little Man,” the Little Man lives alone in a secluded area, and begins to want a child more than anything. One day he learns that a miller's daughter has been tasked by the king to turn straw into gold or face execution, and he goes to her aid, helping her to turn all the straw into gold. The king orders her to do it again with more straw and she and the Little Man do the same thing again. The king orders her to do it again with even more straw, and promises to marry her if she does it this time, and she and the Little Man manage to do it again. The Little Man asks for the miller's daughter's firstborn child as compensation and she agrees, and then she marries the king. A year later the Little Man requests an audience with the king and queen and he reminds her of the promise she made. She agrees to give him her firstborn child if she can guess his name in three days' time and he agrees. The night before he is to take the child he says his name out loud, and he is overheard by one of the king's servants. The next day the queen guesses his name correctly and in a fit of anger he splits himself in half, and is forced to spend the rest of his life that way.
In “Steadfast; Tin,” a young man and young woman fall in love one night at college. He reveals to her that he is missing a leg and she still accepts him the way he is. They get married and have children, but they grow increasingly tired of each other, each planning their eventual separation. When the children are grown they take a vacation in order to save their marriage and a terrible accident brings them back together again. They grow old together, leading a new contented life.
In the story “Beasts,” Beauty is tired of her current life. Her father asks what she wants brought back from his travels and she asks only for a rose. He tries to take a rose from the garden of the Beast, who catches him and then threatens to kill him if he does not return to be punished the next day. When Beauty learns of this she goes to the Beast's castle in her father's place, and she and the Beast live a normal life together, with him showing her gentleness and courtesy. One day he releases her and she returns home, only to find that she is no longer welcome in the village. Soon she returns back to the castle to find the Beast in a bad way. She promises to marry him and then he turns back into a man.
In “Her Hair,” the prince who found Rapunzel by climbing up her hair was cut down by the queen causing him to fall into the thorns below the castle which took out his eyes. He then traveled the world upon his horse searching for her, knocking on all doors and enduring ridicule from many. He finally found her in the place where she had been abandoned by the queen. She recognized him despite his bedraggled state and he said only her name. Before leaving for the castle she went to take out her hair from a drawer, where she had been saving it since it was cut off. She was scared it would have lost its luster but it still looked as good as it did before. He enjoyed her hair from then on but Rapunzel hid from him the fact that her hair was no longer attached to her head. She wondered why he did not seem to know but she allowed him to believe it to be.
In “Ever/After,” a prince in a prosperous kingdom is betrothed to marry a princess from a nearby poorer kingdom and at first it seems like a mismatch. She is assertive and confident while he is shy and passive, but eventually they work together as a team and she advises him on the things to do to be a good king. They have children, whose abilities to reign they do not have much confidence in, and they each have affairs but eventually return to be faithful to each other from then on. The king passes away and the children grow up to be successful in their own way, and years later the queen dies, leaving the eldest son king. Despite there being problems it is a mostly peaceful reign.
This section contains 1,670 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)