Monday, December 10, 2012

Fairy tales: soul crushers or imagination builders?

Today I got to thinking about fairy tales and what they really mean to me. I'm sure we've all asked ourselves that question before, right? It started with a blog post my friend and fellow writer, Jes Young, wrote for the Speculative Salon. One of her funniest lines was, "I waited for the shiny apple that would bring true love's kiss running to revive me as I lay -- surrounded by extremely short men and deeply asleep -- in my very own glass coffin."

But it was her simple, yet thought provoking question at the end that has been gnawing at me all day: "Where do you stand on the issue of fairy tales? Are they little girl soul crushers or imagination builders?" When you really stop to examine it, it's a pretty fine line, isn't it?

Let's back up. I was raised on books, poetry, fairy tales, songs, magazines -- basically anything I could get my hands on, I read. One of my favorite first collections was my Gramma Arden's fifteen volume set of Childcraft books. My favorite volume was poetry; but the third volume was folk and fairy tales, and my first introduction at the strange and wonderful minds of the brothers Grimm, Aesop, and Hans Christian Anderson.

If we really sit down and analyze these stories, let's face it, some of them are pretty whack and scare the pants off kids in order to teach them a lesson or to get them to their happy ending. I liked them enough as a kid, but I wouldn't say I was ever overly focused on fairy tales, happy endings, being a princess, being rescued, or finding Mr. Right. Perhaps it was the influence of my strong-minded mother and her Ms. Magazines that I would leaf through instead of Highlights for kids.

Perhaps it was the "tomboy" in me that loved to climb trees, build forts, get muddy, play hide-and-seek, swim, swing, skateboard, bike, or chase fireflies rather than play tea party or wait in a castle for a boy to come rescue me. (Though even writing this makes me realize the stereotypes we place on girls, because why do these activities make me a tomboy, and not just a girl who happens to love these things too?)

Perhaps it was coming from a broken home that had me weary of everlasting love. Or the times I sat waiting for my father to pick me up for the weekend, and he didn't show up on time, or at all. Or perhaps it was the abuse I experienced as a young girl, leaving me untrusting and too self-sufficient. Either way, I never dreamed of a happy ever after for myself; it's hard to believe in men as the answer when so many had hurt and disappointed me as a child.

But somewhere along the way, at some point, that changed. Perhaps it was the example I saw from my grandparents, who were married for over fifty years. Perhaps it was the music my best friend Chrissie and I had listened to and that I began to let seep into my heart. Perhaps it was the way fairy tales let me escape the pain, sadness, and fear I often felt, and let me focus on others' stories instead. Don't get me wrong, my life was by no means complete shit; I came from a home filled with love, with an amazing extended family, with good friends who were my life-line, and a mother who taught me how to be strong. Amazingly, I was not broken. I found my way to believing in true love, soul mates, happy endings, and love that transcends time and dimension. I found my happy ever after.

Yet as the mother of a daughter, I already find myself bucking stereotypes and the cliched pink princess paraphernalia that is clearly designated for and marketed to girls in toy stores, grocery stores, clothing stores, on TV, and in children-geared magazines and advertising. This is a whole separate subject that I find is clearly a hot button for me, but it gets to my point that from a very early age we are teaching girls to be objects, princesses, who are pretty, and who get the prince. (Here's some good advice for girls from Belle, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid.)

Yes, we have cartoons, networks, and movies that are now realizing how strong and self-sufficient girls are. I think there are plenty of good examples today that are starting to change a culture perpetuated in the past. But I believe we still have a long way to go. I love the advice shared by a Towardthestars fan: teach girls that personality trumps beauty!

All this being said (and yes, I'm wrapping this up, but do you see how much Jes Young got me thinking today!?), I write fairy tales, of sorts. I write about good overcoming evil, love that's triumphant, and girls who are overly focused on guys (I'll introduce you to Chelsea Britton, the Guardian of Wind, in another blog post). But I also write about the true love that comes from friendships that never die (my Guardian Trilogy), I write about girls who find their Miss Right (wont give too much of that one away), and I create worlds where girls and boys alike can go to escape, to dream, to fantasize, and to grow their imaginations.

So, are fairy tales soul crushers? Not necessarily, if they are crafted in the right context and explained differently to girls; as writers, we need to use new language, create new visions, and help girls value themselves independently from boys. Let's continue to build their imaginations and raise girls who are thinkers, but also dreamers. Who can balance the magic and fantasy of fairy tales and make-believe while not having unrealistic expectations and placing all of their hopes and dreams on boys. It's not fair to boys, and it's not healthy for girls.

But I don't believe, at the end of the day, that backing true love, in any form, is the wrong way to go. While I love a great villain, I'm also a sucker for everlasting love, and was lucky enough to find mine. So, you can guarantee that most of my stories will have a happy ending. But they will also have a kick-ass heroine, or three!


  1. Now you've given me a lot to think about. I love fairy tales but what I love most about them is turning them on their ear and making them new and giving the princess a sword and a bad attitude. Those are the fairy tales we'll tell our daughters.

  2. Yep! And Tab Bennett is definitely turning into a bad-ass heroine in Underneath! :)