Another look at fairy tales

I love messing about with fairy tales. I like to read them, and to read different versions of the same story. I like to think about why a story takes a certain path, and how that story arc was influenced by the point of view of the teller.

Rumpelstiltskin, for example, is told from a point of view which is sympathetic to the young woman. She is presented as a victim of her father’s lies and the king’s greed. The father who lies about his daughter’s ability to spin straw into gold is barely touched on. Certainly he suffers no consequences within the story. The king, who threatens the young woman with death if she fails at this impossible task and “rewards” her with marriage upon its completion, is a cardboard cutout. All he does is set an impossible task and throw his weight around.

Rumpelstiltskin, who arrives to help the young woman out of her fix, is painted as venal at first. “What will you pay me?” he asks, and takes the offered ring and necklace on the first two nights. Then he is shown as evil, demanding her firstborn child in return for saving her life.

Nothing is ever said about what Rumpelstiltskin intends to do with the child, but given that he is one of the Little Folk, chances are he will raise it as his own. The young woman never asks, so desperate to avoid her own death that she trades away everything she can to that end. Later, one and all assume that Rumpelstiltskin has some evil purpose in mind for the child. His death is presented as the natural consequence of his own evil temper at being thwarted, and a great relief to the “good” characters.

Rewriting a fairy tale – or any well-known story – in another genre or from another point of view is one way of examining the structure of the story, and how it limits what the reader sees and understands. Kate Wolford’s fairy tale journal, Enchanted Conversation, published each quarter, encourages exactly that kind of exploration and understanding.

I enjoy “Enchanted Conversation”, which has lately starred in something of a Cinderella story of its own. Last year Kate Wolford announced that the publication would have to be restructured due to budget constraints. A fairy godmother – or godfather, or both, perhaps – surfaced and, with a wave of a magic wand, financed the publication for at least another year. Kate was able to schedule all four issues for 2011 and raise the pay rate to a very generous ten cents a word.

Whether you’re a reader of fairy tales, or a writer of them, or both, check out Enchanted Conversation.

This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Out in the World and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Another look at fairy tales

  1. Erin McLeod says:

    Hi Elizabeth: I remember you telling me about an extension of the Cantebury Tales and see this all, given your passion for mythology and folklore as a very rich mine for you to tap in your thinking and writing. I always find what you have to say on these subjects fascinates me.

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