Today, I am happy to welcome Marina J. Neary back to Outtakes as she introduces her latest release, The Gate of Dawn, a dark folkloric thriller with pagan elements. Here, she shares a dark Lithuanian tale with moral underpinnings and emotional justice.
By Marina J. Neary
I wanted to thank Kim for hosting me. I have very much enjoyed her Carolingian novels, particularly her depiction of the religious atmosphere of early Christianity and residual paganism. The Baltics were among the last European regions to accept Christianity.
Much of the Lithuanian folklore is centralized. Like in any other tradition, some of the folklore is local and regional, confined to the villages in which they originated. It’s not hard to conceive that similar horror tales generated in different locations. They represent collective phobias. Abominations like rape, deformity, and child abandonment are universal.
The tale of Ugly Petras is one of those fairy tales. I learned it from my paternal grandmother who lived on the border between Lithuania and Belarus. The tale actually originated in the western part of Lithuania that was under Prussian rule in the 19th century. I incorporated it into my latest novel The Gate of Dawn, set in 1880s Lithuania that was under the rule of Czar Alexander III. Please read the excerpt below. A young man is telling a chilling tale to a girl after he had just seduced her. A very interesting choice of pillow talk material!
A Lithuanian bog, by Šarūnas Šimkus (released to the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
“Once upon a time, there was a landlord. Let’s call him Adomas. His frigid and barren wife could not produce him an heir, so his attentions shifted onto a comely maid named Greta. Before long the girl fell pregnant. The landlord’s wife, a staunch keeper of morals, kicked Greta out of the house, to set an example for the rest of the servants. For months the hapless girl roamed the countryside, moving from village to village, hiding in the barns by night, eating whatever scraps were discarded. One midsummer morning she made a nest in the bog and birthed a boy as handsome as the young woodland god Velnias. She named him Aras, meaning Eagle. As soon as she clutched the hungry babe to her breast, another wave of pain came, and her body expelled a hideous being, her second son. Even the mischievous bog nixies scattered at the sight of him. Every limb was crooked, every feature was deformed. Greta fled in terror with Aras in her arms. She left her handsome son at the doorstep of the church and ran off, never to be seen again. That day Adomas came to mass. When the landlord beheld the boy’s features, he recognized him as his own. His wife did not object, though she looked particularly sullen that day.
“The deformed child was found by a witch named Vaida who lived in a cottage near the bog. He was so perfect in his ugliness that he made her black heart sing. She rejoiced in him more than Adomas rejoiced in his handsome son. Old Vaida adopted him and named him Petras, for the lad was sturdy as a rock. She taught him all her wicked tricks, all her pernicious spells. He knows how to conjure the water sprites and make them dance to his song. To this day Ugly Petras haunts the countryside, rummaging the barns and the chicken coops, where his mother once found refuge. His first retaliation was against his natural father, Adomas. The haughty landlord took leave of his senses and hanged himself on a cherry tree.
“But the handsome twin proved to have a noble and charitable heart. And though Aras never met Ugly Petras, he sensed that he had a brother, and always left a pitcher of ale and a slice of ham on the porch for him. Petras gobbled up the treats and cast spells of protection upon his brother’s estate. Since then no drought, no pestilence has plagued the land.”
Despite the gruesome images, I find the tale strangely life-affirming. It’s a celebration of brotherhood. Conceived in violence, separated physically and socially, the two brothers share a tacit bond. It really makes the reader wonder, which brother was more fortunate and in control of his destiny. Was it Aras, confined to a life of conformity as young lord of the manor, or Petras, banished from society and therefore freed from the constraints?
About The Gate of Dawn
Welcome to 1880s Vilnius, a volatile Northeastern metropolis where Balts, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Jews compete for a place in the sun. After sustaining fatal burns in a fire instigated by his rivals, textile magnate Hermann Lichtner spends his final days in a shabby infirmary. In a hasty and bizarre deathbed transaction he gives his fifteen-year-old daughter Renate in marriage to Thaddeus, a widowed Polish farmer who rejects social hierarchy and toils side by side with his peasants.
Renate’s arrival quickly disrupts the bucolic flow of life and antagonizes every member of the household. During an excursion to the city, Renate rekindles an affair with a young Jewish painter who sells his watercolors outside the Gate of Dawn chapel. While her despairing husband might look the other way, his servants will not stand by and watch while their adored master is humiliated.
Taking us from the cobblestone streets of old Vilnius, swarming with imperial gendarmes, to the misty bogs of rural Lithuania where pagan deities still rule, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of rivalry, conspiracy, and revenge.
It is available at Amazon and other vendors.
About Marina J. Neary
A self-centered only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of 13. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some 30 miles away from her hometown. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.