I was always interested in fairy tales, especially those with dragons. Some of my favorite stories from childhood had them—most notably Čardak ni na nebu ni na zemlji (which would, I guess, translate into The House Neither in the Sky Nor on the Ground), which was a simple ‘a dragon kidnaps a princess and her brothers have to save her’ story. Much older, I decided to give a lecture for a sci-fi convention on the topic of Princess and Dragon fairy tale trope (known to us as Aarne-Thompson folktale type 300, the Dragon-Slayer). I’m mentioning this only because these types of stories are what inspired me, in the end, to write my own version of the Princess and Dragon story.
In this second Story Behind the Story, I’m going to talk about The Lottery, fairy tales and folk horror.
Originally, I wrote The Lottery in Croatian. It was published, as Lutrija, in a Croatian literary magazine for speculative fiction called Ubiq. And it was one of my very rare stories that I was quite proud of immediately upon finishing it. Usually, I write something, then I decide it’s not that great. Sometimes I change my mind, especially if someone else reads it, but this time? I liked how The Lottery turned up from the start. So it was an easy decision for me to translate it and publish it in my Mistress of Geese collection.
It was also the first time I dabbled in folk horror. That summer in 2019, I watched Midsommar in our indie cinema and I was absolutely amazed by it. I liked the colors, the mood and the setting, the creepy atmosphere. And inspiration struck me. It was the push that I needed to write.
The Lottery takes place in the near future, in a magical post-apocalypse. It has a creepy murder village, but that’s where the similarities with Midsommar stop. The movie gave me the inspiration to write and take more interest in folk horror, but The Lottery is more a retelling of other fairy tale stories than of that movie. It’s also a little bit subversive for post-apocalyptic stories, because I definitely played with some tropes typical for that genre, but gave my own take on them. I’ve always disliked the way some of these stories illustrated women as being weaker and ending up as some sort of playthings for murder gangs and such. So, there’s no such thing here; in fact, it’s more of a “the tables have turned” situation.
Another bit of subversion was set in my approach to the Princess and Dragon trope. The Lottery has everything—a sort of a princess for a main character (the daughter of a high priestess who is de facto ruler of the village), a sort of a dragon (a type of snake from mythology that I turned into a river dragon), a maiden sacrifice because the village needs something from the dragon, white dresses and flowers in the hair of the women offered as sacrifice (because symbolism) and, most importantly—the lottery to choose whom to sacrifice among the young women. Of course, not everything is what it seems.
But there’s another big influence in this story, and that would be a retelling written by the Croatian author August Šenoa, called The House of the Plague (Kugina kuća). It was a retelling of a Croatian folk tale he wrote in the form of an epic and is one of the rare things from 19th century Croatian literature that I don’t hate. It’s a story about a woman called Jela who stumbles upon Plague, in the form of a woman, and is promptly bullied to bring her into the village. Because you see, Plague can’t come in if there’s a cross protecting the village, unless someone from the inside brings her in. So she works a little on Jela, promising her death and destruction. Jela strikes a deal with Plague—if she brings her to the village Plague needs to spare Jela’s house. Because she has a young son she wants to protect. Plague honors the deal, but the kid wasn’t sleeping in their house. In the end, we learn that he wakes in the middle of the night, gets super scared and goes to a neighbour’s house (I think, it doesn’t matter) and when Plague passes the village, only sparing Jela’s house, he also dies because he wasn’t there.
Fun fact—we read this super fun story in elementary school. It’s actually really great—the horror atmosphere is spot on and the verses are dramatic. The back and forth of Jela and Plague are truly great. But it’s also written in the 19th century style and a lot of kids in elementary school can’t appreciate it in full because of the language barrier. Only as a grown up did I end up enjoying it in its full gothic glory. With time, I learned that we had a lot of this Plague-as-women coming to the village motives in folk stories and it gave me an idea that I ended up using in The Lottery. Not telling what because, no spoilers. But it is what makes The House of the Plague my third inspiration.
And on that note, since I like to pepper my stories with various references, I named some of the characters with names of Croatian authors from Šenoa’s time. In fact, the main character, Augusta, is literally named after him.
I ended up liking the characters and the setting maybe a bit too much, because now I want to write a whole novel with them. I’ve actually started writing it and then stopped because something else got in the way, but I’m definitely going back to that project. Usually, I’m not really interested in writing future settings and post-apocalypse, but I like the blend I got in this story—with magic, urban fantasy, paganism and folk horror—that I feel there’s still space for me to explore the world a bit more.
In the meantime, you can check out The Lottery in my Mistress of Geese collection. It’s available on all major stores.