The Fairy Tale
I entered a competition recently. Write a modern fairy tale, referencing to an old, familiar tale.
Well, that sounded easy enough – until I thought about it and began to write. At which point I decided it wasn’t easy at all.
Sleeping or just awkward
I started with Sleeping Beauty and was mixing in traces of the Ugly Duckling. You can guess how it went: the adolescent and spotty girl attempting to take control of her own adolescence. Postponing the growing up and dismissing marriage, mortgage and 2.4 children as irrelevant to her life. Emphasising that conflict between wanting to grow up, yet shying away from it, wishing to stay a child.
Purpose of a Fairy Tale
I got to thinking about fairy tales in general and how they seem to have been corrupted by the film world. Once they had great power. Stories were told to teach, to illustrate. Do they still have this role, or have they just been relegated to pure entertainment? Has their purpose been eradicated? Does the moral flavour of the original fairy tale still hold sway today, or was it never there in the first place? Magic and fantasy walk hand in hand to bring suitable (and sometimes rather horrible) comeuppance to the villains in all the tales, a literary suggestion that being bad brings a bad end. It’s not biblical, but it is attempting to teach.
An ordinary child
The children in the tales are ordinary, even if they are princesses. They are identified with sufficiently to produce sufficient empathy for their plight. Wincing when Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep. We know that pricking fingers hurts, we’ve anticipated that it will happen and the incident occurs in the right moment to fulfil our expectation. And we know about sleep too, but not the sort that goes on for a hundred years, wrapping the castle in thorns, putting to sleep everyone else in the kingdom. The enchantment means that time stops. And there is a certain bated breath that awaits the arrival of the prince to kiss the princess and make everything all right again. So is this magical time-out supposed to give Aurora time to grow up, or does a child simply work out that adolescence happens anyway, and he/she might as well settle down and lump it? Does it reassure that in spite of everything, things happen for the best and everything will be all right in the end?
So there she is, our ugly duckling, hiding away in the bushes until someone pops up and tells her, ‘Hey, beautiful. What are you doing hiding away in there?’ That horrible adolescence is over and now she’s an adult, someone who, even if not the most beautiful creature in the world, someone somewhere may decide she’s not that bad. She is a human being and her face and body are pretty much the same as everyone else’s and thus suitable to join in the adult scene. Life isn’t so bad after all.
Fairy tales are for children?
So are these tales wasted on the very young? Hijacked by the film world they may be, but thousands of young people go and see them when the films come out and in their droves love them enough to buy the DVD and sit curled up on sofas throughout the land, watching and re-watching. Maybe these stories still tell their tales and still have a point. And not just for very young children. Perhaps the film world is giving those stories a new place – in the hearts of those who need them more. Giving permission for those who are not so young to have their own time-out. To re-live childhood fantasy and put the real world on hold for a while.
What do you think? Do you watch the fairy tale films and if you do, how do you compare them with the tales of your childhood?