Joely Sue Burkhart on Fairytales, or Here Be Dragons

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me.–Labyrinth

Ah, but such tales do have power over us. Fairy tales, legends, and mythology, magical stories of goblin kings and fantastical creatures, princesses, quests, faraway castles, evil queens—they cast a spell on us even today.

I’m not speaking about Disney fairy tales, but the “original” stories that were often… Grimm. Those violent, darkly erotic, bloody tales of things that go bump in the night. They encompass our fear of the unknown, darkness closing in, risk to our immortal souls, the possible victory of darkness over light forever. Pulse racing, heart hammering, spine chilling tales, I still can’t get enough.

Here be dragons.

These tales both haunt and fascinate me. What if Jareth the Goblin King had succeeded in wooing Sarah? Just how close did Lily come to killing the unicorn in Legend? What if Sam and Frodo hadn’t made it up the side of the mountain to cast the One Ring into the fire?

I love many of the modern Disney movies, but I wonder if they’ve done a disservice to the fairy tale. The gruesome or painful ends of so many of my favorite tales have been forgotten. The “bump in the night” thrill has been lost. The pain, grief, and sacrifice—a huge part of the human condition—has been prettied up into “they lived happily ever after.”

But if you read the original fairy tales, you find the truth. Not every princess found her prince. In fact, sometimes a great price was paid for that love, and the love was still lost. This theme haunts me, permeating everything I write, and I can trace it back to one main influencing work. The original “Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen.

For love, she gave up her voice. For love, she walked on two feet, even while pain like knives stabbed her viciously with each step. And in the end, her prince chose another woman, and she was doomed to 300 years of service to mankind, trying to earn her immortal soul. Oh, what a lovely agonizing tail… er… tale.

In comments, tell me an unhappy or brutal ending to a fairy tale story that haunts or delights you to be entered to win a free download of my romantic fantasy novella, Survive My Fire; a White Dragon mug; and your choice of a fairy tale DVD (may I suggest Labyrinth, Legend, Pan’s Labyrinth, MirrorMask, just to name a few; to be ordered after the winner is selected in case of a non-USA winner).

You can get Survive My Fire here and here. An exclusive excerpt will be posted later, together with my thoughts on the book, or you can check out the one on her website.

12 Responses to “Joely Sue Burkhart on Fairytales, or Here Be Dragons”

  1. July 21, 2007 at 9:36 am

    It’s not an unhappy ending for the heroine/hero of the tale, but for the stepmother. I can’t remember which version I read (many years ago) of Snow White, but when she and the prince got married the stepmother was forced to wear iron shoes that had been heated in a brazier and was then made to dance in them as punishment for being so cruel. It’s always stuck in my mind for whatever reason.

  2. July 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Oh, yes, I remember that one. Many of the stories gave harsh judgment as part of the “lesson.” Thanks, Merry!

  3. July 21, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    Ironic, or perhaps not, I’ve always been struck by the original Little Mermaid, too, Joely! Although my favorite fairy tale has always been Beauty and the Beast in nearly any form.

  4. July 21, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Me too, Jess, Little Mermaid really haunts me, although I love Beauty and the Beast too. I do love what Disney did with that version, playing on the “beast” theme with the conflict between Beast and Gaston.

  5. July 21, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Several years ago I organized a co-op exhibition with artist friends called “Once Upon a Time” and had them all paint to the theme of folk tales and faerie tales. For my part I focused primarily on Brother’s Grimm and their dark tales. Stories like the Seven Crow Brothers, The Juniper Tree, and The Girl without Hands to name a few have always fascinated me. I did a huge painting that covered one wall of the museum that depicted characters from many of those stories. It was a rather gruesome piece. Happily it sold for a sinful amount of money. Congrats again on the book Joely and of course I waive being in the drawing since I already have your fabulous book!

  6. July 21, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    The ending of The Phantom of the Opera, if one can call it a “fairy tale”, has always haunted me in that it really doesn’t have a happy ending…at least,not for the Phantom.

    There are many others–many of Hans C. Anderson’s tales ended with death. The Tinder Box with the monster dog with eyes as large as the Round Tower was always rather terrifying as a child. 🙂

  7. July 21, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Oh, Rhian, that painting sounds divine. Did you ever take a picture of it?

    Nancy, I haven’t seen the newer version with Gerald Butler yet–did you like it? I think the “unhappy” endings do haunt me more. Like Gone With the Wind–how many times did I try to make Rhett give a damn? *wink*

  8. July 21, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    I love fairy tales. And everything I write is really based on that kind of tale. They are dark, and thought-provoking. I am working on an essay about women under glass or sleeping, it’s very interesting, some of the facts I have learned. Also looking at images and paintings.

    And yes, no one likes to talk about the one with the severed hand! LOL!

    I’ve got some work to do and will be back.

  9. July 21, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Okay, my interest lies with Sleeping Beauty, which is very popular, only in the Italian versions, the princess is really put to sleep by her mother–ouch, then she is raped by the prince, OMG–and she has two children, all before she wakes up! Another Italian version has the mother of the prince wanting to eat the children.

    I’d call this story a nightmare, and it reflects on the dangers of young girls changing into women. All the dangers of sex, childbirth, and taking care of young children.

  10. 10 Becky
    July 22, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I would have to say the Little Mermaid. It was my favorite movie when I was a kid, but it always made me sad because even though she was going to go live with her prince and be happy, she had to leave her father behind. I always hate the separation of family especially since the ending of the Little Mermaid is so much like me and my father. We are very close, but when my parents got divorced a void came in between us. Sort of like what happens in the Little Mermaid.

  11. July 22, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Maude, you are so right. Many of the fairy tales involve women, fears, bloody rites of passage. I’ve never read that version of Sleeping Beauty, oh dear!

    Becky, that’s very touching. Even in the Disney version Ariel does have to give up her home in the Sea to be with her prince.

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