Alexis le Trotteur – The Legend, the Real Man, the Retelling
Time to talk about one of my favourite thing in the world: Québec folklore!!
At the end of this month, Circuits & Slippers comes out. It’s an anthology of science-fiction fairy tales retellings, and I have a short story in it! But because you cannot say “fairy tale” without me hearing “local legend”, mine is absolutely about Québec.
I ran into a little problem in that I wanted to write happy queers for this, and well… none of our legends end very well. Most are catholic warning tales about making a deal with the devil, too. But Alexis had something fun in it, and it felt easier to twist it around.
So let’s go in steps, because there’s three layers to my short: the legend, the real man, the retelling.
(Warning for spoilers I guess? I’ll try to keep those in the retelling to a minimum, so that you don’t know how much I kept from the legend!)
Québec’s legend tell of Alexis le Trotteur, a long-legged youth from Saguenay who ran so fast he could beat race horses to the finish line. He would travel across the province, competing with them, always finishing first. Some say he could even outrun trains!
One day he caught the attention of a rich American promoter, who wanted him to race against his horses (and prove Alexis’ fame was overblown). So everybody in his small village teamed up to gather enough money to send him to run in the States, and sleep at the best hotels.
Except he partied all night before his race, and essentially go to the starting line with a huge hangover. And screwed up into one glorious humiliation. Obviously, no one was very happy with him, and no one wanted to see him race anymore. Alexis ended up working on the railroad, until he became deaf from the noise. He died hit by a train–some say he tried to outrun it, some say he was walking on the track, and never heard it coming.
*The details of this narrative vary widely from one telling to the other, but that’s the essence of it.
The Real Man
So what do we really know about Le Trotteur? He existed! He’s not actually from Saguenay, but from Charlevoix, a region slightly to the southeast but still connected to the Saguenay river. He did have super long legs, and he was incredibly fast. He was, also, absolutely convinced he was a stallion. Like, as a teenager, he would whip himself to stimulate muscles. And he lived on the road, travelling across the province.
He earned his keep outrunning horses and trains, and participating in circus shows. Records speak of a man kinda arrogant, just bright enough to profit from his extraordinary athleticism, and deeply unaware that his incredible physical form would one day dwindle. There was no dramatic US competition in which he failed that I could find, though he might have raced there during his life.
He did die in a train accident, although we do not know exactly how. Some indeed say he tripped while trying to outrun it, while others think that so much of his life relied on running and travelling, he chose death over bad physical form.
Outrunning horses wasn’t exactly very … science-fiction-y, was it? So the first thing I did when I approached this retelling was to see what else he could do. And I happened to be playing a lot of Mario Kart 8 (I am a nerd).
So what’s Alexis good at? Magnetic Skating. Zooming quick along tracks with magnetic skates in his feet, taking sharp turns and zero-gravity corkscrews along a race track that twists and bends on itself. And that’s doubly awesome, because what does Québec have? Cold winters, ice, and skating.
My sci-fi retelling puts Alexis on a small planet, the kind of border colony almost nobody lives in. It’s mostly water, which spends most of the year frozen over, which means year-long skating! His skill is such that it reaches the promoter of the Interstellar MagSkating Race, the competition, and he’s invited to prove himself alongside real professionals.
I changed two other things. First, Alexis is a disabled athlete–he lost his legs in a skating accident as a child, and runs on prosthesis. Second, he has an asexual girlfriend! Which, in this case, is absolutely a way for me to explore the pressure of sex as a show of love and the shitty things I’ve heard and been told. So if you’re looking for #ownvoices ace stories? Got you covered.
I had an amazing time writing this. It was difficult at times, but when I draw on local legend, I am much more at ease to fling French in it, and to dig into deeply personal experiences and bring them to light. The same happened when I wrote my Québec solarpunk story–I jumped right away into our politics, our past, and what solarpunk would mean to my home. So right now I’m playing with different concepts to perhaps build an entire anthology of aro/ace spec fic retellings of our local lore, and Alexis le Trotteur will without a doubt have been a stepping stone for that.
And please, if you have more questions, don’t hesitate to comment!