"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales."
~ Albert Einstein
I know this is a huge cliché in the reading world, but I can't remember not being able to read. I'm not trying to say that I emerged from the womb a literary genius, but that my parents read to me each night from such an early age that I was destined to be a book lover. My Dad, in particular, didn't grow up in a family that read much, so I think he really wanted to instil a love of books in me.
When I was little I was raised on fairy tales; whether it was the Brothers Grimm, Disney, or Hans Christian Andersen, it didn't matter, I loved them all! My earliest memories of fairy tales stem back to when I was around five years old, and I had a little collection of Ladybird Books that I loved. I often took them into school to show my friends, and I was very protective of them.
My priorities haven't changed much.
Other than the little book I had that was all about the human body - I remember that book convinced me we were all cyborgs for a while because it described the body as a 'marvellous machine' - the three fairytales I remember reading the most are Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid.
These stories fascinated me because they didn't shy away from that dark edge that so many of our old stories have. As much as I love Disney (and Disney's Beauty and the Beast is still my favourite film of all time!) I never owned the Disney storybooks; I watched Disney, but I read the Brothers Grimm.
"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
~ Neil Gaiman
|I'm pretty sure this was the edition I had!|
I also loved Rapunzel - as amazing as Tangled is (I'd much rather watch that than Frozen) the original is pretty darn cool - and Snow White and Rose Red. In fact growing up with two older sisters meant I often had a fondness for stories featuring sisters. There's one story in particular I'd love your help with!
There's a story I can remember from my childhood but I can't remember what it was called and, if I'm completely honest, I can only remember the beginning and the end (and not the important bit in the middle!), and what makes it all the more frustrating is that no one else seems to have heard of it.
The story features two sisters and their mother. The mother and one of the sisters are awful people. They're wicked and cruel, so much so that whenever her daughter speaks a toad falls out of her mouth. The other sister is nothing like her family; she is beautiful, loving and kind, so much so that whenever she speaks a drop of gold falls out of her mouth. After that I forget what happens (really helpful, I know) but I do remember that by the end of the story the kind daughter has married the Prince, and her mother and sister are punished for their wickedness by being put in barrels lined with iron nails and rolled down a hill.
Please tell me someone knows the story I'm talking about, because I've been searching for it for years!
"Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."
~ C.S. Lewis
When I was seventeen my love for fairy tales, somewhat quashed by puberty and the feeling that I should have grown out of them by now, was rekindled when myself and seven others put on a production of three of the Grimm's Fairy Tales for our Drama A Level. We performed Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Cap and Hansel and Gretel, and it was fantastic; each story was around 5-10 minutes long, and we performed them all while dressed as a selection of macabre toys!
Since then I haven't let myself shy away from my love of fairy tales. In fact luckily for me I wound up studying retellings during my first year of university when we looked at Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. During my second year of university I was introduced to literary theory, and did a project on postmodernism and fairy tales/mythology. In my third year one of my friends worked on a really interesting dissertation about how all modern day horror films can be traced back to the Brothers Grimm, while my dissertation argued that many dystopian stories can be traced back to theology and the story of the Fall.
Needless to say, I'd been waiting for the bandwagon long before it rolled around when retellings became the next literary trend and, luckily for us, they're going to be a trend that sticks around. For as long as there are fairy tales and folk tales there are going to be new ways to tell them, because there's a reason we still read these stories to our children, there's a reason why we still learn from them. They're part of our culture; Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm didn't stay in their rooms and think of all these stories themselves, they travelled around Europe and collected these stories from communities who thrived on the art of oral storytelling, and for whom these stories were lessons as much as they were entertainment.
"Fairy tales represent hundreds of years of stories based on thousands of years of stories told by hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions of tellers."
~ Kate Bernheimer
It's the same with The Thousand and One Nights, The Sagas and The Mabinogion - tales from West and South Asia, Scandinavian and Germanic history, and Celtic Wales respectively - all of the stories were told around campfires long before they were written down, and if a story can survive so long without ever making a mark upon a page, just imagine how long they're going to be around now that we've written them down.
From Cinder to Wicked to Cruel Beauty, we're in the middle of a Fairy Tale Renaissance, and as long as there are retellings to read I'll read them, but I'll always return to my first love: the Grimm's Fairy Tales.
"If I'm honest I have to tell you I still read fairy tales and I like them best of all."
~ Audrey Hepburn