Thanks so much for having me here with the Roses of Prose today. I thought I’d talk about a lifelong interest of mine: Fairy Tales.
I’ve read a lot of fairy tales in my time. The complete collection of Lang’s colorful fairy books (‘The Red Fairy Book,’ ‘Blue Fairy Book,’ etc., through a spectrum of twelve colors) more than once. I’ve read ‘The Thousand Nights and a Night,’ both abridged and in the complete Burton translation, the Grimm Brothers collection, Hans Anderson and many lesser-known folklore collections from cultures as diverse as Gypsies and Polynesians. I’ve read modern retellings of the old tales, from Disney to Tanith Lee and read the articles of folklorists such as Terri Windling, Jane Yolen and.Jack Zipes.
Based on all this reading, I could enumerate countless examples (but will spare you) of fairy tales all leading to a happy ending in which the happy ending is thanks to the poor but good-hearted (simpleton, youngest son, shepherd, wood-cutter, etc.) winning the hand in marriage of the beautiful princess — or the beautiful, good-hearted (goose girl, orphan, youngest daughter of a peasant or merchant) winning the love and hand in marriage of a handsome prince.
The sheer prevalence of this trope tells me that there is a deep-seated longing in human hearts for an ideal match – for a mate combining physical attraction with social success (position, wealth and power). In days of old, fairy tales expressed and offered vicarious fulfillment for this longing – just as romance novels do today.
Fairy tales are the age-old root of modern romance. Fairy tales address a deep-seated human longing that still exists today. Fairy tales offered blatant, unapologetic wish-fulfillment in a world where life was harder than we can even imagine who live in a world with modern plumbing, electronics and health care.
But, in the evolution of fairy tales, a time came when fantasy and romance grew apart.
Romance eschewed magic for more realistic settings, with rational modern day men and women for heroes and heroines. Romance grew in its comprehension of what constitutes a happy ending. It taught us that there’s more to a hero than a princedom. That actual individuals are involved in marriages and their individual personalities and feelings offer challenges as mysterious as any found in a fairy tale quest.
Romance moved away from the realm of the fantastic and vice-versa. And while her followers might do so, Jane Austen did not write of zombies or eldritch monsters. If Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker did, well ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ were not romances. During the Age of Reason and for long since, Fantasy set aside Romance, pulled on its Grown Up Pants, embraced the machine age and gave birth to Science Fiction.
Both genres have grown and matured through the time they spent apart, but they have been coming back together in recent decades. At first, when romance and the fantastic met in modern times, romantic fantasy sneaks back in its horror-tinged vampire fangs and howls at the moon. Coolly logical SF often dismisses the happiness of two little people as not amounting to a hill of beans in this world with its larger, world-spanning concerns. Yet, story-telling has room for more than our limited genre-expectations can imagine, and all the old fairy tales are with us still, reminders of a natural affinity between romance and far-flung fantasies of magic and adventure.
Increasingly, modern writers such as myself seek to bring the best of both worlds together again. I’ve been pleased with reviews telling me that the romance in my stories doesn’t get in the way of readers coming from the world of science fiction, and that the science fiction elements don’t prevent romance readers from finding the fulfillment of a satisfying love story.
I’d like to ask your readers today to tell me about their favorite fairy tales as children, and whether they can still find something meaningful in the tale.