Thursday, October 18, 2007

Do Fairies Have Tails? Wait. I Mean...

I started a new post, trying to talk about fairy tales and why I keep coming back to them as a starting point with my thesis. I tried to be eloquent and articulate. It didn't work. Instead, my train of thought derailed and got convoluted. This time, I'm going to try explaining less and see if that helps.

I've come to realize I have a preoccupation with fairy tales. I love it when Realms of Fantasy features a re-telling, and got a kick out of all the references in Stardust (the book more than the movie). I can still remember illustrations from the copy of The Green Fairy Book I read as a kid, though unfortunately I no longer have the copy. In short, fairy tales are embedded in my head.

Not just mine, either. For my terrible class, I did a paper about canonization and how fairy tales are unjustly excluded. Yes, they're in the Children's Literature edition of Norton, but can hardly be seen in Western Literature, let alone any other editions. Yet, they're such a significant part of our cultural subconscious. Shame on Norton for shoving them off as only good for kids. Arrogant bastards.

Think about it. How many Cinderella spin-offs/spoofs can you think of? In our society, we have a common language that revolves around fairy tales and the allusions/revisions they've birthed. "Mirror, mirror," anyone?

As far as the thesis goes, technically I'm working on magical realism, but in my head it makes almost as much sense to call them fairy tales. Not re-tellings/modernizations like Ever After or even Pretty Woman. Rather, getting back to the original mythos of fairy tales: You take a more-or-less real world setting, then throw in fantastical elements without explaining why they're there. A gigantic bean stalk that grows over night? A very old man with enormous wings? Sure, why not. If anything, fairy tales were the ancestors of magical realism, despite this whole idea of magical realism as a shiny new genre.

Right now I've got a number of books at home, on hold at the library, or coming via interlibrary loan which are all collections of fairy tales, or commentary on them. Now, ask me how many books I have on magical realism.

13 comments:

Shane said...

Ok, how many books do you have on magical realism?

And how much of our current culture's knowledge of fairy tales is just what they've picked up from Disney?

Whittaker Luckless said...

Mirror mirror...

I like the old fairy tales. Me and my family have many a long discussion on them and their sometimes R ratedness.

I like the idea of taking these fairy tales and not putting a new spin on them, not modernizing them, but telling them in a less surreal way. I like the idea of taking the story and, rather than deviating from it in any way, taking it as a serious plotline. Thusly complicating the characters, and putting in a good deal more dialog and setting. And even writing some in first person, where the first line of dialogue is, "This period of my life should have begun, 'once upon a time.' I just have that feeling."

Yeah. Fairy tales.

Ali said...

The question was supposed to be a joke, Shane. I have no books on "magical realism" right now, only on fairy tales. I was trying to make an implication, dang it. :)

Debbie said...

I got it, Ali. ;-)

I think it's a great idea. While many of the issues that the old fairy tales sought to illuminate are still relevant today (which is one of the reasons we still tell them), there are many new ones that the original storytellers could not have imagined. Sort of like the new gods for technology and celebrity in American Gods.

Mishell said...

I happen to love fairy tales, as well. Grimms in particular, but Disney, too. Somehow it just seems more natural to learn a lesson in fairy tale form than in "real life" form. I don't know why (she says in her best Robin Leech voice.)

Shane said...

Jeez, no one gets my sarcasm.

Maybe if I'd written, "Ok, how many books DO you have on magical realism? (wink, wink)"

On a more serious note, do you think it is possible for new fairytales to be created in the here and now, or have all the fairy tales been written and all we can do is play with retellings? Can anyone think of a truly modern fairy tale that has entered the mass consciousness?

Jenny said...

I got one! The Princess Bride.

Name me a person that can't quote it line by line. Go on.

"You killed my father, prepare to die!"

Jenny said...

"It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the most deadly poisons known to man."

I could go on....

Mishell said...

"You keep saying this word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Mishell said...

But seriously, isn't The Princess bride a combination of old fairy tales? Cinderella, Snow White, The Pirate Movie--oh wait; that was just a really bad Kristy McNickel movie.

Shane, your question is just a different version of what all literature people ask, "Are all the stories already told?" I think the answer is the same, as well. Originality doesn't come with the stories that are now told, but how they are told.

-John said...

Henry Fullerton of Biwabik, Minnesota has never, nor will he ever even SEE "The Princess Bride." Back in 1979, 'Ol Henry made a promise to his dying grandmother that he would never see anything produced, directed, starred in, associated with, or even seen by Rob Reiner.

No one really knows why he made such a promise to an old woman who openly disapproved of his penchant for ice fishing, but he keeps it with a dogged sense of duty that does grandmothers proud the world over.

Yes, Henry is the type of man who, if you say to him, "Goodbye boys, have fun storming the castle," or "Anybody want a peanut?" or "This one goes up to ELEVEN..." he WILL look at you funny.

Shane, sarcasm (I think) is conveyed most effectively with voice pitch, tone and modulation. Don't worry if it didn't come through in text form.

Ali said...

Hrm... modern fairy tales. As you might guess, I'd argue there are some. The magical realism stories you find these days are what I'd define as modern fairy tales.

As far as the stories that impact modern consciousness, it's hard to say. After all, I don't think the original fairy tales were as pervasive at first as they are now. On the other hand, our contemporary mythos is less tied to magic and more tied to achieving the "American Dream" however you define it.

Isn't Bill Gates' story a fairy tale?

Mishell said...

I think that Bill Gates' story will only be classified as a fairy tale in about a hundred years, after there have been magical elements added to explain how he became successful. Right now, it is only a mundane, non-fiction story.