A few years back, I wrote a fairy tale, Grimahlka, the story of a witch who adopts a human baby. The tale has a medieval, eastern European flavor and takes place in dark woods where, as it does in much of literature, transformations occur. The work was published in Tales of the Talisman, in 2007, my first foray into the genre though I hope to do more.
Being a lover of fairytales, I was drawn to an article by Laura Miller that appeared in the December issue of Harper’s, “A Tone Licked Clean/ Fairy tales and the roots of literature.”(pgs 81-85) In it she makes an observation that is obvious to anyone who’s read the original Grimm stories: they aren’t “happily ever-after tales.” Nor were they written for children but are stories shared among adults, possibly out of boredom, by “people performing routine domestic tasks.” (Ibid. pg. 87) The plots tend to reflect what central Europeans knew: “that life is capricious and often cruel” (Ibid. pg. 81.) In fact, Miller assures us, “…the very idea of a separate body of literature created specifically for children didn’t emerge in Western Europe until the 1800s.” (Ibid, pg. 82.)
Some successful modern creators of fairy tales don’t write with Walt Disney in mind either. J. R. R. Tolkien is one. C. S. Lewis is another, my favorite being Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. All three authors write stories that can be read by young people if they have the stomach for it . But these authors’ delve so deeply into human character that seeing our flaws so exposed, many of us are tempted to look away.
In honor of the bicentennial of the Grimm brother’s first edition, Pullman has recently retold and published fifty of his favorites: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. This Christmas a copy of it will be under my tree as a gift to me or… under lock and key if I begin to have nightmares.
(Illustraion of Goblin Market courtesy of wwwflicker.com)