Why I Write Fairy Tales
With a story in the just-released Wee Folk and Wise anthology (and another here and here) I thought it might be time to explain why I, an adult man in the 21st century, write fairy tales. To begin with a common assumption: I do not write them for children. Children are certainly welcome to read my fairy stories and I hope they will enjoy them, but they are not directed towards them (whatever that would mean). But neither are they “adult” fairy tales, full of sex-starved sprites, ultra-violent knights, or even wry commentary on the state of the world. No, I prefer to write the traditional Once-upon-a-time, happily-ever-after fairy tales (with perhaps a bit of the mock-heroic thrown in).
“Once upon a time” is a magical opening, a kind of incantation, that ushers us into a land far away from everything we know and yet ancestrally familiar. Like a dream, we seem to know the rules of fairy tales even if we cannot always explain them: things come in three’s, you mustn’t stray from the path, youngest children have all the luck, etc. But even with all their common themes and elements, fairy tales aren’t formulaic, their rhythmic, like music; the rising and falling notes are not less welcome for being anticipated.
And though their lessons are sometimes dubious (it’s ok to deceive, rob, cheat, and murder your enemies), fairy tales are ultimately moral stories where Justice is a force of nature, where Good is rewarded and Evil punished (albeit not always swiftly or proportionally). And despite the trickery of some of their protagonists, the tales themselves are trustworthy. When the storyteller tells you that a young lass is “clever and good” or that the old queen is “as wicked as winter” you can confidently expect cunning rescues from the former and evil plots from the latter. For there is a certain distance from these characters, they are not given to internal monologues or introspection; but there is also an immediacy to their action, a straightforwardness, that gives these stories a kind of instinctive simplicity.
This is what fairy tales offer: strangeness, familiarity, simplicity, truth, beauty. When I read fairy tales, I am reading odd chapters in a story that started centuries ago and will never end. When I write fairy tales, I am writing in an ancient language shared by a million storytellers: full of folk magic, old lessons, deep desires, and primal fears. That’s why I write fairy tales, to sing – if I can – a few verses of that old, old tune that we all know, even if I have to make up the words.