The image is intended to be symbolic of the magic of fairy tales. An old book and old bell sit on a rough wooden surface. Perched on the book is a yellow and brown butterfly and perched on the bell is a brown and white butterfly.
As a person with high anxiety, I have long loved fairy tales. So I guess it is not so surprising that I started writing them. In college I analyzed fairy tale symbolism in women’s studies classes, but once I was writing my very own intersectional feminist fairy tales, I needed to think about fairy tales and their many, many layers in a whole new way.
In the USA fairy tales have been largely discounted as a form of literature. They are considered children’s stories and thus are treated as less deep and meaningful. In addition, fairy tales are often romances, another genre that is looked down on as less meaningful. And yet, fairy tales are rich with symbolism and meaning. All of the things about fairy tales that on the surface seem simple, like their formulaic structure and happy endings, actually can serve to create a container for the exploration of intense topics like death, abuse, and injustice. And, as I learned from writing them, their symbolism can contain endless layers.
Well, not too long ago, I was listening to the podcast Why Are People Into That? and I suddenly asked myself, “What is it about fairy tales that appeals to me?” and “Why do I write fairy tales?” Then a rush of thoughts about all of the unique things fairy tales have to offer came pouring out.
So here it is. My list of the things that fairy tales do which make them amazing works of literature and why I find them so compelling:
- Happy endings: Many fairy tales contain a promise of justice and happiness at the end. This is something that I love because we live in a complex, uncertain world, and the kind of certainty that fairy tales offer is reassuring. That in itself is valuable, but the happy ending plays another role in the story; it creates the feeling of safety that is necessary for many readers to be willing to dive into intense themes such as violence and abuse.
- Deep symbolism: This is such a rich area that I will give just a few examples. Deliberately murderous family members can be symbolic of toxic family dynamics that threaten to harm the essence of who we are. The monster who takes off their animal skin to turn back into a human reminds us all that the most important parts of who we are lie under the surface. And love’s magic power to break curses shows us the power of love to help us all heal and connect to each other. This wealth of symbolism is also a big responsibility for writers, because, as is clear from many historical fairy tales, this potent symbolism can also reinforce sexist, racist, ableist, and anti-Semitic messages if we aren’t careful.
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Tags: abuse, adventure, fairy tales, fairytales, Fay Onyx, happy endings, magic, symbolism, wonder, writing, writing alchemy, writing fairy tales