Twist of Grimm by William Holden, a review
When I picked up the book and read, “Once upon a time…” I thought it would be some tired porno story for men who fantasize Disney characters. What followed was William Holden’s story of Mr. Knightboots based on the Grimm Brothers “The Boots of Buffalo Leather.” I read it without stopping. Holden has taken a form that delighted us as children to remind us our sexual fantasies are childlike. I’d love to see more gay erotica exploring those childlike desires because aas gay men we are more likely to have a Teddy bear on our bed than a shotgun in the gun rack of our pickup.
Fairy tales have traditionally passed on one generation’s lessons to the next. Holden uses a form we loved as children t0 create myths for our generation and fills them with sexy men. Like all fairy tales each of his stories is a lesson about honestly and kindness. I have a special affection for Holden’s stories because the sexuality is positive sexuality, not negative, and they remind us of the magic of sex.
The Prince and his Companion is the story of a handsome young prince who asks his father’s permission to travel after his 21st birthday. His father allows him to go if he promises to travel with his father’s loyal and faithful servant Jonah and come home with a bride.
“Exhausted from the day’s travels, the prince closed his weary eyes, but sleep would not take him. He could not stay still, for now all he could think about was Jonah’s body lying next to his. He could feel the heat of their bodies building underneath the linens. He could smell the scent of Jonah’s warm, masculine odors moving closer to him, engulfing him, almost suffocating him. His life-long urges seemed to boil just below the surface. His heart pounded, causing him to fear that Jonah would hear the sounds of his desires. Then he felt Jonah stir. He held his breath, fearing something he could not describe yet anticipating it all the same. The warmth under the linens grew as Jonah moved closer to him….The prince nervous and full of sinful urges, placed his lips upon Jonah’s mouth. Their mouths opened and their tongues met in a feverish moment of passion.”
The next morning as they got ready to leave the inn an old woman gave them a glass bottle. After the prince has left the stable Jonah feared the contents of the bottle and lets it slip. When it falls and breaks all the horses in the stable died instantly. When Jonah sees a raven picking at the horse corpses he strangles it and puts it in his pack. When he gets to the next inn he gives the dead bird to owner of the inn to feed his guests in lieu of paying for a room. That inn is a den of murderous thieves and just as they are about to kidnap the prince they all fall dead because they ate the stew made from the raven’s poisoned body.
The prince ventures on and meets a princess. I won’t spoil the story with the ending but will say that he marries the princess, and because it’s a fairy tale the prince still gets to live happily ever after with Jonah.
In the Penance of Three a hermit who has lived right by God realizes an angel is no longer following him in the forest after he condemns a young man to the gallows because he slept with another man. Wandering lost in the forest he hears the song of a bird and comes upon a blue bird. When the hermit tells the bird of his dilemma the bird says “You did a great injustice to the Lord the moment you condemned a poor young man. All he did was love someone else.” The hermit is told his penance is to carry a dry branch on his person and to lay it at his head until its sprouts three green leaves. He thinks that’s easy enough until he’s told he has to bed three other men in order for the twig to sprout. The hermit goes into the village seeking a man to lie with him and is turned away at every home. He finally gets to a house where he’s greeted by a handsome young man whose heard about him.
“So if you are agreeable to my needs you will lie with me tonight? The hermit began to twitch excitedly, for he was that much closer to completing his penance, and surely this man knew of others he could bed with.”
“I am a man of many fancies and tastes, but the likes of you do things to me that no other could possibly do. I have lain with many men, but never done so with someone with such a rough exterior as you have. You are at last twice my age, and you have more hair on your face than I have on my entire body. It stirs something inside of me I cannot express. Come with me to my quarters and we will spend the night in heavenly bliss.
That alone does not sprout any leaves. As the hermit wanders further into the forest he comes upon a cave and a woman with three evils sons. Turns out they were the ones who beat up the young man, and they in turn need to do penance. In the end without going into the lurid details everyone has a lot of sex and the twig spouts three leaves.
All of us who write and appreciate male erotica owe a lot to two British writers who were the first of their generation to publish books about men loving men. E.M. Forster wrote about a successful stock broker Maurice who falls in love with a gamekeeper, and Isherwood who was born 25 years later wrote about the sexual liberties of Berlin before the Second World War. Forster felt he could not reveal himself and stipulated that the novel Maurice not be published until after his death. Isherwood moved to Los Angeles as the Nazi were taking over Germany in the 30’s and found work as a Hollywood screen writer. More out than Forster Isherwood’s popular Berlin Stories published in 1939 were eventually translated into the musical Cabaret. Isherwood also wrote A Single Man perhaps the most definitive gay novel of his generation. With both men growing up in England the difference in one generation meant Isherwood could write openly about his homosexuality while Forster could not.
William Holden has brought the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales forward several generations and tweaked them for our erotic pleasure. Because we do not grow up in households that pass along gay culture, each generation has a responsibility to pass our experience on to the next, and Holden does that with these stories.