Sabrina N. Balmick’s story “La Belle Dame” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 4 March 2016.
I wrote the first draft of “La Belle Dame” one summer after reading the Keats poem. I’d read it several times before, but this time it struck me differently. Maybe it was because I’d read it with a writer’s eyes for the first time; maybe I’m just a sucker for tragic romances. I liked that the ending was open to interpretation, and my imagination took off from there. At the time I had also just finished reading two Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer retellings (Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip and Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones), and wanted to try my hand at one myself.
I didn’t want to write a straight retelling, though, and I wanted to provide a different twist on the original ending. More than that, I was eager to experiment with voice and a framed narrative structure. As I developed the characters, I explored the identity of the first speaker in the Keats poem, who is something of a mystery; he became my Tom Rhymer. This was my way of linking Thomas the Rhymer and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” which in turn allowed me to write about the nature of stories and folkloric truth, set against the backdrop of a fateful romantic sojourn between a knight and his lady.
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