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.