“Your American fairy tales end that way. Real fairy tales end in blood or tears.” ― Luna Lindsey
I told a friend recently that I was writing a fairy tale to which she responded, “Good. You should write more happy endings.” For that matter, I’ve had a nice handful of friends that say I should write more stories that start with “Once Upon a Time,” and end with “Happily Ever After.” I grew up reading fairy tales from beautifully illustrated books. But the stories were far from Disney-fied versions of happily ever after. Fairy tales passed served as moral lessons to instill fear. As a child…they terrified me. They caused me nightmares that I remember to this day. Nightmares of being locked in a cage and fattened by an evil witch who planned to bake me. Or forced to weave straw into gold by a bossy little imp. I’m grateful that as a child I never heard the version where Rumpelstiltskin became so angry, he ripped himself in two. I’m not sure I could have survived that. Evil grandmother eating wolves. Little Match Girls who froze to death and died. Snow White, Rose Red, and Evil Gnomes. Nutcrackers and Evil Mice. Peter and the Wolf held a special horror for me. Of course, we watched it repeatedly in school.
Even the Disney Versions gave me goosebumps. Snow White bit the poison apple. Sleeping Beauty touched the spinning wheel. Both were left helpless by their own naivete. It offends my feminist core that only women were portrayed as stupid enough to fall for evil, leaving them at the mercy of villains and in need of a man to break the spell. But I digress.
In the end, that was the point. To warn people not to be naïve and fall for any of the seven deadly sins. Lust, gluttony, greed, etc. Take for example, “Little Red Riding Hood”. Perhaps of all the tales, scared me the most when I was young. Perhaps Charles Perrault’s explanation would have taken away the mystery and fear.
“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”
I guess all I could remember was a gobbled-up grandma. Sometimes a woodsman. Always a sneaky wolf.
Fairy tales were not intended to be squishy feel good stories for daydreams of romance. As much as I feared them, I prefer them over the sugar-coated dreams that our children watch now. Disney has ruined the fairy tale and created a world of unreachable expectations of romance. Again, I digress.
There was one fairy tale that resonated with me. One image that stuck in my mind with fondness. That story was The Snow Queen. I particularly like the beginning story of the mirror made by the devil himself, distorting images reflected as only evil and ugliness. No good could be seen in the reflection. God and the angels tried to take the mirror to heaven but it shook so hard, it slipped from their grasp and crashed to earth where it shattered into millions of pieces. Splinters of the glass blew into people’s eyes and reflect only the negative in the world.
Now, THAT is story telling at it’s finest. What an image! What a metaphor! I know people who have slivers of that mirror in their eyes. Don’t you?
When I say I’m writing a fairy tale, it’s the idea of imagery and symbolism that I want to capture. Not the American Happily Ever After. Yes, there’s a magic forest…kind of. And there’s a Prince Charming…kind of. Evil witch…in a sense, but not really. Happily Ever After? Depends on your definition. But the prince doesn’t rescue her and whisk her away to a castle where she becomes queen and dances in a gown that changes color. The vicissitude of the character’s self-definition? Definitely. Illusive imagery? If I do it right. Use of symbolism? I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Is modern fairy tale dead? Are we doomed to rely on Disney and their idealised version from this point on?
Not if I have any say in the matter.
“They [Fairy Tales] are talking about real emotions, telling true stories, through the medium of metaphor. People used to understand metaphor better than I think we do now. But these stories are so potent, they refuse to die.” ― Jane Yolen