Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fairy Stories

Finally, I have started writing again.  It had taken so long I wondered if I was ever going to get back into it.  So I went off for a long weekend with my best friend to "writer's boot camp"; which was great fun I must say. One weekend and I had a whole new structure for a book I was stuck on!

Part of boot camp involves my established writer friend tossing "exercises" at me in between us pouring champagne. My homework was around writing a fairy story but from another characters perspective.

First up, I was to provide her with a page detailing what story, character I had chosen; and why. This is Hansel and Gretal; renamed because it will now be mine.  


The first time the possability of reverse engineering a fairy story occurred, I was at a book launch.  I could barely contain myself; finally, I could add a dollop of my kind of fairy story to the ‘oh so boring’ Snow White and her band of short men, half of whom I have married at various times in my life, I’m sure!  

So what was I going to write when darkness came to town and people have been put away in their boxes…  Let’s face it; I was always going to choose the Queen.  Each adaption of the movie saw this metaphorical step mother, drop a little more humanity and develop an ugliness that went beyond the visual.  Yet to me, the Queen and her untold story, was far more interesting as a character, so I would have no option but to write her story.

The book launch progressed; the wine flowed and eventually I staggered home in a red wine haze not giving the Queen a second thought; until this weekend.  Presented with the assignment yet again, I realised that perhaps my initial choice of the Queen from Snow White was a little hasty; and although I am loath to admit it, somewhat predictable.  Maybe, just maybe, there was someone else out there in fairy tale land that hadn’t had the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

After familiarising myself with some of the stories from my past, I once again gravitated towards a step mother.  I have selected the story of Hansel and Gretal; or more specifically, the step mother. 

The original story is centred in a land steeped in famine.  Brother and sister duo, Hansel and Gretal live in the woods with their woodcutter father and his shrewish second wife, who although would appear to be the impetus for child abuse and abandonment, wasn’t deemed important enough to receive a name.

In order to tell her story, she will require a name so henceforth she will be called Lydia; a fine step mother name; sharp and cold.    

So what made her tick?  As I remember the plot, the land had plunged into deprivation and Lydia, fearful that they would starve to death and probably livid that these children were consuming too much food, managed to convince her husband to take Hansel and Gretal into the woods and abandon them. 

Overhearing the plot, Hansel sneaks out and fills his pockets with white pebbles so that he can leave a trail to follow back home.

Although I’m uncertain how, it seems that no one in the family had ever heard of the existence of the cannibalistic witch who lived in a gingerbread house, covered with lollies. Obviously, no one can paint a pleasant picture of this character.  In every telling of this fairy tale, she would appear to be squat, unattractive, stooped and possessing a penchant for a Jeffrey Dahmer life style. 

But let’s dig a little deeper.  If you read about it on Wikipedia, you’ll note that the mealy mouthed woodcutter initially said 'no' however, he collapsed under Lydia’s vitriolic onslaught and meekly slunk out into the crisp morning air, dragging his offspring behind him.

Fairy tales, it would seem, are often penned by misogynistic small men.  The villain is usually the woman; the man, a long time suffering innocent lamb.  Poor baby.  How horrific for this piece of human trash.  His second wife lay in their marital bed instructing him to take his children into the woods where he will abandon them and they will die of hunger or worse.  He puts up a watery argument, but then “finally and reluctantly, he submitted to his wife’s scheme…”

My father gave me a moral compass.  We are each responsible for our actions.  I refuse to believe that a father would ever capitulate to such a request and that concept in itself, creates room for argument regarding the misogyny of the Brothers Grimm.  Surely a better ending would have seen the woodcutter back handing her off a chair?  Instead, the woodcutter would appear to be a paradox inside an enigma!  One imagines he would be big and burly since he chops wood for a living so on the one hand we have a visual of this hulking man in a plaid shirt.  Yet the tale shows him to be an intimidated, constantly berated weak willed man who would rather murder his own children than go against his rail thin iron willed second wife.  I can seriously picture his chin; I'm tipping his lips just slide off to his neck!  Chinless wonder!

What this one sided tale doesn’t tell is that this was probably a simple case of a woman, falling in love with a weak man who has baggage and however sweet the fairy tale attempts to paint the children, the truth is weaved through the words.  They were obviously pudgy, greedy children who ate all the food.  They displayed stalker-like behaviour, creeping around at night, listening at doors.  They were wilful children, sneaking out of the house at night in the search of pebbles.  And finally, they were stupid children; who the Hell would want to leave a trail of pebbles that would take you back to the two people who wanted you dead in the first place?

Lydia is now trapped in the middle of the woods with a pathetic, weak willed man and two fat, wilful, stupid children.

I suspect the truth is more than likely that Lydia had reached the end of tether and shouted to the woodcutter “It’s me or them!”

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Thanks. Better check it out but it should be up today!