For the last year or so, while I’ve been deciding what to do with them, two of my fairy tale retellings for middle graders have been tugging at my sleeve, eagerly asking ‘Are we there yet?’
I’m pleased to say that we’ve finally arrived – at least, at the first stop. Stop One is where anyone can download these stories for free from Smashwords!
However, to my mind, middle grade stories of this type are much more fun for their readers when they’re in a print copy, with illustrations. So Stop Two, further down the line, will be when I re-release these texts as illustrated, printed fiction.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these FREE, short e-stories!
A tale of sisterly love and science. While Kate and Rupert's parents are off touring the kingdom, Cousin Garil is in charge. He lets Rupert do anything he wants, but Kate isn't allowed to do any of the things she likes to do: no horse riding, no playing ball with her brother, no eating competitions — and, worse of all, no more lessons with Rupert's tutor. With Cousin Garil breathing down her neck and Rupert acting more toad-like every day, Kate’s plans to become a scientist are hard to put into action. Yet when Rupert gets himself into a fix, Kate's love of science might be all that can save him. A short story of
5, 800 words for middle-grade readers.
Hah and Grr were abandoned in the wood as babies and raised by Mother Wolf. They are happy, but they are the weakest of the pack and they are often hungry. One day, when they are following in the tracks of their lupine family, they smell something wonderful on the wind and follow their noses to a strange den in the woods, where they find delicious foods that fill their bellies. In the confusion that follows, Hah and Grr must decide whether their future lies with Man or Wolf. A short story of 5, 100 words for middle grade readers.
The history of fairy tales can and has filled dozens of books – academics, writers and dedicated hobbyists have been researching the origins and evolutions of fairy tales for centuries. Below is a very minimalist overview of the broad trends and significant highlights of fairy tale history. For more detailed historical studies, see the suggested reading list below.
Although from ancient times until early modern history fairy tales were predominantly oral tales – people told these tales to each other and their families and friends - they have also had a place in written literature as it has developed - Chinese philosophers referred to them and writers like Shakespeare and Spenser had fairy tale elements in their works.
Fairy tales were not originally specifically for children, but with the advent of the Age of Reason followed by the development of the Victorian sensibility, the more vulgar content they contained began to be thought improper and the fantasy content childlike; as childhood simultaneously began to be viewed as a time of innocence to be protected and the audience with the power to purchase was the increasingly proper middle-class, many of the original fairy tales were 'bowderlised' - material considered improper or offensive was removed.
One of the topics I explored in "Twists Upon the Fairy Tale" with the NZSA Children's Literature Hub last weekend is how to define fairy tales. What in particular makes a story a fairy tale? How is it different from a folk tale or other traditional storytelling forms?
To put it simply, fairy tales can be considered a type of folk tale – tales handed down through an oral tradition by the common people, the 'folk'. However, their evolution, as I will outline in my next post on the history of the fairy tale, became entwined with the development of written literature and eventually literature for children. The term 'fairy tale' (contes de fées) was in fact coined by a French writer, Madame d'Aulnoy, in the late 1600s when she joined the popular past-time of salon-writers of her era of writing literary stories in the fairy tale genre.
The academic definition of what makes a fairy tale is broad and well-debated, but it can be delimited into lay terms by a number of characteristics which, when present, suggest the story is a fairy tale:
You may notice that this definition of fairy tales goes a long way towards describing the modern fantasy genre. When J.R.R. Tolkien, considered by many the ‘father of modern fantasy’, was trying to describe and justify his evolving genre, he wrote an essay entitled ‘On Fairy Stories’ (1947 – originally presented as an Andrew Lang lecture in 1939). Modern fantasy has obviously evolved out of mythic and fairy tale roots into its own broad and well-debated genre.
If your interest is whetted and you'd like to find out more about how to define a fairy tale, you might like to start by exploring the suggested readings below. Or perhaps you can suggest some good resources yourself? There are lots out there! Please share them in a comment below.
Heiner, Heidi Anne. "What Is a Fairy Tale?" (www.surlalunefairytales.com)
Zipes, Jack. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: The Western Fairy Tale Tradition from Medieval to Modern. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
On Saturday 14th May I will be talking fairy tales with the Children’s Literature Hub at South Library. As I’ve been preparing some discussion points and materials, I’ve been inspired to re-examine a question I am often asked – why fairy tales? why do I like to read and write them?
I’ve said before that retelling fairy tales appeals to me because fairy tales give me a loose structure to work with when I’m shaping a story. Whether I choose to replicate the key elements of a fairy tale or adapt them, those key elements of a story are signposts for both me and my readers along the story route, and this means that as an author I’m less likely to wander off the path to grandmother’s house and end up with my story being devoured by wolves.
This description might make it seem like rewriting a fairy tale is purely perfunctory, a predictable plodding along, but quite to the contrary, the rewriting of a fairy tale can be a rollicking adventure. It’s like playing a game of dress ups with old friends. You all know each other by sight but it’s amusing to see how cleverly you can disguise yourself. In reading fairy tales, we’re used to finding a wolf in sheep’s or grandma’s clothing, a girl whose rags become a chiffon gown, or a kind old woman who is really a beautiful but evil queen. We like masks and concealment and moments of radical transformation. We like both predictability and unpredictability. It is this harmonious opposition that inspires me. I like playing the ‘guess me’ game and winning.
The great thing is that every reader can be a winner. We all know the original stories (in one form or another) so we can all follow the bread crumbs to find the gingerbread cottage. We have a shared language, a shared memory, a shared expectation and understanding. We are connected as readers of fairy tales in ways we often aren’t as readers of other texts. Differences and alterations in what we are expecting from the story are simply window dressing (of the candy kind), regardless of whether the differences are conventional or radical.
A conventional fairy tale retelling gives us the chance to experience the familiar again but in new and sometimes more intense or detailed ways – to savour the taste of the apple in that moment before the choking betrayal of its poison, to shiver in the shadows of the huntsman’s great black boots, to bask in the buttercup warmth of the chandeliers at the prince’s ball.
A radical retelling gives us the opportunity to plumb the well for the golden ball that has been lost and wait breathless to see what else might be dredged out, to hear the little characters (dwarves or no) speak their piece and the villainess speak of peace, to hold the shiny surface of a glass slipper up to the light and see what rainbows form.
By observing the multiple kaleidoscopic shapes a familiar story's elements can produce, we get to experience the familiar made strange. We can be surprised and challenged in pleasant, unexpected and interesting ways. We can find meanings and messages we never anticipated. And we can ask ourselves how different a story can be and still remain the same story – and how many stories a single story can tell.
It seems that individual fairy tales are infinitely versatile and transformative, as if the fairy tale is the philosopher’s stone of Story. And perhaps part of our joy of fairy tales is that by exploring them we get to dip into a little immortality of our own – connecting with timeless tales and the other readers who have enjoyed them.
Numerous other people have explored why fairy tales matter to society and matter personally to them. In The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (2012), Jack Zipes explores why fairy tales evolved and why they remain important to us.
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