We recently published Katie DePasquale’s wonderful “Scheherazade Tells the Tale of the Northern Shrike.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) This is a story unlike any other that Scheherazade has told King Shahryar, and there seems to be a bit of a parallel between her story and theirs: “It can wait for as long as it takes.” When in their marriage do you imagine she is sharing this tale with him?
I picture her sharing this story shortly after their marriage. When I wrote this, I’d randomly read an article about the Northern Shrike, and I’d been thinking of writing something inspired by the 1,001 Nights and was in the middle of rereading them. And I found that I’d forgotten that the reason the king spares Scheherazade’s life is that he fell in love with her, but there was no mention of how Scheherazade felt. Of course in the larger context of that story, it didn’t matter; she had to marry him, just like she had to entertain him, to escape being put to death. But that didn’t mean she loved him. I thought, what if she just married him to bide her time until she could make a more final escape? The tale spun out from there.
2) Northern Shrike are sometimes called “butcher birds” (I love that!) for their habit of killing more prey than they need at once and storing it for later. After sharing this detail, Scheherazade warns Shahryar not to confuse power and beauty. What do you think makes the Northern Shrike a beautiful bird (or, perhaps, a powerful one)?
I think the Northern Shrike is more ordinary-looking than beautiful, but that doesn’t affect its power, which is obvious since it’s such a fearful predator. And there’s not necessarily any connection between looks and capability, but people love to say that beauty is power, which really isn’t often true for women. Beautiful women are frequently in vulnerable positions where the powerful take advantage of them: their beauty doesn’t equate to much in those situations, right? That’s why the shrike and Scheherazade felt like a natural fit for each other. The shrike is more powerful than beautiful, and in this piece, in the end Scheherazade is, too.