More on Fairy Tales

October 8, 2005

Check out this great interview over at Salon. Authors Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke are asked about English fantasy writing. They are asked if it is in fact the lack of surviving English fairy tales that spurs the imagination of English fantasy writers. Clarke reasons “that’s the theory I’m beginning to come up with.” Gaiman:

Reading any book of English folk tales, what you’re mostly struck by is the grumblings of the people who in the 19th century went out on the road trying to collect them and discovered that all they had was bits of stuff that had come over from [the Brothers] Grimm or [Charles] Perrault that people had been reading and passing on … They’re lovely fragments. It’s almost like England has to cope with something big that’s been lost.

If I’m not mistaken this is exactly what Tolkien felt. His work, including the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, are in fact his attempt to fill that gap, to recreate the core of the mythology from which the surviving fragments were derived. Much like his day job of piecing together lost words from their ghost fragments that remain in other living languages, he created a mythology to serve as the would-be source for all remaining English fairy tales.

Finally, my favorite quote about fairy tales:

Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

– G. K. Chesterton


No comments yet

  1. Hey Scott! This happens to be one of my all-time favorite subjects. Fairy tales of long ago built character in that there was always the hero who had to complete a difficult task with many obstacles to overcome, and a heroine who was NOT helpless but got right in there and worked whatever her particular strengths were. And they always overcame evil and WON, and evil was ALWAYS punished, in that only the good characters lived happily ever after. That is an important lesson to learn about life, and until Disney ruined the fairu tales they were worth their weight in gold in teaching children about good character.

    If this is a subject that interests you, there is a book out by Bruno Bettelheim which disucces the uses of fantasy and how it molds character in children. I think it’s called “The Uses of Enchantment”. I read it years ago, but always knew the truth of what he said in my gut, since I was brought up on fairy tales, and have enjoyed Tolkien’s “Ring” series, which are obviously more complex than simple fairy tales, but of the same genre.

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