The Wonder Tale
Fairy tales, or, as they are sometimes known for their ubiquitous magic, Wonder Tales, suspend all reality and lead the reader into a world of wonder and astonishment. We can withhold rational belief when we read them; the author can do the same and more. For the author, the fairy tale acts as a building block for the imagination. These are stories that can have no beginning and no end, they are the story starter, the spark for the imagination woven, unravelled and rewoven. These are the stories of the princess asleep for 100 years behind a wall of thorns having pricked her finger on the needle; the princess in her glass casket having eaten the poisoned apple; the princess in the tower with her long hair – they are all waiting their handsome prince to rescue them. These are also the stories of the children lost in the woods and the wicked witch, the boy with the bean, the cat in smart boots and even the occasional thumb-sized fairy.
Although we can choose our beginnings and endings each time we tell a fairy tale, yet they also have both. They begin from the imagination, from folklore, from the desire to tell stories, to mythologize, to create fables, to give cautionary messages. They are born from an oral storytelling culture. They have happy endings, mostly, because as stories they want to leave us with a happy feeling, with the sense that our wishes too can come true. They carry us through moments of sadness, joy, fear but they always bring us back to the light, they have a host of characters, some good, some wicked, but none who are ever truly evil or without a redeeming feature. They allow us all, child and adult alike, to access our deepest fears and dreams through safe and protective means. We read them at the level we are capable of, understand and interpret them where we are, how we need them.
We should never underestimate the power of the story and in particular the power of the fairy tale or wonder tale.
These tales also allow us, reader and writer the opportunity to explore. To explore storytelling techniques, to explore ideas, to explore difficult moments in life. They encourage us to see the good in the world, recognize that there is some bad and that this is the reality of life without forcing negativity. They provide life lessons in a nurturing, gentle manner. They help us deal with uncertainty - they are not complex narratives but simply stories that follow a rubric and it is this which makes them so flexible to the storyteller.
In recent months the Armadillo editorial team, and I hope our readers too have been treated to a StoryTime fairy tale with Rabunzel, featuring a rabbit princess, we have had Joseph Coelho’s Fairy Tales Gone Bad featuring a zombie Cinderella, Ben Miller’s The Day I Fell Into A Fairytale, Michelle Harrison’s Pinch of Magic and I could go on, but I urge you to have a browse because I have two more to share with you, two that inspired this blog, and my thoughts about what makes the fairy tale, the wonder tale such an important building block.
Karrie Fransman & Johnathan Plackett’s Gender Swapped Fairytales (Faber) stemmed from Jonathan’s experience of hearing fairy tales as a child – his parents swapped the genders of the characters, becoming storytellers themselves and enlivening the stories for their eager listeners who now had nonconforming characters. By playing with technology he was able to discover that playing with gender would create some wonderful results. For Karrie the challenge was then set – how to illustrate these new stories with their new perspective. The result? 12 fantastic fairy tales at once classic and familiar but at the same time fresh and new. The stories have not been rewritten, only the genders changed but I encourage you to see for yourselves what a difference it makes to read about Jacqueline and the Beanstalk or Mistress in Boots among others!
Having discovered that it is possible to swap fairy tale character genders it is interesting to ponder what else can be done with them. As the title of David Robert’s riotously gloriously illustrated book (written by Lynn Roberts-Maloney) suggests they can also be thought of as simply being Delightfully Different Fairy Tales (Pavilion). Once again find the traditional fairy tale turned on its head and written as you have never seen it before. Meet the Sleeping Beauty of the 1950s and 2950s, with not a prince to be seen and a 1970s Rapunzel before learning with the art deco Cinderella that there are some fabulous fashions to be found BUT that above all good will ALWAYS win over evil.