A Writing Blog About Playing Around With Different Literary Genres and Categories
Writing Leap #35
Hi Writers, Hi Readers,
Remember Fairy Tales?
Ethereal castles that glitter with enchantment, huts that house evil, deep forests where magic happens. The fairy tale takes you by the hand and leads you to far away lands. Into clouds of an imaginary long ago. A lovely, scary place.
Fairy tale princes and princesses, woodsmen and lost children don’t give one thought to their inner lives or memories. They act or are acted upon. Fairy tale people are wonderfully one-dimensional, like paper dolls. They are good or they are bad. (Lending themselves to brilliant interpretations as in Carl Jung’s archetypes.)
“What happens next” happens swiftly in fairy tales. Knights slay dragons and rescue fair maidens, kings go to battle and bestow honors all in the space of a few sentences. The story sweeps along, albeit dreamily, as Philip Pullman describes in his introduction to his new book, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm.
Which is why retelling or creating your own fairy tale is such good writing practice for smooth quick pacing where every word counts. You can focus solely on moving the story forward and set aside the must-haves of modern fiction–characters that breath, ones you could pinch and descriptive images that go deep.
So Writers! Make some Magic! Tell a story. You’ve already got the beginning of that difficult first line. You know–Once Upon a Time.
Put a new spin on a classic. Or just try to retell the tale in your own voice, as so many have done through time. Make them, “clear as water,” as Philip Pullman says.
I have always wanted to change the ending to Grimm’s, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” my favorite fairy tale since always. Here’s my chance.
My short retelling.
Once Upon a Time there was a funny old King with twelve lively daughters. His daughters kept the most glorious secret from him. About their shoes.
Every morning the King found the princesses’ tattered dancing shoes flung at the bottom of each of their twelve beds.
“What is this?” the King roared. “Why do all your shoes have holes in the bottom?”
The twelve princesses twinkled at him but refused to say a word.
He locked them in at night.
Aaah, but as they did each night, the princesses descended a magic staircase in their bedroom into an enchanted forest. Such laughter. Such happiness. Their beautiful new dancing shoes caressed their feet. Their silk ball gowns rustled by trees whose branches glittered with gold, silver and diamonds. Twelve very handsome princes rowed them across a lake to a castle with lighted candles in every window. And, oh, they danced all night until their shoes were in shreds.
The King couldn’t stand it. At his request many princes from many lands tried to discover the secret of the twelve princesses. None succeeded and the King chopped off their heads.
Meanwhile a young lad met an old woman in the woods by the King’s gardens. He smiled at her and offered her a drink of water.
“You are kind lad,” the old woman said. “Take this cape. It will make you invisible and you will discover the secret the princesses refuse to reveal.”
The lad put on the cloak and followed the princesses down the magic staircase into the enchanted forest. Unseen he danced with them all night, often stepping on the princesses’ toes. He wasn’t a good dancer but so what. What a lark! What beautiful music!
The King was overjoyed to finally know his daughters’ secret. He encouraged the lad to choose one of the princesses for his bride.
“No more dancing now my daughters. Over,” the King announced.
“No, No, No, Papa,” the princesses declared. “We will never stop dancing.”
The Queen frowned at the King and shook her finger at him.
“Hrmphh. That’s what I meant. Keep the staircase open,” the King said.
And now, whenever they choose, all the King’s subjects descend the magic staircase and wear their dancing shoes to shreds in the glittering underground castle by the lake.
The King and Queen came down occasionally. The King had some lovely moves. And the Queen was obsessed with the diamond branches that she snapped off the glistening trees and brought back to the castle.
Oh, yes. They All Lived Happily Ever After
In the classic version of this tale when the princesses were discovered they just stopped dancing.
Forgive me fairy tale purists, but No. Give up dancing? Shouldn’t we all dance our dreams, figuratively or literally? Besides, it’s all in the spirit of stretching our writerly imaginations in mind, heart and feet.
May you and your writing live H.E.A.
LINKING THE ARTS
Kay Nielsen lithograph for “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”
An Author I Love
Neil Gaiman writes modern fairy tales for grown-ups and savvy kids.
A Good Word
From Philip Pullman’s introduction to Fairy Tales and the Brothers Grimm, Penguin Classics 2012
celerity: brisk, swift, rapid. As in the pacing of a traditional fairy tale.