Once upon a time …

Dear enchanting reader,

Once upon a time there was a little girl who met a wolf in the woods …

or, there was an old man and old woman who more than anything wanted a child of their own …

or a boy who caught a fish that spoke to him …

or two children with an evil step-mother …

or a bag of magic beans …

Both THE SNOW CHILD and my novel-in-progress have a framework built of fairy tales. I’ve always been fascinated by these deceptively simple stories, and the art, novels, and movies they inspire. A friend of mine, Annie Aube, turns fairy tales into subversive, sometimes disturbing embroidery art. One of my favorite films, PAN’S LABYRINTH, is a Spanish civil war fairy tale. One of my favorite books is THE LIFE OF PI. In each of these, there is the question of what is real and what is fairy tale, and of how and why we translate experience into fairy tale. In the case of Annie Aube’s art, the question is turned upside down, and the stories are viewed through a new lens.

Earlier this week, the author Neil Gaiman recommended through Twitter this incredible New York Times article on fairy tales. It is written by Valerie Gribben, a medical student who finds the connections between her favorite childhood book of Grimm’s fairy tales and what she sees at the hospital each day.

“Fairy tales are, at their core, heightened portrayals of human nature, revealing, as the glare of injury and illness does, the underbelly of mankind,” she writes.

At the same time, I stumbled upon this quote online —

“Fairy tales are experienced by their hearers and readers, not as realistic, but as symbolic poetry.”  — Max Luthi

Between these two interpretations, I feel like I’m coming closer to understanding why I am drawn to fairy tales. They speak a kind of truth — one of human longing and suffering —  but do it through poetic, symbolic language that enables us to see beauty and goodness even as we look at the darkness.

Hope your day is happily ever after,



14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue Mathis
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 09:34:21

    I also love fairy tales. The “not quite right” realism, as in a wolf representing the evil in people really makes you think. It always makes me wonder what ‘life-experience’ inspired the writing.

  2. Sue Mathis
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 09:37:25

    Also, I borrowed your mom’s copy of “The Snow Child” yesterday and am half way through it already! I love it so far and just can’t put it down. I love your characters!

  3. Mr. Baer
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 14:00:39

    As a child, fairy tales scared the bejesus out of me. Witches, ogres, wolves and such, I could barely get off the porch to pee at night. Fortunately, I’ve pretty much outgrown these fears, I’ve become better at telling fantasy from reality, although there are times when I find it a fine line separating the two. I loved “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Eowyn, you amaze me with your blogs!

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 07, 2011 @ 06:34:58

      Some of the fairy tales are really frightening, especially in their older, original forms. I think that’s party what I like about them. And I’m glad to hear you haven’t gotten tired of my ramblings yet. Still waiting for your travel blog, Mr. Baer.

  4. Nancy B
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 18:43:43

    I am truly enjoying following your blog….thank you for you insight and musings! Sharing fairy tales and their various interpretations with kids is one of my favorite things to do. Seems kids are able to see the goodness and overlook the darkness, if only we could be more like them!

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 07, 2011 @ 06:37:27

      Thank you so much, Nancy. And I agree about kids and fairy tales. I saw a quote from Einstein — “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” You’re doing good work!

  5. Christy Thomas
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 06:39:06

    It’s amazing to me how many children are not exposed to fairy tales. Adults seem to asume children know them because we know them so well, but many children today are not told the old traditional fairy tales. Nursery Rhymes either.

  6. Christopher Evenstar
    Jul 08, 2011 @ 07:01:24

    Children may not be exposed to traditional fairy tales, and a poor thing that is. But they are well exposed to more saccharine versions at the movies, on television, and in video games. I’m sure we all agree the traditional are better, but I think the saccharine versions still fulfill a role in exposing “portrayals of human nature”, and are still worthy. Thought provoking, Eowyn. Thank you!

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 18, 2011 @ 11:26:42

      Hi Christopher — Sorry my blog somehow “spammed” your comment and I just discovered it. Not spam at all 🙂 You’re right — there is a huge difference between the traditional fairy tales and many modern versions, and yet they all somehow speak to basic human nature.

  7. Annie Aube
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 09:49:50

    Just wanted to say that I feel honored to be mentioned on your blog! I also love that you used a picture of Little Red Riding Hood, since she is at this point often on my mind. For anyone, who is specifically interested in the history and symbolism of Little Red Riding Hood there is a great book called “The Trial and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood” by Jack Zipes. It’s a great example of how deep any one of these seemingly simple stories is.

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 15:47:55

      You know, Annie — I thought of you when I first saw that image. Hope you’re still working on your artwork, between cooking all those gourmet dishes.

  8. Lidwien Biekmann
    Jul 11, 2011 @ 10:18:19

    Eowyn, do you happen to know this painting by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov?
    Snegoerotsjka, the snowgirl. A few years ago there was an exhibition in our museum (Groningen, the Netherlands) of illustrations and paintings of Russian fairytales, and this painting was one of the highlights (I even bought a postcard of this very painting and came across it the other day, I had completely forgotten it). Now is that coincidence or what?!

    • Eowyn Ivey
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 15:46:26

      Oh Lidwien — that’s one of my very favorite images of the snow maiden! I have a little copy of it in my journal that I’ve referred to throughout the writing of the novel. I’ve actually been thinking about ordering a larger print to hang in our home. You got to see the original painting? I am so jealous!

      P.S. Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply — just now back from a river float trip. I plan on blogging more about it tomorrow.

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