What Doesn’t Kill You…

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


In sideshows, “freaks” are performers unique in appearance or behavior. “Freaks” come in two categories: “natural freaks”, born with a genetic mutation, and “made freaks”, who undergo alterations during their life. “Comprachicos”, or child-buyers, appear throughout literature and folklore, altering the physical appearance of children as one would tend a bonsai tree. This deliberate mutilation—stunting growth via restraints, muzzling faces to deform them, dislocating bones—prepared these poor souls for lives as court fools, domestic slaves, or, in the case of the Chilean invunche, as monstrous guardians protecting the entrances of warlocks’ caves.


Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (120 BCE - 63 BCE), was a thorn in the Republic of Rome’s side throughout three Mithridatic wars. He habituated himself to poisons at a young age, increasing dosage until he developed a resistance. When his armies were defeated in 65 BCE, he fled the Romans. To escape capture he ironically attempted to commit suicide by poison. This failed and he ordered his bodyguard to slay him with a sword. A lifetime of experimentation led to his legacy: a homeopathic universal antidote called mithridatium. Among its forty ingredients are opium, castor, cinnamon, ginger, and myrrh.


The Mountain Goats’ 2008 album Heretic Pride ends with a tender tribute to the immortal masked killer of Halloween infamy. “Michael Myers Resplendent” is an anthem for the meek, messed-up, mangled outcasts. Sometimes rooting for the villain, fantasizing about being the butcher rather than the side of beef, is darkly comforting. The Mountain Goats sum it up nicely: “I am ready for my close-up today / too long I've let my self-respect stand in my way / when the house goes up in flames / no one emerges triumphantly from it … everybody loves a winner.”