Friday, January 27, 2017

Fairy tales: Timeless Tales (Intro)

A beautiful phrase from one of my favorite retelling series that happens to be true even in its simplicity.

Fairy tales have been a part of written and oral storytelling forever and it doesn't matter how much time goes on, readers and listeners still love them. It's a love that is timeless.

Fairy tales are broken down into two sub-genres: retellings and originals. I love both, but I see a lot more of the retellings than originals. Since I love fairy tales, I'm going to do a mini-series on them.

So let's get started!

There is some debate on what actually makes a fairy tale a fairy tale. Here are somethings that are commonly used to define the genre.  

Fairy tales are often placed in a fantasy world with no definite locality. We expect to see good triumph over evil, heroes win their quest or defeat the great evil. Heroes win the kingdom and marry the princess. A lot of times the characters are of simple origins, or are archetypal. The goose girl, the princess in need of rescue, the seventh son, the youngest son, the heroic prince, the kind and dutiful daughter/sister. Fantasy creatures often play a role as well, either as helpers or villains. Ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls. Wicked stepmothers and evil witches. And of course fairy godmothers. Other helpers might be talking animals or objects.

Sometimes it's the plot points that make a fairy tale a fairy tale, and other times it's the elements of the tale such as the inclusion of the above listed things that make it one.

Next we'll discuss who the audience is.

Are fairy tales only for children? Or are they something adults can read in broad daylight out from under their covers?

With Disney and the current slew of live-action films on classic fairy tales, it's hard not to associate fairy tales with fluffy storylines, happy endings, and children. That's just one trail in the fairy tale woods, though.

A lot of old fairy tales had a dark side. They had sad endings, dark moments, deaths, gruesome scenes, and went deeper.

Here's some moments you may not have known about!

- In Grimm's tale, Cinderella's stepsisters cut off their heels and toes in order to make the golden slipper fit their foot, but the Prince spots the blood on their stockings and realizes they are impostors. 
Later the stepsisters invite themselves to Cinderella's wedding where Cinderella summons birds to attack the stepsisters' faces, mutilating their beauty and tearing their eyes out, sentencing them to a lifetime of blindness as punishment for their behavior.

- Rapunzel's beginning rarely changes, but it's worth mentioning the rather disgusting nature of the poor girl's beginning. Her mother can't control her urge for the neighbor's property and instead of asking or buying the food she craves, she convinces her husband to steal it multiple times. When he is caught, he bargains his daughter for an unlimited supply of the rampion/rapunzel. 

Eventually the witch locks Rapunzel in a tower. When the prince shows up, he does make a plan to rescue Rapunzel, but is also sleeping with her and it's an accidental commit betraying her pregnancy that foils their plan. After Rapunzel is cast into the wilderness, the prince climbs up to find the witch and she drops him into a patch of thorns where he is blinded. 

Now things do end happily for the couple, but it's still got a gloomy chain of events that is kind of crazy if you think about it.

- Sleeping Beauty definitely has a major difference between the version we know and its Italian version which has the princess waking after her prince rapes her. She gives birth to twins and that's what wakes her! The story goes on to show that the "prince" is already married and his wife wishes to cook both Beauty and her children! 

Overall there's a lot of injuries, death, and general moments where "gosh, that's a bit much for kids!" With so many fairy tales, and so many versions, there's something for everyone.

Adults or kids, lovers of dark and light. Bittersweet endings? Or Happily Ever After? There are both. Tragedy, comedy, and romance.

I had a friend ask me once what the fun was in reading retellings. "You already know the story!"

It's a legitimate point, and one I think that deserves a response.

First, I'll say that you don't really know the story. You may know the plot points, but the story is new. The character's are new, the world is new, and how you get to those plot points is new.

Second, in a way don't we know most stories? Usually we can gather enough information from the genre and the blurb to surmise some things. We'll be able to pick out which two people fall in love(in a romance) no matter how far apart they are or how much they hate each other. We know somehow they're going to meet and they're going to get over their differences. In a dystopian we know the MC is going to get shaken out of their comfort zone and challenge the system or get swept up in a group who will challenge the system.

There's a lot of things we can guess with a pretty good accuracy rate. So I like to think any book is about the journey, not about the surprise.

To round off the intro into fairy tales, here are some interesting fairy tale related tidbits.

  • The very first Cinderella tale was actually from China! It was recorded around 850 AD. Cinderella is named Yeh-hsien(or Yeh-shen) and wears a dress made of kingfisher feathers. Instead of glass slippers, she wears golden slippers.

  • The habitable region around a star where planets can support liquid water (being neither too hot, nor too cold) is called the Goldilocks Zone.

  • The Guardian made a promo video in 2012 featuring the "true" story of the Three Little Pigs.

  • Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria is easily one of the most famous castles and inspired Walt Disney himself. The Magic Kingdom, along with Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella's castles were based no Neuschwanstein.

 Unlike most castles, Neuschwanstein was created after there was no longer need of defensive architecture. It literally is a fairy tale castle that was built for no other purpose than beauty. From its location to its design, it's not hard to see why people from all around the world have fallen in love with this romantic castle.
  • The Brother's Grimm are famous for collecting 210 fairytales and publishing them in their novel(not intending the work for children). They continued to edit the collection and ended up with seven editions. Most changes were to make the books available to the largest possible audience by removing the sexual and gory parts.
  • Despite the Grimm reputation of violent or sad endings, most of the collection did end happily ever after.
  • Most of the Grimm's stories were collected in the comfort of their home where educated, middle-class women who were excellent storytellers came to share them.
And that's all I have for you today! The next post in the series deals with retellings! Part 1


  1. Definitely a cool series. I knew many of the original fairy tales (the stories before Disney got hold of them) were dark, but seriously, Sleeping Beauty took a turn I wasn't expecting.

    1. I still can't fathom why that was ever thought as an appropriate addition to a story!

  2. Great post! I'm one who was never attracted to Fairytale Retellings.... Mainly because I felt already knew the ending. It didn't feel like a new book. I saw it more as fan-fic than a new story.

    However I take your point that of course reading a romance one 'knows' that the MCs will get together!

    But, I didn't realise the depth and extent and variety of retellings that are out there. And since I've read some retellings recommended by my friends, I have revised my opinion of the genre. Although fairytales aren't my first fantasy pick, I'd give a retelling a go without any qualms these days. So you have a partial convert in me :)

    1. I think it helps that the old fairytales were all short stories. So when you turn them into a novel, there's so much room for expansion. It's kind of like watching a book-to-movie and then reading the book, only the book came after the movie.

      When you have the room to show more of a story, it really changes things.

      Yay for conversion! I'll have to hook you up with some more retellings. :D

  3. Yay, a fairy tale miniseries! I enjoyed this one--looking forward to the rest of the installments. :)

    1. Now to get my lazy butt in gear and write them. I think there's just titles at the moment LOL.