With In the Blood coming out in just a few days, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about its evolution. Namely, how it went from being a retelling of “The Twelve Huntsman” to a heroic fantasy about twin sisters on the troubled and dangerous road to reunion.
That got me to thinking about fairy tales in general and how many of the inform the stories we still tell today – though you might not recognize them. It’s amazing how such old tales have survived and continue to ignite our imaginations.
So, in celebration of these stories’ power and longevity, I’d like to talk about some of my favorite fairy/folk tales and what I think makes them so special.
Feel free to share some of your favorite stories in the comments below!
A tale of myriad incarnations – “Cupid and Psyche” of Rome; “The White-Bear-King Valemon” of Norway; “The Enchanted Pig” of Romania; and even the well-known “Beauty and the Beast” bears similarities. What I love about this one is it is a rousing adventure framed around a story of undying love – always a winning combination with me.
I don’t actually like “Cinderella” because of the rags-to-riches element. To me, the prince is an incidental – rendered thus because he is nameless and has only one or two repeating lines. No, I like “Cinderella” because it epitomizes perseverance and the ability to hope even in the most horrid of circumstances.
This South African tale focuses on the lively and inventive Mulha. The best part of Mulha’s story is she makes the mistake of allowing an evil ogre into her family’s midst through her curiosity, rendering her more human than many other fairytale heroines. But, rather than whine and moan or hide and wait for rescue, she takes charge of saving herself and her little sisters. Plus, she doesn’t suffer fools and is pretty sassy, always a likable trait in a leading lady.
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
Besides the exciting adventure that Aladdin goes on in pursuit of the wonderful lamp and his beloved princess, I’ve always enjoyed watching Aladdin grow from a lazy, selfish youth to a clever and generous man.
This short tale gets to the point pretty quick. Basically, magic wishes (and magic solutions in general) can often be more trouble than they’re worth – especially if you have “nothing in [your] noddle but the wish to sit down and rest.” Which leaves us with the groan-worthy moral that only hard-work and perseverance result in good fortune. Damn it!
To me “Beauty and the Beast” is the quintessential childhood story. Not because of the romance, which is a mere by-product of the real plot, that of Beauty (who could be anyone, boy or girl, man or woman) entering a dark, mysterious place alone and unsure of her fate. Beast represents the frightening and difficult aspects of new journeys as well as the sweet discoveries.
Though Kwan-Yin is an early prototype for the Mary Sue character (she’s beautiful, smart, talented, and everyone just loves her – even the wild animals of the forest). But her determination to control her own life, especially in the male-dominated world of ancient China, makes her a fascinating and admirable heroine.
I became fascinated with the legend of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) when I taught an English as Another Language Class. Though a tragedy and a bit of a horror story, “La Llorona” is a story full of passion and drama. It also teaches against choosing life partners simply for their pretty faces.
Another story of transformation, though a more explicit example. King Thrushbeard is the epitome of a romantic hero – patient, smart, sweet but firm, and willing to go to great lengths for the woman he loves. I recently read a wonderful retelling of this fairytale called The Scarecrow King by Jill Myles. Her take fleshed out the elements that work so well in the original story.
I think this was probably the very first slasher/horror story. All the ingredients are there: smart protagonist (usually a female, but not always), isolated locale, eerie foreshadowing, inhuman villain, and unbearable gore. Reading this, many of the most famous slasher/horror flicks come to mind – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, The Evil Dead, The Legend of Hell House, The Hills Have Eyes, and many others. I’m not a horror movie fan. At all. I suffer terrible nightmares after just hearing the plot summaries of some of these movies. And watching the trailers – or even seeing the thumbnails on Youtube – makes me want to vomit. But I like this particular tale because of its super creepy atmosphere and level-headed heroines (I count the old woman as one of the heroines). Margaret Atwood wrote a sublime novel inspired by “The Robber Bridegroom” featuring a female villain who, metaphorically, chews men and women up and spits them out.