Friday, March 23, 2012

Article: How and Why to Tell Fairy Tales

(From The Prisma)

massmouth blog and news, a blog devoted to the art of storytelling, has written two articles specifically about fairy tales. The first one details how to tell fairy tales and gives us some important points to remember:

Just because it's a fairy tale doesn't mean it's a simple story. Many of the these stories are dark, frightening, or at a minimum explore some of the more challenging times of life (childlessness, parental abandonment, learning who you are, adolescence, etc) so spend some time with the story and decide how you want to tell it. Do you want to focus on the happy endings? Are you more interested in the voice of a minor character?
Understand where the story comes from. Myths come with a cultural context, so you should have some understanding of where the story comes from and what it means in context. Some myths are still considered sacred stories, so think carefully about where you stand on telling a story that has sacred meaning to other people. Always tell living myths respectfully.
Explore why the story appeals to you. Myths and fairy tales are rife with symbols, so it's worth spending some time understanding why a particular story appeals to you, what the symbols mean to you. This can be the work of years, so please tell the story, but just don't be surprised if it has unexpected meaning for you.
If you change the story do so carefully, without stripping the heart out of the story. The Disney version of The Little Mermaid overlooks her death at the end, entirely changing the meaning of the story; if you choose to change a story make sure you understand why you're doing it and how the meaning will be altered. Be especially careful about changing myths, since these may be living sacred stories. If you modernize the story make sure you honor the original text in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
Select the right story for the audience. This is a tenet no matter what kind of story you're telling. Be wary of using accents unless you're very good at them, and if you choose to tell stories from a particular culture to that culture and you're not of that culture make sure you treat the stories with utmost respect and be prepared to get some feedback. (Full Post)
 I have never devoted much thought to the art of telling fairy tales before, but these rules are excellent! They give focus to the tale, but also a detail and texture you might not have found by simply telling the story as-is. This method encourages the teller to be highly respectful of the source material while making it their own.


The second, and more recent, article talks beautifully about why we should tell fairy tales:

"Fairy tales are potent for retelling and healing. When we tell the story of our own broken youth, we can tell it as a fairy tale and make it easier to both state and hear. We can talk about the dark and process those experiences without frightening ourselves any more.
Fairy tales help us understand that the values of once upon a time aren't so different from our values now. We still yearn for love, for fiscal comfort, for a better life for ourselves and our children. We want to overcome the ogres, move to better pastures, be cared for as best we can. If those values, carried across time, still endure, then perhaps values across cultures can be similar as well. Fairy tales help us break boundaries of time and culture.
And fairy tales feed our imaginations. The wondrous is matter of fact in these tales, so we are encouraged to look for wonder in our own lives. We are given permission to see the world as one of possibility. Einstein also said 'Imagination is more important than knowledge.' If you believe that, as I do, then fairy tales are one of your most potent tools to feed your imagination. 
It's important that we keep these stories in circulation, even the disturbing ones, because they tell us so much about what it is to be human. They allow us to talk about dark and scary things through metaphor (how many wolves have you met today?) and find ways through the woods in the safety of our own homes. They help us understand that yes, there is a woods, and yes, there is a wolf, but if we are wise or kind or clever, we will survive. They offer us unexpected solutions to the oldest problems. They remind us that strangers can offer kindness when we are kind in return. They teach us that we do not need to be alone." (Full Post)
This seems to be a reoccurring theme on my blog lately, in the post on Medicine and the post on The Real Fears of Fairy Tales. It is important to reiterate especially now that that appropriateness of fairy tales for children is being called into question.


  1. I <3 these articles (and this post) so much! I haven't seen how to tell fairy tales summarized so well anywhere else and the "why" below it is poetically eloquent. Thanks for sharing. I sort of feel like we need to post this every few weeks to keep it in front of us. Thank you again.

  2. Great, great blog, but that black background and white font burns horizontal white stripes in readers' vision. Change it and I'll be back to The Dark Forest. Otherwise, I'll disappear never to be seen again.