Perhaps it was the illustrations that captivated me when I’d pour through the fairytale books, the dragons and the princesses with long gowns and tresses, but of all the picture books in my room when I was a young child, I liked the fairytales the best.
I can still remember many of those books, the way they looked with their ornate borders and their detailed portraits of the handsome Puss N’ Boots or the angry face of Rumpelstiltskin as he stamps hard enough to crash through a floor and into oblivion. Styles evolve and change, and the animated images of the Walt Disney studios who’ve popularized many fairy tales by converting them into cartoon movies, don’t have the same depth of detail as those old illustrations. I love the old woodcut and color plate illustrations, but many contemporary artists add new magic and perspective to an old story. When you read a fairytale or any story for that matter, the possibilities for elaboration are endless.
“Happily Ever After” isn’t always the case in some of the Hans Christian Anderson Tales, such as “The Red Shoes” and “The Little Mermaid.” But as fairy tales have been told and retold so many times, multiple versions circulate. Children today probably have no idea that the original “Little Mermaid” is a tragic story of desire and loss. The little mermaid was unable to permanently become a human. Her attempts at transformation cause her to lose her life as a mermaid. What remains, is her hope that one day she’ll become part of the eternal universe.
In the hands of the Disney writing team, however, “The Little Mermaid,” became a story about family conflict, friendship, love, and fulfillment. The result is a story with a happy ending.
But that’s okay, because fairy tales are part of our oral tradition and why not use the familiar tropes from our childhood as building blocks to create new stories or retell old ones. I think it is important to remember and learn from what went before. However, the stories of our lives keep evolving. So, what story would you like to tell?
Take a fairy tale, an old favorite or one you discover and tell the story from the viewpoint of another character. What is the Stepmother’s version of the household dynamics in Cinderella? How would the Fairy Godmother tell the story?
Change the ending. Did Cinderella really want to marry the prince? Maybe her dream was to open a shoe store.
Change the medium. Tell the story as a piece of contemporary flash fiction or as a poem.
Here is a link to my poem Rampion published in Quail Bell Magazine, inspired by the fairytale Rapunzel.
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