Sunday, September 2, 2012

Defining the Fairy Tale

Marcia Lane defines fairy tales as stories (oral or written) with "a sense of the numinous, the feeling or sensation of supernatural or the mysterious."  She also notes that if the story happens in the past, it is a myth.  If it is about a real person, then it is a legend.  If it takes place in the future, then it is fantasy.

"Fairy tales," she writes, "are sometimes spiritual, but never religious" (Picturing the Rose 5).

I like these definitions.  

According to them, however, the re-tellings of "classic" fairy tales from the authors of our generation are almost overwhelmingly what would be called historical fantasy (sometimes modern fantasy or futurist fantasy/science fiction).

Gordon Laite, from The Blue Fairy Book

So, where does this leave the writer wishing to breathe new life into Cinderella (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Ella Enchanted, Cinder) or re-imagine Rapunzel (Bitter Greens, Zel)?  

Do we, by our reverence and desire to promulgate the longevity of the fairy tale, unwittingly destroy it?

And, how far can one stretch the definition of something before it loses its essence or identity?


1 comment:

  1. "Do we, by our reverence and desire to promulgate the longevity of the fairy tale, unwittingly destroy it?"

    I think we can, but only if we have lost the imagination that allows us to relate to the fairy tale. If we're attempting to stretch out the tale to fit in an imagination that forbids the fantastical, then the tale is dead and we're pounding out images that have no meaning and no place in our lives, but if the retold fairy tale is able to retain the sense of mystery in it's new shape, than we can continue to
    bring our tales into the modern world and enrich the new worldview with them..It's one of the reasons I'm so frustrated with authors who take and image and alter it - not beyond recognition, but beyond meaning...which I guess goes into the next question. It depends on what aspect of the definition you stretch. Stephenie Meyer does it in Twilight, she stretches the definition of Vampire beyond the point where her creatures lose their identity, and so destroys the myth she's attempting to use. But there are variations of the vampire myth that change aspects drastically and yet keep the essence - the Romany image of vampire, or the reference to psychic vampires..I think it takes an full understanding of the essence of a myth to alter it's aspects without losing the identity..and that's something that is often missed in fantastical writing right now, with our current supernatural craze.


Don't be shy. Leave a comment!