|We can all learn something from Little Red Riding Hood|
I am a woman who loves fairytales...
People tend to look at me strangely when I admit to reading this sort of seemingly childish literature, but there is far more to fairytales than at first meets the eye. To begin with, fairytales are the very bedrock of literature and therefore they are a valuable point of reference for any writer. These popular stories have been handed down through the generations for so long that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when or where a certain fairytale originated. What we do know is that they have been doing the rounds for centuries and were traditionally used as teaching tools and parables.
Long before the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Walt Disney sanitized them and repackaged them as wholesome bedtime stories and children's entertainment, fairytales were designed to teach moral values, incorporating warnings of what might happen if one failed to conform to the rules of society ie; 'stray from the path'. Originally the stories had much darker themes and an overt sexual context. Frequently subversive in nature, fairytales were meant to challenge the reader's view of the world, while imprinting messages of wisdom and conformity.
The fairytale has come a very long way. You might even say that it has grown up a bit. As a sub-genre it is used by psychologists to explain human behaviour and how we interact with one another. More recently fairytales have been taken up and used by the feminist cause. There are even collections of erotic fairytales which could still be described as bedtime stories, though they are certainly not for children! Anne Rice's (writing as A. N. Roquelaure) Sleeping Beauty trilogy comes to mind.
I have so many books on fairytales that it has been difficult to decide which ones to include in this post. I enjoy all kinds of books that have a fairytale theme, both fiction and non-fiction. I love novels that rework the classic fairytale romance or that give a traditional Gothic twist to the tales. I also enjoy reading the self-help books which take the fairytale right back to its origin as a teaching tool. For that reason, and because I think this type of writing on the theme is the most useful and thought-provoking, I have picked out a handful of my favourite fairytale titles from my library to share with you...
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; If you have never studied the psychology of fairytales then this a great book to begin with. It contains all the best loved fairytales as well as some you might not be familiar with, along with psychological commentary that explains the intuitive women's wisdom contained within the tales. Aimed at female readers and tagged as Women's Studies, this is a powerful book that teaches readers how to reclaim their inner wild woman and feminine power. There is a reason this book is a modern classic...it really is that good.
Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein; As the title suggests this book concentrates on the story of Little Red and her perilous journey through the woods to her grandmother's house. It explores the sexual morality of the tale; asking who is to blame for Red's fate and who should be the one to save her? Could she, should she save herself? It explores the many, many guises this fairytale has worn over the years. It also includes a 31 bullet point break down of the traditional fairytale. This book began as a thesis and it does read like an academic piece, rather than a piece of commercial writing, but that only encourages the reader to take the material seriously and to view the most popular fairytale of them all in a completely new and sophisticated light.
The Wolf in Your Bed by Jill Harris; I downloaded this book onto my Kindle so I don't know if it's available in hard copy. If it isn't, then it really ought to be. I read it straight through in a day, then went back to beginning and read it through again. I love this book. I think it might be self-published, due to the amount of typo's but the material is cracking! With a good copy editor to give it a polish I see no reason why it shouldn't be picked up by a traditional House, if it hasn't been already. It is basically a survival guide for women who have come through, or who are experiencing, an emotionally abusive relationship. It uses the popular fairytales as a way of helping women to identify their abuser's MO and personality type, then it gives her the tools she needs to deploy damage-limitation. I bought it as research for my studies and what drew me to this title initially is that it uses journal writing as a form of self-help therapy, and so the book is full of writer's prompts, all with a fairytale theme. Even if you have never had a bad boyfriend, this book is invaluable in helping women to identify the 'wolves' out there so that they can avoid them. Plus the prompts are great practice and warm up tools for any writer.
Beauty Bites Beast by Ellen Snortland; This is a kick-ass fairytale book! Once you have identified 'the wolf in your bed' with the previous title, use Beauty Bites Beast to awaken the warrior woman within. Again, I found this title to be a page turner and I kept wondering why it has taken so long for a book like this to made available to women? It is a book of women's self-defense, both psychological and physical defense. It explores why men might prefer women to be Sleeping Beauty types, how to recognize if you are a Sleeping Beauty type and most importantly how to wake up and start standing up for yourself. Imaginative chapter titles include Why Beauty Sleeps...the spell of hearth and home; The Queen is Not Amused...Commanding Respect with Verbal Self-Defense; The Magic Potion of Fighting Spirit and my personal favourite Bitches, Battle Axes and Boadiceas. Yes, this book is a self-defense manual, but it is written in a female friendly manner, with fairytale flair. And there is an image of Boadicea on the cover...how can any strong, independent woman not want to read this book? It could be a life saver.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter; This is a classic collection of darker versions of the popular fairytales. It includes The Company of Wolves, which was made into a film in the 1980's and that is the reason I bought it. It is dark, Gothic and surprising. If you simply want a more sophisticated collection of fairytales for your bedtime reading then this is a good book to keep on your bedside table.
All these titles are available on Amazon UK. I hope that this peek into my fairytale library has inspired you to look at fairytales in a new light...may you always live happily ever after.