Fairy Tales: Magic All Around


Magic. Fairy tales. This be the prompt the mistress Mills has set for us this week:

January 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) begin a story with, “Once upon a time…” Where you take the fairy tale is entirely up to you. Your character can break the traditional mold, or your ending can be less than happy. Elements of fairy tales include magic, predicaments, villains, heroes, fairy-folk and kingdoms. How can you turn these elements upside down or use them in a realistic setting? Write your own fairy tale.

I have grappled with this challenge for days. Is it because I have lost what little faith I ever had in magic? That I’ve grown too removed from the stories upon which I cut my literary teeth and early artistic aesthetic? That I disdain the silly young girl I was, a creature who unconsciously modeled herself on all those lovely but passive heroines swooning and fainting and waiting for some prince to save them from remote towers, thorny enclaves, and glass caskets?

Not that I didn’t devour fairy tales. Not that my heart does not quiver still when I remember the gorgeous red-leather-bound volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that my sister Peggy “borrowed” from our Catholic school library. It was a book so far removed from the flimsy paper Scholastic books we ordered from school, and the ordinary juvenile mass market fare we got from the local library, that even my ignorant young mind intuited its quality. The Romantic illustrations alone sent me into ecstatic reveries that I did not yet know signaled an awakening to aesthetic appreciation.

And come to think of it, not all the heroines were silly little creatures. Among my favorite stories were “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” who defied their father’s authority and snuck out of the castle night after night to dance until dawn with rather dubious companions. And Snow White and Rose Red, who traipsed all over the dark forest, invited a bear into their home, and had numerous dangerous encounters with a malicious dwarf.

Alas, as we all do, I grew up. I lost my religion, replacing it with skepticism. I had my knocks and disillusionment. But I embraced other delights too: classic literature, philosophy, art, travel, science, humanism. And I found solace and delight in the natural world. I found wonder and awe. At times I mourned the loss of magic. At others I felt its power swell all around me in the things I had yet to discover.

And yet, fairy tales are not incompatible with an adult world view. They are not just simple stories for children. They are our connection to both a collective past and worlds erased by time. They provide a way of making sense of the world, not only for children but upon multiple readings over many years for adults too. Fairy tales are rich with examples of values passed on through generations. They are repositories of charming details and quaint customs. The creatures of fairy tales are tied to the ancient natural world. And like all stories, they perform the greatest magic trick of all: granting immortality to voices from the distant and near past. Carl Sagan put it this way:

Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

So. I find I want to think more about fairy tales. I want to reread them. And though I don’t think I’ve conjured up a true fairy tale, I did pick up the gauntlet Charli threw down. Here is my fairy tale flash.

Magic All Around

Once upon a time there was a maiden who scorned magic. A wise teacher called Skeptic had set her straight about the world. One evening Skeptic found the maiden on a cliff overlooking a vast canyon. Condors wheeled against cliffs glowing with a million sunsets. Below a turquoise river coursed its cursive script in an ancient letter to the sky.

The maiden wept.

“Why so sad?” the Skeptic asked.

“I want for the magic I once knew,” she replied.

Silence sang. The sun sank aflame. Stars slowly spangled the indigo sky.

“Be this not magic enough?” the Skeptic whispered.

10 thoughts on “Fairy Tales: Magic All Around

  1. Lovely post! I was a fan of fairy tales and found many a heroine in them. I enjoyed your flash fiction – the Skeptic has found the extraordinary in the ordinary. Beautiful.

    1. Thanks for visiting Kate. The prompt wasn’t a natural one for me, but I guess that’s the challenge. Loved being reminded of the power of fairy tales. And like you and Charli, I am still waiting for a cleaning fairy too!

  2. Indeed. We loose much when we grow up to fast. Fun to have a grandchild to help these days and see her eyes light up at the simple magic that is, even if some call it science.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Jules. Yes, children have that capacity to take us back to the time we could believe in magic. Or better yet, help us see again the magic that is all around us in the world!

  3. This is such a beautiful, lyrical, magical post Jeanne. I love your writing, and your flash, well, it transported me to a place of utter beauty and peace and wonderment, such that I felt the same uplift as your world-weary maiden, the magic long gone out of her life. I always believed in fairies, the actual living creatures, the traditional ‘Grimm’ fairy tales of my childhood scaring me more than inspiring me. Always drawn and fascinated by the woods, their surroundings enhanced by the stories my dad used to tell me and my brother as he led us through, I found them to be mystical, imagining them full of mysterious creatures – not least of all the Red Fox who I didn’t see until I was a teen, always imaginging them to be huge! Lovely post Jeanne, beautiful… <3

    1. Sherri, forgive the delay in answering. I was up in Sedona for a couple of days. (Wonder if you ever took in the “Red Rock Country”?) As for fairies….I am sure I would have believed in them too if I had grown up in England. The woods and gardens and wild coasts there always whisper the presence of ancient spirits, and the quality of the light seems to conjure them up out of the air. Now that is a magical and mystical landscape. I often long for it (as I am sure I have told you before.) Happily my children have dual citizenship, so I feel like my connection to the “Blessed Isles” will always be there. And thank you for the comments on my post! I think I have been drawn to such a scene before….the canyons of the Southwest, the palpable presence of ancient Native American spirits. One of my favorite books as a girl was The Song of the Lark by the early 20th century American author Willa Cather. The canyons of Arizona and Colorado and the cultures of this part of the world create an evocative backdrop for the coming-of-age story, which also explores the blossoming of a young woman’s love of art and beauty. I am sure it affected me deeply and made me appreciate the particular land and culture that surrounded me, though my father, too, contributed to that. I could go on! Lovely “talking.”

      1. No apology necessary Jeanne, although I am sorry for taking so long to get back to you! I am on the back hoof it seems permanently, ugh… One of my most enduring memories when living in California was a trip we took to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I haven’t been to Sedona but back in CA, places like Yosemite and Big Sur and Mount Shasta impacted me hugely. Although I loved my fairies and my Enid Blyton mysteries, I also adored the Little House on the prairie stories, which seemed to ignite my early desire to go to America. When my ex and I divided up our belongings at the time of our divorce, one painting I insisted on keeping, and one which hangs in my living room still today, is of an American plain with Native Americans on horseback, replete in war paint and headfeathers, the sky dark, black clouds looming and a lightening strike cutting into one corner. I look at it several times a day as I have done for many years and I think more than anything it reminds of me of those early desires of wanting to capture what I considered the true essence of American life, in its purity and wildness, while keeping hold of my very British roots. And you’ve got me thinking about that all over again. That is the power of your writing Jeanne. Thank you.

        1. Just loved your comments here Sherri. Isn’t it strange how foreign places can become such a part of us, and speak to us as deeply as those familiar locales we call home. I can just picture that painting! I believe the qualities you see in it resonate with all of us who are urbanized; speaking of of a connection to the natural world, a way of life unconstrained by the modern world with its barriers between humans and the wild. And yet, always our cultures call us. For my part, I cherish a small print of Saint Michael’s church in Highgate. I lived next to it for two years. It always brings back the feeling of walking down Southgrove Lane to Pond Square, seeing the daffodils poke their head through the late snow, the cafes and shops and bustle of the high street…England! Oh, we want it all I guess… And I haven’t even commented on Big Sur! One of my favorite places in the world. Perhaps Charli will give us a wild nature post soon so we can indulge all these images at more length 🙂

  4. What a pleasant respite in your fairy tale, this sentence hums within my soul: ” Below a turquoise river coursed its cursive script in an ancient letter to the sky.” So beautiful! Thinking of fairy tales does challenge thinking in general. I really like the Carl Sagan quote!

    1. Yes, I couldn’t agree more with that last line of yours Charli. I started out thinking about fairy tales in my “adult” rather jaded way, but as I worked on the post, memory took me back to the magic a child feels, sparking creativity with the imagery and language. I rather liked that line too. Had to find a different verb than “snaked” for what a river does! And yes, the Sagan quote is of course applicable to all of literature. That’s where the real magic lies, the time travel books afford and the connection to all those voices from the past that remain so immediate!

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