I love fairy tales. I always have. They are swashbuckling adventures chock full of hopes, dreams, promises, wishes that come true, and battles between good and evil where usually good wins the day. They are populated with mythical creatures who live side by side with humans and often help them navigate the reality of their situation or fight off scarier, crueler mythical creatures. There are castles and dragons and princes and princesses, both good and evil. There are caves and hovels in deep dark woods or underneath staircases or at the bottom of the sea where heroes or heroines reside unaware. There are one thousand and one Arabian nights with flying carpets, terrifying genies and magical lamps. I realized at a very early age that real life was not like that but therein lies the true beauty of fairy tales. They are a delicious escape. They are a chance to breathe the life of another. A glimpse into a vast world where anything was possible and sometimes nothing was.
What I find fascinating is that the true fairy tales, like those written by the Brothers Grimm, were actually terrifying. Children get eaten, parents disappear, people are turned into loathsome creatures by vengeful witches. The original Grimm’s tales have been deemed too frightening for children! Perhaps they were written to warn children to be obedient or something really bad could happen. I can only speculate. It’s clear though that in modern times, their stories have been sanitized to tell gentler stories than the ones originally written.
As I grew, my love of fairy tales did as well but these tales became darker. There were deeper stakes between life and death, good and evil. In my childhood fairy tales, good wins every time which is how I learned fairy tales were most likely meant to be morality tales to teach young children. The evil enchanter, witch, king, queen, whomever was always defeated. But those were not the only lessons I learned in those tales as a child. Often these tales had young women in need of rescue usually by a young man. At the end, a marriage or alliance occurs and they all live happily ever after. Except those fairy tales are…well…fairy tales. The tales I love embrace the human experience in all of its rainbow colors. Girls are badass warriors, gender fluid wizards and witches can be either good or evil, beings of all skin colors abound, boys need rescuing. Stories with tall, majestic warrior elves or closets that open into another world.
The past few months I have been finishing my first fictional novel, an urban fantasy. It feels good. It feels…novel. When I read it, I have hope within hope that I have gifted a fairy tale into the world. Even though it is written for adults, I hope the story will keep them reading, the tale engaging and exciting with a few chills thrown in. But beyond that, I feel accomplished. I feel humble. I feel inspired. In the process of this writing, I am reading more books than ever. I can’t get enough of other’s fairy tales. It’s as if their words inspire me even further, push me even deeper into my own story. It’s been a creative symbiosis, taking in so many tales and putting out my own tale in my own voice.
All of these many fairy tales deal with the one thing that intrigues me the most. The human experience. In the early 80s, the rock band The Police released a song that has always resonated with me called Spirits in the Material World (watch the video here) . I think of us all as spirits having a human experience. And there is so much to learn from that. The joys, the successes, the pain and the suffering, the why this and not that. The human experience is so rich, it is so scary, it is so exhilarating. It can be short or it can be long. Every human has a story.
Some days it feels as though we are living a fairy tale. These past years have felt like a very dark Star Wars type of tale. It can be hard to determine day to day who is controlling the Death Star. Certainly many of the events we are experiencing were foretold in tales written decades before. The imagination can even imagine a world into reality. Or maybe all the signs were there and some can read the human experience better than others. Some are tales we hope to forget. Some are tales we tell ourselves to go to sleep at night. Some are tales of hope and redemption. Some are tales of love.
This month of October, we celebrate the darkness in the human experience. These celebrations have been rooted in human history for millennia. We celebrate spirits and the spirit world, ghouls, witches, vampires, those scary things that go bump in the night. We deliciously scare ourselves, decorate our homes with the harvest of pumpkins, gourds, and corn. Spooky sounds, dancing skeletons, candles, spells on a chilly autumn night. October tales bring us to the very edge of the darkness and evil of humanness so that afterward we can breathe a sigh of relief that we ventured into the dark side but we survived. Yet, all of us have known darkness beyond the October nights. Maybe October is just the chance to make the darkness material so we can face the fear.
“Once upon a time” has been the classic way most fairy tales start. So is “It was a dark and scary night”. Fairy tales can help put our fears into perspective, keep our demons at bay or offer a portal to a safe space. Or remind us that we are all mere humans doing the best we can with the life we have. To be a spirit in the material world is to be extraordinary. And there is nothing more magical than that.