June 7, 2011

Guest Post: Fracturing Fairy Tales For Fun And Profit, By Heather Talty

Editor's Note: Fracturing fairy tales is one of the most amusing and enjoyable ways to recast the stories. Heather Talty does a terrific job of explaining fracturing in this guest post. Her site is linked to below. Do visit it. It's worth the time.

n some ways, fracturing a fairy tale is just like fixing a car or performing surgery (though the stakes may not be quite as high): you take some things out, put some things in, or just tweak what’s already in there. When you’re done, you’re left with something that looks and acts like the original but isn’t entirely the same.

Of course, this act of altering a traditional story has been done for centuries, by oral storytellers, collection building folklorists, and enterprising animated mice alike. But why fracture a fairy tale? Why take something that clearly works and break it apart and rebuild it with the risk of getting it wrong?

Well, for a laugh. That’s one reason.

Here’s another. Fracturing fairy tales can be a way to engage in a sort of dialogue with the story itself, and of course, with other readers. Just as a scholar might analyze a story, the writer of the fractured fairy tale might write a new one precisely to question interesting or baffling elements of the original. As a writer of fractured fairy tales, I often find myself writing stories to answer questions I have. If the princess of "The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body" knows exactly how to defeat the giant, why does she need the prince to carry out the task? Isn’t it interesting that a “true princess,” a la "The Princess and the Pea," must be very finicky, sort of like a cat? By the way, you can read the stories these questions inspired at my site Mythopoetical (http://www.beatrixcottonpants.com/). Right now, if you like. I’ll wait here.

Welcome back.

Let’s take a look at this idea in action. In the introduction to The Rumpelstiltskin Problem (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), Vivian Vande Velde writes that the book emerged out of her realization that the original tale made no sense. Why, she wondered, did the miller make such an outrageous claim about his daughter’s ability? And why did the king believe him? Why did Rumpelstiltskin need a baby, anyway? Each short story in the book is an attempt to answer one or more of these questions. Maybe Rumpelstiltskin wanted to eat the baby. Maybe the whole spin straw into gold thing was just a metaphor, and things got out of hand. Maybe the miller’s daughter was in on it the whole time. Vande Velde also recently released Cloaked in Red, a similar approach to "Little Red Riding Hood."

Gail Carson Levine, too, wrote a few books out of a desire to understand why. Her series of fractured fairy tales, The Princess Tales (Harper Collins, 1999-2002), often work to explain or flesh out fairy tales. She explains her motivations on her website in discussing her book, The Fairy’s Mistake.

It isn’t likely, she posits, that a prince, coming upon a girl “blessed” with an inconvenient habit of spitting up valuable gems, would fall in love with her. More likely, he’s in it for the gems. The Fairy’s Mistake tells the story from that point of view. Her stories often attempt to explain how characters fall in love in fairy tales, or why they decide to undertake various quests (think the Prince’s long trek through the briar patch in "Sleeping Beauty"), giving them back-stories to make more sense.

Through reading these books, and others like them, readers are exposed to both the questions the authors have about fairy tales and possible answers to those questions. But it’s always worth it to try it yourself. Take a fairy tale you love and rewrite it. Then take a step back and read over your own work. You might be surprised at what you learn about your favorite tale, and of course, yourself.


Geeta said...

This is a great post and a wonderful way of bringing to light a subconscious question we all have after reading a different version of a tale we are already familiar with- why did the author write this story? Nice job!

eirenee said...

Excellent. I love reading fractured fairy tales, especially your's!

eirenee said...

Excellent explanation of what a fractured fairy tale is. I have been reading them for years and had no idea that they are nearly a genre. I also liked the siting of other authors who I can now explore. Your writing is also a wonderful blend of information and witty humor.

Wendy Lu said...

So true! It seems as though after reading a fairy tale we often have burning questions and want to further know more, but must learn to accept the tale as it is.

I love the idea of fracturing fairy tales. I once rewrote the tale of The Princess & The Pea for a fairytale blogfest I participated in a while back. I'll be sure to take a look at Mythopoetical!



Heather said...

Thanks so much, everybody.

I think one of the great things about fairy tales is how much meaning they can have. Each tale includes in some way the meaning given it by all the previous tellers, as well as that of the reader, so there is just so much to take away from it.

Christine said...

Excellent insight into fracturing fairy tales. And many times, the most amazing stories spring from the villain's POV, or even the sideline characters who finally get to have their say.

Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

After reading this post I was compelled to reread quite a few fairy tales still fresh in my mind. However, instead of reading those in an analytical perspective where I question what an object or action may represent. I read them in a “matter of fact” perspective. That is to say I read them as if I were watching the story unfold before my own two eyes. In doing so, I found that reading fairy tales in such a way is just as, if not more so, entertaining as reading them for analytical purposes, or just for pure pleasure. What this article really made me want was a version of “Snow White” from the dwarfs perspective, in which they question why on earth Snow White does not recognize her mother, not once, not twice, but three times, also, why Snow White refuses to listen to their advice about strangers, and why the Prince wants to keep a girl in a casket who is apparently dead. I believe that a fractured fairy tale told from the perspective of the dwarfs would make for some very interesting dialogue. If anyone knows of such a version, please reply.
-Adam Z.