Freya’s Tale by M.H. Lee

Freya's Tale by M.H. LeeIn this short story Lee merges an engaging fantasy world with the horrors of victim blaming, without letting either the setting take blame for events or the message eclipse all other concerns.

Freya has spent her entire life working on her father’s farm. The summer she turns fifteen she develops a powerful drive to make other people happy. At first, this sense of empathy seems harmless or even a blessing. But some desires are secrets for a reason.

Lee skilfully paints a picture of a low fantasy world; a world not that far from our own. Then makes one change: empathy so powerful that instead of merely wanting others to be happy, the bearer’s will is subsumed by a belief they want to make them happy.

Starting with the simple desires of Freya’s family – her sister’s desire not to do chores; her father’s desire she be happy – Lee builds up both the intensity of people’s desires and their immorality.

With people’s desire not to know the truth preventing Freya from asking for help, she is faced with both more abhorrent acts and greater disdain from society for her actions.

Although the strongest themes are hypocrisy and inequality, this story also paints a world that is both interesting and beautiful. The reader might wish Freya’s problems to be over as magically as they came, but the hints of a wider world will also make them wish the story were longer.

Freya is a very sympathetic character. From the beginning Lee gives her a complex and plausible inner narrative, which makes the objectification her power causes all the more horrific. The reader is left both desperate for her to escape and unable to see a way out.

The supporting characters are similarly well crafted: Freya’s actual abusers are frighteningly ordinary, as most evil is; but those who merely stand-by are equally normal, their prejudices and shallow manners revealed in all their stark egotism.

The subject does not lend itself to enjoyment per se; however, I found this a skilfully crafted and powerful story. I recommend it to everyone who has ever assigned blame without knowing all the facts, and to anyone who believes they haven’t.

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