Saturday, February 19, 2005

Once Upon A Time

For the past month or so, on and off, I've been reading "Magic," a collection of stories and essays by that eminent sage of SF, Isaac Asimov. This morning, I read a piece concerning fairy tales, and it brought to mind some old memories.

I wrote a fairy tale once. Not a very good one; I was fourteen. It was at a three-week CW course at the University of Kansas I took in the summer of 1996. It was a good deal of fun, and marked the second or third time in my life that I met someone in my age group who was as rabid a fan of SF and fantasy as I was. Akiko, if you're out there, hope you're doing well.

Anywho, the theme of the course structured around the fairy tale genre, with post- and pre-modernist examinations,a nd the eventual assignment to write my own. The main text was a complete edition of the original Grimm Tales, which I, of course, devoured. I'd been dimly aware that the original stories were far more gruesome than the sanitized versions of my youth, but awareness and experience are two different things. Some of those stories would give Stephen King pause (I think specifically of "How The Children Played Butcher With One Another").

But I'm getting off my point. Two things struck me about the stories when I read them. The first was the repeated device of the "Curse That Comes True." If you've read the stories, you know what I mean; a husband or father becomes incensed with a loved one, and wishes some ridiculous fate to befall her (it was invariably a her), usually transformation into some animal or other, and, sure enough, it would happen. The husband (or, more often, a son, or sometimes just a random male with a lot of time on his hands) would then set out on a quest to reverse this effect. Eventually, he would discover that the transformation was the work of a witch or a giant, who of course needed killing to end the spell. The unavoidable conclusion was that witches and giants had nothing better to do but wait for someone somewhere to make a ridiculous curse on a loved one, and cast a spell ot make it come ture, just for shits and giggles.

The other thing was the frequent fact that, any time a young man set off to either reverse a curse on a loved one or make his fortune in the world, he did so alone. Given that fairy tale worlds are filled with malignant entities (including, but not limited to, witches, giants, evil spirits, sentient forest predators, and wicked step-family members), this seemed a needlessly rash action. So, when I sent my hero out (he had to reverse a curse; the meme struck me so much I just had to use it), I gave him a dog to go with him. The dog ended up doing very little in the story (something my teacher noted), but I didn't really insert the dog for story reasons; I did it because no one ever did something that logical in fairy tales, and I wanted the people in mine to be a bit more intelligent.

As an addendum: About a year ago, I came up with a very elaborate retelling of Snow White all in my head. The added material came pretty much from giving the characters things like backstories, motivations, and at least a vague semblance of personality. It's wholly unusable, of course, because there's no need for a retelling of Snow White that's exactly the same in terms of plot, just with extra detail. Well, I suppose there might be a need, but there's no market; nowadays you either have to bend genre or show in miserable how "happily ever after" really isn't to sell a fairy tale story, and I've little interest in either at the moment. Still, it was fun; I'm particularly proud of my details surrounding Prince Charming and the whole "wakes with a kiss" thing.

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