Faerie tales, magic and symbolism

The second Endless Worlds compilation – which includes my novella ‘The Last Citadel of the Innocent’ – is described by the publisher as eight stories of dark faerie.

“I hope I don’t have stinkfoot”. Cinderella tries on the slipper. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

That’s ‘faerie’ – not ‘fairy’. The first spelling is way darker – and that’s appropriate. Fairy stories – the modern term for what were traditionally folk tales – were never intended for kids. The fact that they were hijacked by companies like Disney – bowdlerised, kiddified and made cute – doesn’t reduce the adult depth and real human darkness of the originals. For instance, in the original Grimm version of Cinderella, known as ‘Aschenputtel’, the ugly stepsisters cut off their own toes and feet in a desperate effort to fit into the glass slipper? That was duly lampooned by The Goodies in their 1977 episode ‘Punky Business/Rock Goodies’.

So what is a ‘faerie’ story? At heart, it is a folk tale that offers a metaphor for the human condition – a tale that tackles some of the fundamental aspects of human nature. Often it is an allegory about a contemporary issue – contemporary, of course, to the period when it was in current circulation.

That’s why a lot of the stories collected at the end of the eighteenth century by Jacob Grimm and his brother were either contemporary to that time, or set in an immediate pre-industrial world. They speak to the values and nature of the early modern period. If you take them in that context they have a good deal more depth to them than might be imagined.

Early modern values with their pre-industrial economic and social structures, seem quite archaic these days and give the impression of fairy stories as being somehow set in a distant past. But such tales, in any case, always recognisably capture the human condition. Take Cinderella, which is all about bullying and self-confidence.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned magic yet. Inevitably, these tales were allegorical about their own time – an allegory often created with the help of magic. Jack disobeys an instruction about beans which, naturally, has an unexpected consequence thanks to magic.

Magic – with the wizards, witches, warlocks, demons, dragons and all the other things we associate with faerie – was always the vehicle for creating and driving that social metaphor. And it was a powerful vehicle, because it spoke to dreams – to imaginations.

That’s still true today – and once combined with the fact that faerie is also about the human condition, explains a good deal about the enduring popularity of the genre.

It also explains why faerie tales are as relevant today as they ever were – and why new ones can always be written.

Click to buy.

In fact, if we think about it, most of us know all about one, right now, that’s been around the last forty odd years. If we take the definition of ‘faerie’ as a powerful story involving magic (or something intangible that affects humans), and which draws the human condition into sharp outline, there’s one very familiar story that fills that very definition. What’s more, it was deliberately written that way – and more, extending into mythology, which is faerie written even deeper.

Any guesses? I’ll give you a clue – the first name of the guy who did it was ‘George’. Tell me in the comments.

And meanwhile, if you want to read my story – you can buy it right now on Amazon. Go on – you know you want to.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

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