Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Real Magic

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who was truly enamored of fairy tales, but kept finding little things about the stories she was reading or watching that nagged at her.

Why didn’t Cinderella’s glass slipper change into a ratty old shoe at midnight when everything else did? Then, at least, it would have narrowed down the pool of subjects the prince had to go door-to-door to.

Why were the fathers all so crappy? The love of a father for his child was often mentioned, but where were the actions to back up these claims? The fathers of Cinderella and Snow White apparently loved their daughters whole heartedly, but were too dumb not to notice that they were marrying horrific, abusive women. Hansel and Gretel’s dad was said to love them tons too, but ditched them in the forest twice. And only took them back at the end because his wife died. Father of the year, right there. The miller basically sold his daughter to the King under false pretense, leading to that whole Rumplestiltskin fiasco. But at least he never really pretended to be overly enamored with his offspring. So….that’s something, maybe?

Why were all the stepmothers evil? I knew a number of stepmothers, all of them were lovely people. So, it never made sense to me that every single stepmother in fairy tales wanted nothing more than to kill off all the children. I believed in all sorts of magic and mayhem, but this strange stereotype was too unrealistic for my young mind.

The questions went on and on. Probably because I kept going back to all the stories over and over. I loved them and they drove me crazy.

I’m not the only one who has cast a skeptical eye toward these classic tales, of course. There are tons of different takes out there. My father told me stories where Ariel stayed a mermaid. In high school, I was introduced to Into the Woods and Shrek, both of which, I was happy to see showed that happy endings aren’t always what we expect them to be. When I was in college, one particularly awesome roommate used to read stories to me from James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. (Nothing speeds you off to sleep like Red Riding Hood’s stirring speech to the sexist, speciesist woodsman.) And now, I get to regularly enjoy blogs and tumblrs like “Introvert Fairy Tales” and “fairy tales for twentysomethings.”

All of these things have been on my mind a lot lately, as I work on a new story. And I think I’ve figured out what the real magic of fairy tales is – They can be whatever we want them to be.

So what are your favorites, be they traditional or reimaginings?

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