Sunday, 30 July 2017

The enduring appeal of fairy fales – Lari Don

I was privileged to be invited to the splendid Bradford Literary Festival earlier this month, where as well as reading from my Spellchasers trilogy to 900 pupils (at once) in a very large hall, I also took part in a panel about the enduring power of fairy tales with two wonderful writers Zoe Marriott and Vivian French, chaired by the inspiring Danuta Kean.

We chatted about the age and longevity of traditional tales, because the Grimm brothers were certainly not the beginning. Between us we could trace these stories back hundreds and even thousands of years, and I found myself speculating – using similar stories from various cultures - that some of the most universal stories might have been traveling with our ancestors since human beings started to spread across the globe.

We discussed feminist retellings of fairy tales, and whether these stories might originally have been more empowering, before male collectors and Disney got their hands on them.

We shared all the (older, less passive) versions of Little Red Riding Hood we knew, and started brainstorming a new version on stage.

We talked about the role traditional tales have in introducing children to death, danger and other difficult concepts, at a safe and magical distance.

We discussed whether it’s the familiar nature of fairy tales that makes them so popular, or whether they last because they represent enduring and universal human truths. (I think it’s ok to believe both of those are true at the same time!)

We talked about how oral stories change and evolve over time, and how there is no one 'right' version. 

We discussed how myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore inspire and inform our fiction: Zoe talked about her wonderful retelling of Cinderella (Shadows on the Moon) and Viv talked about her take on the seventh son of the seventh son lore (Alfie Onion) and I’m pretty sure I talked about the Tale of Tam Linn and various fabled beasts

I also talked about my passion for giving girls equality in stories. Not just showing that ‘happy ever after’ doesn’t mean marrying a prince (though that message is very important.) Not just giving girls the clever or wise or enduring sidekick roles (though that’s a step forward from when I was a young reader.) But truly giving girls equality in adventures - allowing girls to have fun, to be active participants, to make mistakes and kick down doors.

In amongst all this chat I mentioned snippets of, gave spoilers about, or otherwise summarised around half a dozen trad tales from all over the world. I hope those glimpses encouraged the audience to search out more old stories, to be challenged and inspired. Though looking back, I realise I may have given the impression most of the folktales I know contain toilet humour. (I didn’t even tell the one about the horse with the golden dung…)

Thanks so much to everyone who took part (including the audience, who asked very knowledgeable and perceptive questions) and I’m sure this is a subject we will keep exploring!

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers. 


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

This is a great post and really interesting. Sorry that I missed hearing your session 'live'. Its quite pertinent to me right now as my first so-called 'fairy story' is about to come out at the end of Sept/beg Oct – THE GLASSMAKER'S DAUGHTER with beautiful illustrations by Jane Ray. Jane of course is not new to fairytales but I am. And the editing of this book was by far the most tricky for me of all my books. Not the least because I had three different editors. The feeling from the publishers was that fairy stories in a modern world, don't sell. So the traditions I wrote into it, they wanted removed.

Lari Don said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Dianne. (sorry I've taken a while to reply - just back from holiday...) And I really hope that you managed to keep the traditions in! Also, I'm sure your publishers are mistaken, fairy tales in a variety of guises definitely do sell!