Okay, you guys. Despite the fact that my class focuses obsessively (some might say unhealthily) on plot (as opposed to character), I think every person who wants to write an engaging story should watch the following and pay close attention. Very close attention.
WARNING: Adult language and extremely tasteless jokes sprinkled throughout.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, lights and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it.
Plucked directly from the glowing heart of BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow:
“I’m a great fan of Bill Willingham’s Fables comics and its numerous spinoffs (nutshell description: all fictional characters, legends, and fables are actually alive, always have been, and are living in secret exile in New York, having been chased out of Fableland by “The Adversary,” a rapacious conqueror).
One of the most fun of these is the Jack books, which feature a set of parallel adventures of Jack — as in “Spratt” and “and the Beanstalk” and many other tales. Jack is handsome, womanizing, preternaturally lucky and cheerfully amoral doofus of a fable who is forever incurring the wrath of the Fable establishment by violating their rules by, say, pursuing a career as a Hollywood executive (he fits right in in Tinseltown, naturally).”
What do we read them for, and how do we read them? We read for the telling, for the “and then he … and then she … and so it turned out …” as far as “they lived happily ever after”, which takes the story out of the time of the telling. Aristotle said you could have tragedy without character; he was right – and we can also have stories without character or feeling. Maria Tatar, the Harvard expert on children’s literature, feels that children read such tales typically by siting themselves in the world of the tales as fascinated onlookers or audiences, not as part of the closed world of the story. Reading in this way is a particular and necessary pleasure, quite different from reading for instruction, or identification with feeling.
I’d never read this one before, and was delighted by it! It showcases two of my favorite motifs: animal transformation and beating the Devil.
THERE was once a young fellow who enlisted as a soldier, conducted himself bravely, and was always the foremost when it rained bullets. So long as the war lasted, all went well, but when peace was made, he received his dismissal, and the captain said he might go where he liked. His parents were dead, and he had no longer a home, so he went to his brothers and begged them to take him in, and keep him until war broke out again. The brothers, however, were hard-hearted and said, “What can we do with thee? thou art of no use to us; go and make a living for thyself.” The soldier had nothing left but his gun; he took that on his shoulder, and went forth into the world. He came to a wide heath, on which nothing was to be seen but a circle of trees; under these he sat sorrowfully down, and began to think over his fate. “I have no money,” thought he, “I have learnt no trade but that of fighting, and now that they have made peace they don’t want me any longer; so I see beforehand that I shall have to starve.” All at once he heard a rustling, and when he looked round, a strange man stood before him, who wore a green coat and looked right stately, but had a hideous cloven foot.
In a far off Tzardom, there lived a little girl who was so lovely that she was known as Vasilisa the beautiful.
When Vasilisa was eight years old her mother became ill and no doctor could cure her. Just before she died, she called Vasilisa to her bedside and told her:
‘My dearest Vasilisa, do not weep for me, but listen carefully to my words. I am leaving you this little wooden doll, which my own mother left me; you must never show it to anyone. Always carry it with you wherever you go. It will help you whenever you are in trouble and comfort you when you have no one to turn to. When you need help, go somewhere quiet and give it something to eat and it will tell you what to do.’
Blinking back her tears, Vasilisa took the little wooden doll, received her mother’s blessing and kissed her for the last time.
It’s that time again! The Intro to Fairy Tales students are sending me their favorite stories, and I’m delighted to share them with you.
Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, as in many lands have been. The king had a daughter, Anne, and the queen had one named Kate, but Anne was far bonnier than the queen’s daughter, though they loved one another like real sisters. The queen was jealous of the king’s daughter being bonnier than her own, and cast about to spoil her beauty. So she took counsel of the henwife, who told her to send the lassie to her next morning fasting.
So next morning early, the queen said to Anne, “Go, my dear, to the henwife in the glen, and ask her for some eggs.” So Anne set out, but as she passed through the kitchen she saw a crust, and she took and munched it as she went along.
When she came to the henwife’s she asked for eggs, as she had been told to do; the henwife said to her, “Lift the lid off that pot there and see.” The lassie did so, but nothing happened. “Go home to your minnie and tell her to keep her larder door better locked,” said the henwife. So she went home to the queen and told her what the henwife had said. The queen knew from this that the lassie had had something to eat, so watched the next morning and sent her away fasting; but the princess saw some country-folk picking peas by the roadside, and being very kind she spoke to them and took a handful of the peas, which she ate by the way.
FTNH: Why did you start the Fairy Tale Factory? What prompted the idea?
AMY: …I…hope, in my more optimistic moments, that this class will give people some new tools to cope with hard times. I hope to inspire people, to encourage them to trust their own voices, and to help them connect with beauty in the world and in themselves. I especially want to help people find beauty in the parts of themselves that seem dark and scary. Like that Rilke quote about all our dragons really being princesses just waiting for us to be brave.
Perrrault’s “Donkey Skin” is a great fairy tale, full of unwholesome passions, magic, trickery, and wonder. So of course fellow Frenchman Jacques Demy turned it into a film starring Catherine Deneuve in 1970.
THERE was once upon a time a king who was so much beloved by his subjects that he thought himself the happiest monarch in the whole world, and he had everything his heart could desire. His palace was filled with the rarest of curiosities, and his gardens with the sweetest flowers, while in the marble stalls of his stables stood a row of milk-white Arabs, with big brown eyes.
Strangers who had heard of the marvels which the king had collected, and made long journeys to see them, were, however, surprised to find the most splendid stall of all occupied by a donkey, with particularly large and drooping ears. It was a very fine donkey; but still, as far as they could tell, nothing so very remarkable as to account for the care with which it was lodged; and they went away wondering, for they could not know that every night, when it was asleep, bushels of gold pieces tumbled out of its ears, which were picked up each morning by the attendants.
I generally try not to succumb to the wild, desperate advances of all the fairy tale kitsch that’s lurking out there in the forest, but I just can’t resist this one. It was the phrase, “Uh oh, somehow that wicked queen OD’d Snow White!” that got me: