The origins of fairytales

I have a lot to get done today. A LOT. But it was all thwarted in the kindergarten pick up line when our local Radio West broadcast came on. It was an interview with Maria Tatar, the John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, where she teaches courses in German Studies, Folklore, and Children’s Literature. Today she was talking about folklore and fairy tales. But it wasn't the regular insight into the Brothers Grimm. This interview was completely RIVETING. She went on and on about the history of oral storytelling, the evolution of the original folkloric versions of these "fairytales," and how they have come to be the "sanitized" versions we tell our children and watch in theaters. (Did you know that the original Rapunzel was impregnated by the prince who repeatedly visited her tower? Scandalous!)

I was captivated by the topic of fairy tales, folklore, and legends. I, too, am fascinated by the origin and evolution of legends, passed down orally and then manifested through the written word. For those of you who have read Fire of the Sea, you know that it is an Icelandic retelling of classic mermaid tales, with shades of The Little Mermaid, Icelandic Sagas, Scandinavian folklore, as well as the Greek myths of Proteus. I am so interested in oral story-telling, that I just had to include it in my novel in the form of Afi (Gunnar's grandfather) recounting Viking legends around a modern-day fire. 

As research for my next novel, Into the Fade (parallel dystopian with themes from Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, and the Willies/Villas/Will o'theWisps of the woods), I recently finished reading The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, in which the author explores the roots of fairytales, and highlights their not-so-child-friendly beginnings. (Let's just say I'll never look at fringed shawls the same way again...) It was completely engrossing. So you can imagine my delight when this morning's interview picked right up on these ideas that have been rumbling around in my head as they form into something new to add to the world "stew" of existing folklore. It was such an enjoyable and insightful look into the world of legends and fairytales on an otherwise uneventful fall morning. Find the full interview on Radio West's website: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/fairy-tale-world-brothers-grimm

As a quirky side note, as I was listening to the interview, nodding along emphatically, and I didn’t want to get out of the car even after I was parked in my garage. I sat in there for thirty minutes as my 5-year-old daughter began to get antsy. She finally leapt out of the car, grabbed a broom and started sweeping the garage floor. “Look, Mama! I’m Cinderella!”

It was very fitting.

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Tiffany M. said...

This is a great example of symbolism in real life merging with the deep and ancient ties we all have to fairy tales. I'm so glad you finished Dancing Goddesses, it unearths so many things that have been lost. Good luck on your new book, I absolutely can't wait to read it.