Saturday, April 13, 2013

Once Upon a Time

This post will also be found in Tehachapi's The Loop Newspaper.

 Lately I have been doing some research and reading on fairy tales. And not just because of TCT Jr.'s upcoming production of “The Princess and the Pea” which opens on April 19th. I've been reading fairy tales because I am trying to write one. Well kind of. I've run across a call for short plays dealing with “fractured” fairy tales.

And so, like all good artists, I've been working on understanding the proper methods in the art form, before I start breaking the “rules”. But one thing I've learned in reading fairy tales is that the rules are pretty vague. Before I started I might have expected there to be a requirement of magic involved. But there are several stories where there doesn't seem to be anything more magical than talking animals. And some fairy tales don't even seem to require that. There are some where the main character succeeds due to cleverness, yet there are others where the main character succeeds despite being “dumber than a sack of rocks”.

Though there are some common themes that can be found in many fairy tales. One is that when you are out on a quest or adventure, never fail to be generous to the creepy old man or woman that seems to need help. They often tend to be some kind of magical creature in disguise. And they don't take kindly to adventurers that aren't generous. Also it is seldom safe to go out on adventures if you're the elder brother, it can almost be guaranteed that your youngest brother will end up either having to rescue you or avenge you. And typically it will be the youngest sister that will attract the eye of the prince.

We often think of fairy tales as stories for children, but many of the older ones don't have much that we would consider appropriate for children now days. Pinocchio was originally two parts, and in the first the puppet boy is killed. Which was fine for a story where you're trying to frighten children into behaving. And the modern version of the story is cleaned up a lot for children. But the same is true for many of the fairy tales that children are exposed to today.

And as for modern fairy tales, well many of the themes are being updated. It's not too hard to find stories where it is the princess that ends up saving the prince. And there are other ways to update fairy tales. A few years back I learned of a book called Petite Rouge (by Mark Artell, 2001) which is a Cajun adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, with an alligator instead of a wolf.

Now one dictionary definition of a fairy tale is that it is “an interesting but highly implausible story”. But there has to be more to it than that, since a lot of fiction is pretty implausible. But perhaps, where you break things down to their simplest form our stories are still fairy tales. From Shakespeare to Star Wars and the Walking Dead, many of our stories still cover the same themes as the fairy tales we once told. But that's OK, since these themes still resonate. And I suspect they will as long as we keep telling tales.

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