Miss M. and I are both fascinated by fairy tales. She likes them because they have princesses (and wicked stepmothers and princes and horses). I am intrigued by them, often not by what they contain, but what they leave out. Characters act illogically sometimes (Why did Snow White keep opening the door to peasant women even after all those attempts on her life? And why, knowing that the girl was so addle-brained, didn’t one of the dwarves stay home to protect her?). Details are pregnant with meaning–but I don’t know what that meaning is (why a pumpkin, for instance?). I am irritated by the many passive females in them, by Sleeping Beauty for falling asleep, by Snow White for constantly needing to be looked after, by Cinderella for oh-so-patiently enduring her servitude. So I twist fairy tales, to fill in the gaps, to flesh out characters, to reframe them so that they make sense to my modern mindset.
Yet there is a universality to these tales, that tug at the heart and at the deep dark places of the mind, that echo across cultures and generations. There’ s something primal about them–when I play with them (and I have whole folder of writings entitled Fairy Tales!), I feel like I am coming back to drink from some old old well. Something about curses and magic, about men being transformed into beasts, the power of true love’s kiss, of giants and witches and trolls; all these seem to come out of psychic landscape that all humans inhabit.
How do you feel about fairy tales? Which is your favorite fairy tale?
Here is one of my own light-hearted experiments to understand, and give a context to fairy tales. I’m particularly fond of this one because I managed to allude to so many stories in one go.
robin cornett says
Have you ever read CS Lewis’ essay on stories? He talks about our long love affair with fairy tales, and some other stuff. I think the book is named after that essay (On Stories). You might enjoy it!
Oh, I love Lewis! I’ll have to check out his essay. I’ve read Chesterton on fairy tales–yet another old Brit dude I enjoy. 😀
Really enjoyed “Once Upon a Time.” That was a great read to start out the morning! Thank you for posting that.
I’ve been thinking about fairy tales all morning since I read this post, and I realized I kind of skipped reading fairy tales growing up for the most part. Oh, there were the Disney films, but my mom didn’t like the ones with female leads, so while I was familiar with the stories, I never got into them. I did have a book with the story of Rapunzel in it that I really loved because it has the most exquisite artwork. I still have that book. But I never really had any books of fairy tales growing up. I did love legends though. I had versions of Robin Hood and Zorro and El Cid and King Arthur and Ulysses that I read all the time.
I remember two books of fairy tales from my childhood. One was red, and I can specifically remember its illustrations for The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The other had fairy tales from around the world and I was fascinated by how weird some of them were (and they didn’t always end happily).
These days I’m enjoying reading folk tales from around the world with the kids. Sir I. loves Anansi the Spider and American folk heroes like Paul Bunyan and John Henry (I’d never heard of them until my father-in-law gave me Disney’s American Legends to introduce me to that part of American culture ;)).
Megs - Scattered Bits says
I have always loved fairytales, but more of the Grimm’s/original versions where things did make more sense. In Grimm’s Snow White, she got more and more cautious and only tried the apple because the queen ate half without being hurt and its enchantment made her long for it, but she didn’t let the lady in.
My favorite fairytale, can’t remember the name, was in a big, fat collection and the princess left with her fairy (I think) lover. Heroines in original fairytales generally were smart. Ashputtel (Cinderella) was stuck, primarily, because her FATHER was ALIVE and refused to interfere. Tough to fight when you’re raised that way, but fight she did in a feminine way, asking for gowns to go to the ball from her mother’s grave and receiving them. Lovely.
And for a retelling: Ella Enchanted. (Not that monstrosity of a butchering of a movie.) The book. The book is amazing and really deepens and enhances the fairytale with an answer to that pesky question: WHY?
Yes, the picture book version of Snow White that I read most recently did include some of those elements, but I still felt the dwarves erred in not either taking her to work with them or having one stay home with her. Of course, she was just a child, and there is the ick factor of the prince falling in love with her in her coffin and then her marrying him…. did she age into a young woman while “dead”?
I haven’t read the Grimms’ originals in a while, but I’m sure I will someday.
I really enjoyed Ella Enchanted, too. 😀 Knew for certain after one preview that I never want to see the movie. *shudder*
Megs - Scattered Bits says
I also love a lot of the Norwegian/Icelandic/etc. fairy tales and myths. My dad had BOOKS of fairytales and myths and folklore stories from all over the world and they just fascinated me. The characters were alive and acted within the rules of their world, but they were INTERESTING. I still miss those books. Not sure when we lost them.
My favorites stories were of the little man who went down daily to the pilaf vendor’s stall and ate his rice there. The smell of the pilaf made his own plain rice taste like pilaf. One day the vendor told him he needed to bring payment for coming down daily, so the little man did. He came down the next morning and shook his purse in the vendor’s ears and said, “I pay for the smell of your pilaf with the jingle of my money!” And he had a whole lot of other funny stories like that.
Oh, Sir I. and I read a Chinese story that was really similar to that one! A fanmaker paid for his enjoyment of the smell of his neighbor’s cooked fish with the sound of his money. I remember reading one about a baker complaining to the king about a poor family enjoying the smell of his baking and being paid with the (you guess it!) the sound of the king’s money.
I love how the same sorts of stories are found over and over again in all cultures. We got a book out of the library that grouped stories in themes, including a section about runaway food!