Fairy Tale Time

16 Aug

When people think of fairy tales they generally think of the fluffy, Disneyfied stories of beautiful damsels being rescued by handsome princes. And they’re getting bored with them. Modern retellings often seek to make these stories darker and grittier, sometimes without realizing just how dark and violent the original tales were. In some early versions of Red Riding Hood, Red never makes it out of the wolf’s stomach. In others she ends up there after being tricked into eating what’s left of her grandmother. Gotta love medieval Europe, they did not shy away from putting the cannibalism in their stories. Whatever versions you read (or watch), they can be a rich source of inspiration, especially when you’re trawling for ideas.

Fairy tales can be excellent springboards for the imagination because they give you a root idea or an interesting element that you can expand on or twist. There may only be seven or eight true plots, but there are hundreds of fairy tales, mixing and matching plots and standard set pieces like wolves, orphans, and dark forests. There’s everything from evil old crones to kindly grandmothers and plenty of room to give these characters motivations, and maybe even names.

Probably the easiest way to find different fairy tales is by using the Aarne-Thompson classification system. It sorts and numbers fairy tales based on motifs and basic plots. It divides tales based on things like what sort of supernatural elements are included (eg. family members, tasks, helpers) and then subdivides them. Within each classification there are usually several variations or separate stories which are numbered. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is AT 306, Aladdin is AT 561, and The Robber Bridegroom AT 955. Along with the usual suspects there are ones like AT 317, The Princess and the Sky-tree. Anyone ever heard of that one? The title makes me want to find out what it’s about! AT 570 is apparently called Bunnies Beware of the King. It’s about herding rabbits. Which just serves to remind me how boring nights must have been before electricity.

I, for one, love retellings and re-imaginings along with the originals, but not everyone does. For those who don’t want to try setting Rumpelstiltskin in a suburban high school, you can use motifs and stock character traits to resonate with readers. Margaret Atwood does this while also doing a gender-swapped retelling in The Robber Bride.

The most challenging thing I’ve done with fairy tales was try to write my own. I created a fantasy world, populated it, gave it history, architecture, and even fashion. But that wasn’t enough to make it feel real. I wanted to know what stories kids heard at their bedtimes and everyone knew. So, I wrote a fairy tale, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be!

So, here’s a prompt for you all: pick a fairy tale type and write your own version! Post a link in the comments if you want to share or just chime in with your favorite fairy tale!


Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of Priscilla the Evil along with several short stories and another novel on Fictionpress. She is starting grad school in the fall and until then is spending her time querying and doing some archaeology. You can visit her blog here.


30 Responses to “Fairy Tale Time”

  1. Jennifer August 16, 2010 at 4:31 AM #

    Your mention of Little Red Riding Hood allows me to shamelessly plug this computer game: http://tale-of-tales.com/ThePath/index.html

    LRRH is absolutely my favorite fairy-tale, ever. Rapunzel is a not-so-distant second.

    I’d never heard of the Aarne-Thompson system before, but I love it!

    • Gabriela Da Silva August 16, 2010 at 9:16 AM #

      That game is AWESOME, btw. Multiple retelling of Red Riding Hood, w/several possible MC and great development. Basically, the game gives you two choices: go to grandma’s house following the path, or stray from it.

      But of course, the more you stray, the darker everything becomes. Highly recommended!

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

      ohh that game looks really cool and wonderfully dark! LRRH is one of my favorite fairy tales 🙂

    • Vanessa August 16, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

      I’ve never heard of this game before (for shame!). But I’ll definitely start playing it now (thanks for linking to it! You’ve TOTALLY made my day!).

      • Jennifer August 16, 2010 at 10:26 PM #

        Not for shame! It’s by an indie developer in Belgium – it kind of flew under most radars. And as one gamer to another, you should know that it only loosely fits the classic definition of ‘computer game’. It’s not so much a ‘game to be played’ as it is something to be experienced.

  2. Aurora Blackguard August 16, 2010 at 6:19 AM #

    Oh, I ADORE fairytales. I’ve loved them since forever and my dad keeps telling me to grow up but you never really grow up, do you? 😀 Stuff like Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY or SPINDLE’S END or even Sarah’s QUEEN OF GLASS always seemed to make an impact with me 🙂

    I wrote this piece a few months back for the Story a Day challenge. I didn’t make the challenge but this story was supposed to be in three parts. I never put up the third part though 🙂 It’s very explicit in the first part. It’s a retelling of Rapunzel, one of my favourite fairytales. Embarrassingly, it was sparked mainly because of the Barbie version. Yeah, I know. But I loved it!

    If you’re interested, you can link to them here because they’re so long 🙂 Have fun!!

    Part 1:http://secretdoorways.livejournal.com/6971.html#cutid1
    Part 2: http://secretdoorways.livejournal.com/7308.html#cutid1

    • Aurora Blackguard August 16, 2010 at 6:21 AM #

      oops. You can’t open the first one. Okay, ONCE MORE! 🙂


    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 9:21 PM #

      Lol I don’t believe in growing up either, not if it means loosing the things I love! I love Rapunzel and different retellings of it, maybe because the idea of being locked in a tower with no doors is so crazy 🙂

  3. Lydia Sharp August 16, 2010 at 6:58 AM #

    I have a modern re-telling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sitting on my writerly back burner. Thanks for reminding me I need to get working on it!

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 10:02 AM #

      oh cool! I started writing a Snow White retelling years ago and never finished it. I hope you get further than me 😀

  4. Gabriela Da Silva August 16, 2010 at 9:21 AM #

    Lately, I’ve been reading Russian fairytales. Most of the time they’ve been left grittier, or at least not so Disneyfied as their French or German counterparts.

    What I love best about Russian folklore, though, is the old witch Baba Yagá. She’s downright scary, and has her house surrounded by a fence of people she has already killed – when the hero(ine) gets there her reaction is usually “Oh how nice, finally I’ll get to fix that hole in the fence.”

    But then, if the hero can win her over, she becomes the best ally you could wish for. And it’s usually the heroines the ones she supports! If you get a chance, read the Baba Yagá chapter in “Women who Run with the Wolves.”
    (I can’t say I liked the book as a whole, but that chapter is an awesome read)

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 10:08 AM #

      I haven’t read as many Russian fairy tales as I have other European ones, so I’ll have to fix that! Baba Yaga is so scary, especially when she chases people with her house. I’ve never read one where she ends up on the heroine’s side but I’ll have to check it out!

    • Aurora Blackguard August 16, 2010 at 10:10 AM #

      Gosh, that’s kinda scary! A FENCE of dead people? I’m torn between being freaked out and kind of cooled out 😀

      • Gabriela Da Silva August 16, 2010 at 5:34 PM #

        As I remember, it was a fence made out of bones (femurs and so), with feet at the bottom so no animals could get in. Each femur was sharpened and had a skull on top (except for the one the hero/heroine will fill), and the lock was made out of hands and teeth.

        Zawesome!! In a creepy way, yes ^^;

        • Aurora Blackguard August 17, 2010 at 9:59 AM #

          O.O See, I TOLD everyone that the scariest ones are the old ladies. No one believed me but here you go ;P

  5. Kat Zhang August 16, 2010 at 9:43 AM #

    I LOVE fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. I’ve been dying to write one for the longest time. I just need to pick the right tale to retell, haha. Unfortunately, my list of books I want to write is infinitely long, it seems…

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 10:11 AM #

      I know what you mean. Even writing this, when I was looking things up I kept thinking “oh I could do this. Or this! With bits from this!”

    • Gabriela Da Silva August 16, 2010 at 5:36 PM #

      I don’t think anything tempts to rewrite as fairytales do! They’re all so… inviting. And since they’re not completely fleshed out, they can be made perfect for everything!

      • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 8:20 PM #

        Yeah, I think that’s exactly why they’re so tempting, there’s so much room to fill in details

  6. Ereza August 16, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

    I love reading fairytales. I like retellings that add twists too(can you tell I’m a fan of Queen of Glass?)

    As a kid, my favourite fairytale was Cinderella (due to a strange infatuation with dresses) but it led me to look up all these different versions of the tale which introduced me to interesting details (eg. her friendly birds pecking the step sisters’ eyes out.)

    I also had to study different versions of Little Red Riding Hood last semester and I remember my classmates both liked and were shocked by Angela Carter’s version, A Company of Wolves. It retains the adult themes of the original oral tale that were gleaned over in subsquent retellings for children.

    I also read Anderson’s version of The Little Mermaid before I watched the Disney film as a kid and was surprised the mermaid a) lived and b) married the prince.
    I wrote a short story a few months ago based off the ending of the Anderson fairytale here: http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2822927/1/Daughter_of_the_Air

    • Ereza August 16, 2010 at 10:07 AM #

      I also recently read east of the sun and west of the moon for the first time and a collection of Sicilian fairytales called Beautiful Angiola.

      • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 8:25 PM #

        Oh I’ve wanted to read East of the Sun West of the Moon ever since I saw Kay Neilson’s drawings for it!

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 8:24 PM #

      I was so unhappy when I finally read the original Little Mermaid! I hated the ending so much, lol.

  7. Vanessa August 16, 2010 at 1:11 PM #

    I love love LOVE fairytales!!! And I’ve always loved retellings; its amazing what you can do and how much you can change while still keeping it linked to the original.

    I’ve never heard of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, but I’m absolutely LOVING it! (Who knows… this might lead me to start writing a fairytale retelling!)

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 8:52 PM #

      You know you want to, V! Find one you like and get sucked in!

      • Vanessa August 17, 2010 at 9:15 AM #

        It just might happen, Jenn. I’ve got stuff already brewing in my head!

  8. Rachel August 16, 2010 at 9:57 PM #

    Its interesting that I first wrote fairy tales before I could write (Little Mermaid) and then the first short story I took seriously was a fairy tale rewrite (a modern day Little Red Riding Hood), my favorite essay freshman year was a philosophical paper on one (Beauty and the Beast), and my first novel was a feminist take on one (Beauty and the Beast). And yet now I LOVE to write contemporary. LOL, funny how that works!

    • jenn fitzgerald August 16, 2010 at 10:30 PM #

      Just watch, one day you’ll finish a contemp novel and go to read through it and realize it’s actually a giant fairytale allegory 🙂

  9. Miss Rosemary August 17, 2010 at 11:09 AM #

    Great post! I love retellings myself and am actually working on one right now, but couldn’t find a suitable title or the right place to put it. Thanks for the link!

    And yes, medieval Europe was out of its mind.

    • jenn fitzgerald August 18, 2010 at 12:37 AM #

      Thanks! good luck on the retelling 🙂

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