Not that there should ever be a time when reading or telling stories is out of fashion, but for those whose hectic lives sometimes get in the way, here’s a little nudge: Tell a Fairy Tale Day is today, February 26th – so tap into those childhood memories, and create some magic!
Since it falls on a Wednesday this year, it’s a great time to take a breather in the middle of a work or school week to reengage the imagination. Most of what we know as fairy tales have their roots in multiple cultures, mostly European. Others have stories that might not specifically be called “fairy tales,” but the concept is very much the same. Myth and folklore are widespread throughout the world, going back as far as the written word itself (and possibly even pre-dating that, if cave paintings tell fictional tales as well as an accurate representation of daily life). The resurgence of the fairy tale has been brought to television, thanks to the popular Once Upon a Time and Grimm programs (although in the latter, you’re hard-pressed to find stories associated with the brothers).
Popular culture leads us to believe that traditional fairy tales begin with the iconic phrase “Once upon a time” and end with “they lived happily ever after.” However, the content between start and finish is fraught with complexity and adversity. The hero or heroine isn’t beloved for their simplicity, but rather for their strength of character and tenacity in getting out of harrowing situations. Otherworldly creatures such as trolls, giants, goblins and – of course! – fairies are commonplace, to either help or severely hinder the protagonist’s progress. And even then, there was no promise of a happy ending, as shown in the original tales of co-authors and brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Most are familiar with the sanitized versions of stories such as Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel; for instance, the much-maligned stepmothers in the first two were originally mothers (which was seen as shocking and inappropriate, but apparently, stepmothers are fair game), and poor Rapunzel, pre-edits, was knocked up by her visitor (you definitely won’t see that in Tangled).
Regardless of their dark history, this not-really-holiday-holiday encourages all of us, regardless of age, to either read something fantastic or share something bursting with happiness and hope with someone else. And it doesn’t have to be a child: volunteer to read to the residents of a nursing home or a shut-in, read to your pets, or write a brand-new fairy tale to share with your writer’s group or English class. If you feel that the stories of old just don’t do it for you, there are a group of writers who create what are called “urban fairy tales,” using modern settings and adding the requisite monsters and whatnot. One of my favorites is Canadian author Charles de Lint who has taken his beloved Ottawa, Canada and created volumes of these, and adults who want to rediscover the joy of reading a fairy story won’t be disappointed. So share the joy of the story with whoever will listen, and you may find yourself wanting to keep reading fairy tales as you dream of your very own happily ever after.