Monday, January 4, 2016

Monday musings; The making of a classic Fairy Tale

Odds are that one of the first stories you were told or remember as a child was a fairy tale. The stories have been around for ages and many are thought to have originated from folktales--stories which were passed generation to generation by word-of-mouth. Remaking a classic fairy tale into something more modern is all the rage. The TV series Once Upon A Time, the Lunar Chronicles book series, and Beastly by Alex Flinn's (which was made into a movie by the same name) being just a few which have led the surge.

But what makes these little literary gems so popular? Why do they stand the test of time? Well, they seem to speak to a person's basic inner desires which don't really change over the years.Whether it be to better ones situation or that karma would enact vengeance on someone who has done someone else wrong or a 'be careful what you wish for' scenario, they are things the majority of people have wished for or felt at one time or another. 

So what exactly is a fairy tale? Well, lets break it down by looking at some definitions:

Definition of a Fairy Tale

Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1 a) a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins) —called also fairy story
   b) a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending
2     a made-up story usually designed to mislead

Oxford Dictionary:

1   a story about magic or fairies, usually for children
2   a story that somebody tells that is not true; a lie

J.R.R. Tolkien:

- a “fairy-story” is one which touches on or uses Faerie, whatever its own main
purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be
translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the
vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso : if there is any satire
present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be
taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.

While those definitions are true, I think maybe we can break things down a little further. Here's a list of some of the elements incorporated into a classic style fairy tale:

- May start with 'Once Upon A Time' although it doesn't have to

- Takes place in an imaginary world, place, or kingdom 'far, far away' and/or 'long, long ago' usually in a medieval time

- The main character is inherently good; possibly even altruistic, but most likely doesn't know that

- There is a villainous/corrupt character--the 'bad' guy/enemy

- There is a magical element that doesn't need to have anything to do with an actual fairy

- They usually start with a wish or desire

- The main character must complete a journey, task, or quest--basically an obstacle of some sort must be overcome--requiring them to be brave/courageous

- Usually includes the number three (three wishes), seven (seven dwarfs), or twelve (Twelve Dancing Princesses)

- A lesson is learned and may be considered a cautionary tale

- Good triumphs over evil

- The underdog prevails

- May include royalty (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Princess and the Pea, etc.)

- May include talking animals (Cinderella, Puss in Boots, The Goose Girl, etc.)

- Many of the original (not Disney remakes) include a touch of violence (Cinderella's step-sister cuts off her toe so it will fit into the slipper, kids are cooked and eaten by the witch in Hansel and Gretel, the horses head is cut off in the Goose Girl, etc.)

- Has a happy ending even if not stated directly as 'and they lived happily ever after'

Have you seen any of these elements used in works other than fairy tales? Say....Star Wars, 'The Wizard of Oz', or the Harry Potter? Interesting, no? I love how some things change while others remain the same over time. While reading your next book, see how many of the above elements you can identify.

So, my next question is: Can a fairy tale, by definition, be created today? Are there folktales out there that exist, but haven't yet been written down which could and/or should become fairy tales? Could one be created from scratch? What do you think? My question was inspired by the book 'Uprooted' by Naomi Novik. If I had to list a book that I felt could be called a new fairy tale, I'd nominate 'Uprooted'. It's got so many of the elements that a classic fairy tale encompasses that I'd say its the closest thing around. If you've read it, let me know if you agree. If you haven't but are going to, keep the list in mind. See how many of the elements she used whether she realized it or not.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Monday Musings. I started doing this a couple of years ago, but due to illness and other random events, I haven't posted as consistently as I first planned. Remember, a book a day keeps the boredom at bay.

Happy reading everyone,

Merriam-Webster definition from:
Oxford Dictionary definition from:
J.R.R. Tolkien Quote referenced from:
Note: There are lists of elements of fairy tales listed all over the internet, I can not attribute my list to any one source. If I had to give credit to one general source, however, I'd say it was to teachers and their students. There were many lists, pictures, etc out on the internet. Hopefully this means that we'll be seeing more original fairy stories coming from these authors-in-the-making in the future. I'm crossing my fingers.  

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