Once upon a time.
That is a phrase that evokes a lot of memories, a feeling, of a time and a place. Usually it is a sweet feeling, a childhood feeling, but in truth fairy and folk tales were meant to do so much more than put children to sleep.
Before many of our most familiar stories were sanitized in Victorian times, some of them were really dark. There are also several versions of most fairy tales – Cinderella has been told all over the world, including such lands as Korea, India, Africa, Russia and Scotland.
In one version of Cinderella, she boils her step sister into a jelly and feeds her to her step mother. In others, the step sisters cut their feet so that they can cram them into the well-known shoe. (The Charles Perrault version is the one most of us are familiar with. Disney must have leaned on it heavily for its source material, and it’s one of only two I’ve recently read to include the glass slipper.)
All these different…and not always so sweet versions (Don’t ask what happens to poor Rapunzel or Little Miss Riding Hood!) are a ripe place to find inspiration. Several well-known and respected authors have found their muse in fairy tales.
Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” is one example of how you can take an aspect of a well-known story and turn it completely inside out, creating a chilling and amazing tale. Robin McKinley’s Deerskin is a beautiful story based on Perrault’s “Donkeyskin.” It does not shy away from the grimmer aspects of the story, but uses them to create a moving and brilliant tale. These are only two of the many authors who have read an old story and gotten inspired.
I am one of them. Quite a few times I’ve read a well-known story and wanted to explore it further. Once, I read a story by Charles Perrault called “The Fairies,” which is about a young woman who does a good deed for a fairy, and is rewarded by a spell.
Every word she speaks is accompanied by a diamond, a pearl or a flower, and in the end she is carried off by her handsome prince to live happily ever after. Not only did I think the prince’s motives somewhat suspicious, but I also thought that it must be awful, to have these things popping out of your mouth every time you speak.
Even though there is some comedy inherent in the way I phrased it, I saw it as something very tragic, and I named it “Every Word I Speak.” The second story I wrote, “A Necklace of Rubies” was inspired when I was going through a pile of books for review, and saw a book that had been inspired by the Blue Beard story.
I found myself fascinated by the different versions of it, all of them being about a girl who marries this unusual man, and who is taken to this beautiful castle or mansions that has rooms filled with riches both beautiful and odd, all of it is hers, she just can’t enter this one small room way at the back of the castle. And I wondered, why does she always do that? This story was my attempt to answer that question.
The joys of working with fairy tales are many. You have a story that people think they know, and you can give them a new perspective.
You can take several versions of the same story (the reason why I know so many versions of the Cinderella story is that I’m working on combining several of them now to tell a story of mistakes and redemption) and play with the elements. The stories were told and retold as part of a vast oral tradition, meant to warn, to teach, to entertain. They are a rich resource for any writer, especially since these stories are the roots of all tales.
You might be wondering if there is a market for it? There is indeed.
I sold the two I mentioned to Drollerie Press, where you can find several stories in this vein. Fantasy magazines and anthologies are other places to try.
Cindy Lynn Speer is the author of Every Word I Speak from Drollerie Press.