Why I Love Fairy Tales

I’ve mentioned on this blog many times that I grew up reading fairy tales. Consequently, I developed a love for them that goes beyond what people mean when they say, “I love chocolate.” Oh yes. I went there.

When you Google “what is a fairy tale,” this comes up:

fair·y tale
ˈferē tāl/
noun
• a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands

• denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
modifier noun: fairy-tale “a fairy-tale romance”

I’ve always wondered why fairy tales were called that—fairy tales—when you can’t find fairies in some of them. According to Wikipedia:

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.

I’ve also wondered why many people consider kids as the primary audience for fairy tales. Sure, my parents read them to me when I was a kid. But I never stopped wanting to read them as I grew older. I find them as soothing today as I did when I was a kid. I love being transported to a world different from my own, where magical activities are par for the course. This is why the stories I write primarily are fairy tales.

By why are they soothing? (Of course, not every fairy tale fits that description. There are many fairy tales—particularly those geared toward adults—that aren’t soothing at all. I can’t help thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant 2006 movie, which was quite unsettling. But I digress.) In an article entitled, “On the Importance of Fairy Tales,” at the website of Psychology Today (you can find it here), Sheila Kohler writes

Here, in these ancient tales, the small boy or girl can through the hero/heroine triumph over the large and often dangerous-seeming adults around him or her. . . . There is something essential about the repetition of the same words which soothes the child, nurtures the imagination and assuages his fears.

I also love fairy tales, because many follow the hero’s journey model. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) As the call to action is accepted, we get to travel along as the hero (male or female) sets out on a quest to find a lost treasure, vanquish a villain, or find true love. (Now I’m thinking of the “to blave” scene from the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, a favorite of mine.)

Here are some of my other favorite fairy tales (or in the case of one, a book about an animated series), or favorite novels that have fairy tale elements (in no particular order; keep in mind that some books represent the series as a whole):

   

   

This seemingly untitled book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The spine of it is so worn out, I had to tape it.

    

    

 

   

  

There are many others I could have shown here (like Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, which I also have). Do you like fairy tales? What are some of your favorites?

My unicorn is just chillin’.

Fairy tale image from dreamstime.com. Legends of Windemere cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Common Thread

needle-and-threadWhen I read this post at John Scalzi’s blog where Guy Gavriel Kay discussed the overarching theme of his novels, my mind started racing. (If you’re not sure who Guy Gavriel Kay is, click here. For John Scalzi, click here.)

Anyway, if you don’t feel like reading that post, Guy Gavriel Kay mentioned that he was asked why all of his books have the theme of exile. If you’ve read his books (I read Tigana), you might be nodding at this point and saying, “Yeah, I see that.”

I love the notion of having an overarching theme, a thread connecting all of my novels. It kind of reminds me of the dog that pops up in the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg’s picture books—a fun extra readers know will be there. But on a deeper level, having something that links all of my novels is a way of sharing a passion of mine.

Now, you might be thinking, if I’m working on four novels (a duology and two stand alones), how on earth could I have a linking theme? Okay, I’ll tell you.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the journey as teacher—the hero’s journey—and often gravitate toward books of that ilk: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; The Odyssey by Homer; Beowulf; Sabriel by Garth Nix; The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett; Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson; The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis; The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. (And by hero, I mean male or female.) Once that realization dawned during my third semester of grad school, I knew I had settled on a topic for my critical thesis, as well as a structure for the young adult fantasy novel I was struggling with at the time.

With a journey story, the emphasis is on movement. No stagnant pool here, but a flowing river with rapids and turns. As Joseph Campbell stated in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Campbell 51)

A compelling journey story involves struggles beyond the daily “I ran into traffic” grind. Consider the journeys you find most memorable: rescue missions, mountain-climbing adventures, immigration stories, migrations (of animals too, if you watched the documentary Winged Migration). With journeys, character strengths and weaknesses come into focus.

Blake Snyder, author of the popular screenwriting tips book, Save the Cat, uses the term golden fleece in his discussion of hero’s journey stories. If you’re up on Greek mythology, you know that the quest undertaken by Jason and the Argonauts involved the search for the golden fleece. According to Snyder:

The theme of every Golden Fleece movie is internal growth. . . . It’s not the mileage we’re racking up that makes a good Golden Fleece, it’s the way the hero changes as he goes. (Snyder 28)

Reading these stories, some larger than life, makes us want to test our own limits, don’t they? The most powerful journey stories can inspire us to be better people—to do what we can to effect change in our world.

What journey stories inspire you? If you’ve read all or most of an author’s books, what theme, if any, have you noticed as a common thread?

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press/Bollingen Series XVII, 1949. Print.

Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat! Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions/Sheridan Books, 2005. Print.