Into the Woods

I stumbled on a thread in the National Novel Writing Month forum which asked about Dark Fairy tales and whether anyone else was thinking of writing them.  It provoked another discussion regarding the fact that there are many reworkings of fairy tales but that didn’t necessarily mean future reworkings were now taboo.  Avoiding, for the moment, the issue about what makes a fairy tale ‘dark’, I think fairy tales should never be put back on the nursery shelf.

The tales are a way for us to explore ourselves. In her introduction to Tales of Wonder, Jane Yolen makes the point that at least one of her stories is not about the person that was its inspiration but about Yolen herself and her experience of the mother/daughter relationship.  Therefore despite the fantastical elements of the tales they are places that focus on human personalities and relationships. Disney often gets accused of sugar coating fairy tales but in Tangled the bit that stands out the most for me is the portrayal of Mother Goethal’s relationship with her ‘daughter’.  Goethal is constantly slapping Rapunzel down, not only by keeping her locked up but by highlighting the younger woman’s defects.  This is most clearly shown in the song Mother Knows Best.  I challenge any wicked step mother to be as calculating and cruel. In Fairy Tales we find greed, selfishness, insensitivity that leads to abuses of power, but there is also courage, loyalty and the ability to transform. That is one of the most powerful corner stones of the Fairy Tales. As pointed out by Terri Winding in her introduction to Snow White, Blood Red they represent an inward journey, a place where we can go and return sharper and more aware.  By revisiting these tales and taking inspiration from them we are also becoming part of the story. We get to play with rich and archetypal imagery like blood on snow, red slippers or a maze of thorns.  We can journey with dangerous beasts through dark forests, and we know the rules, and knowing the rules means that we know how to break them.  Both Jane Yolen and Angela Carter say that they do not see their works as retellings but that they take the content of the existing tales and use them as the basis for creating new stories. Stories where Beauty is free to become the beast and the Prince doesn’t have to be charming.  I think that Fairy Tales are a powerful shared cultural language, and that they still have as much to offer as we do as people. We’d be mad not to go on that journey, even if it is only for our own benefit.


16 thoughts on “Into the Woods

  1. Have you read anything by Angela Carter? I’ve just finished reading her Bloody Chamber, and every story was deliciously creepy. For the first two or three, I kept trying to connect it to the fairytales I’d grown up with – and after a while I just got sucked in and it didn’t matter anymore. I agree, I wouldn’t call them retellings. What she’s done is picked up on little things in the originals (can I call them that?) and created..a whole other world. Which is familiar, and yet, incredibly eerie because it turns out not to be. Does that make sense?

    • Yes, that makes sense. I think the familair being changed and subverted is one of the scariest things that can be done too.
      I love the Bloody Chamber. My favourite story is the Tiger’s Bride, just because I found beauty being able to turn into a beast sort of liberating. Do you have a favourite one?

      • I do love the description in the Erl King.
        Have you ever seen The Company of Wolves? It’s based on Angela Carter’s werewolf stories and I’d be interested to know what other people make of it.

      • Nuh uh. I only just looked it up.
        I liked it in the book, though. Is it based on the last three werewolf stories in the book? If so, It might be something I’d like. But then again, part of the charm is her way with words – she constructs the most beautiful sentences. It would be interesting to see how that translates onto film.

  2. It’s mostly based on bits of them. It isn’t as good as the stories themselves though – if you like the charm of her words I wouldn’t go out of my to watch it.
    It is an interesting interpretation though.
    I need to get on with The Hobbit!

    • I’m behind, too. I have major catching up to do if I want to get the questions done by tonight.

      Hey? I was wondering..Would you like to take over the discussion for a week? Maybe the last week? I want someone who has already read The Hobbit and loved it to bring it to a close. It’s okay if you can’t though. I’d understand.Let me know!

  3. Hi Tanya,
    Sorry to bug you but I have four questions done for the group read. If I don’t have a co-host though I’ll look to doing two more. Do you want me to put them straight as a draft post in Writer’s Bloc so they can be edited?

    • Four’s great, don’t worry about it. 🙂
      It’s just you, this week, if that’s okay. Do you want me to ask someone else? I could, if you have qualms about doing it alone.

      And, yes. That would be perfect. Once again, thank you so much. 🙂

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