Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fairy Tales

I've been reading old fairy tales, trying to reshape and recast a couple into short stories. It's an interesting process. Some of the cardinal dos and don'ts of writing don't seem to apply to the fairy tale, leaving both quite a job of reinterpretation and the question of whether or not these rules are universal or even necessary. This is not the occasional lapse, although the fairy tales that endure seem to have a greater degree of conventional elements. This is a continuous appearance in stories that are archetypal, ageless and endlessly fascinating.

Coincidence abounds; luck saves the hero. Outside benefactors are common, giving gifts that are just what the hero requires or providing advice at just the right moment. Sometimes, the story jumps to another section with no apparent explanation - we're given to expect a tale about a boy promised to a mermaid who never reappears in the narrative.

On the other hand, the often subliminal rule of three is almost invariably made explicit in the fairy tale. There are three trials, three sections, three wise men to consult. Unlike in most modern fiction, where this is hidden, the fairy tale revels in the triad. Also, too, there is a sense of cosmic motivation, the world moving around the hero to some logic that maybe - just maybe - we could discern with the right mindset.


Anonymous said...

I was immediately reminded of a journal prompt in creative writing that involved writing a fairy tale. Have you written a fairy tale recently? Ever?

(I also recall what I did with that fairy tale, and rewriting it with the rule of three would be more painful than the original.)

Lindsey Duncan said...

The Enchanted Fish, while technically a punchline story, was a fairy tale. I also goofed around with a story that was three of the Lais of Marie de France intertwined, and those are pretty close to fairy tales. So err, I guess that's a yes. ;-)

(Well, really you just write the exact same thing and substitute son with grandfather and ...)