Fairy Tales

‘Once upon a time…’ at those words the audience goes quiet, ready for the story. Will it be about princesses or tricksters? Talking animals, ogres and stepmothers? The format seems timeless and we are transported to a world divorced from the real world. But fairy tales are not novels, composed by an author, the form and style set in stone. We sometimes forget this. Fairy tales are more interesting, flexible, chameleon like. We were reminded of this at the IBBY UK/NCRCL MA conference as speakers presented the concept of the alternative fairy tale. This theme is carried into this issue as Beth Webb explores how the fairy tale – the traditional tale with all its usual ingredients – can be used to help troubled adults or children to confront fears or issues; there is value in the traditional when both teller and audience take ownership of the story, transforming the template into something personal. Dalila Forni examines how an artist, Roberto Innocenti, takes that traditional landscape and makes it familiar through the visual language he adopts, enriching and extending the reader’s response to the archetypal story.

Fairy tales will have almost certainly had a place in all our childhoods whether in a traditional form or given the Disney makeover. Delaram Ghanimifard recalls her experience of fairy tale as she grew up in Iran, experiences that have fuelled her passion to publish fairy tales that will cross boundaries today and inspiring her to create a new series One Story, Many Voices in which a new version of ‘Cinderella’ makes its debut. Cinderella, of course, is the princess and perfect.

But how do fairy tales reach an audience that may have a disability? Rebecca Butler takes the fairy tale to task; too often disability is seen as evil. However, there are models for good practice as she demonstrates – the fairy tale does not have to be locked into such outmoded ideas. There is room for a great deal more.

Indeed, authors and illustrators have always seen the fairy tale as a rich source for inspiration. June Swain reviews John Burningham’s postmodern take on ‘Puss in Boots’. Here is a perfect example of what a great illustrator–storyteller can do with the traditional ingredients of the fairy tale, reassuring the audience with the familiar, and delighting with new. Fairy tales are fascinating. We are reminded of this in Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: Reflections on Fairy Tales by Katherine Langrish, here thoughtfully presented by Judith Philo who not only highlights the central themes in the essays (or blogs) written by Langrish, but ensures we also will want to read them ourselves.

‘… and so they lived happily ever after’, that satisfying ending. But as has been suggested this need not be the expected or assumed. The fairy tale can surprise, enchant, support. It is constantly being interrogated and constantly being renewed to reflect the world it inhabits. It belongs to no one, but is owned by everyone. What is your fairy tale?

Ferelith Hordon