Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Stuff of Fairy Tales

I grew up with fairytales. My mom loved buying me books with them in it, and one could say that they motivated me to read until my eyes are the sorry mess they are now. Princesses and magical toads, shimmering castles and Prince Charmings—these things fascinated me when I was little, and they still do. Not that I believe in magic nor am I a hopeless romantic, but the stuff of fairy tales are more exciting than the stuff of real life, and thus, more real.

Sometime in the early 90's, an aunt of mine brought home a thick book of fairy tales, with Sinbad, Aladdin, Snow White, Cinderella, and even Bluebeard living inside its pages. No, it has none of the sugary nonsense of Disney retellings with happily ever afters ending each story. It has big words and small text. It has blood and gore, and is often morbid. I found out the real nature of whimsical fairy tales: not all of them ends happily, and most of those that do tell sad stories anyway.

The Little Mermaid, for one, is the saddest story I know. In the original version. she didn't end up getting married to her Prince, and in the first place it wasn't only the Prince she wanted, she wanted an immortal soul too. When the Prince got married to another girl, her deal with the Sea Witch came to a conclusion, and the conclusion is death by sunrise. Her mermaid sisters attempted to save her by giving their beautiful hair to the witch in exchange for a magical dagger. This dagger can give her back her tail and her three centuries of mermaid lifetime. The way to use it, however, is to stick it in the sleeping Prince until his blood pools at her feet and turns into her tail. Of course she couldn't do it, and by the time she decided so, the sun was already rising. She turned into sea foam.

That is not the ending to the story though; it turned out that there is another way to attain an immortal soul other than marrying a human being. Read the story by Hans Christian Andersen to find out.

There are online sources where you can find the complete text of The Little Mermaid, but having a book in your hands and reading it on paper is far better than in a monitor don't you think? It saves you eyes for one. At Powerbooks, you can find Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales translated by Tina Nunnally and Jackie Wullschlager. It's a collection of Andersen's fairy tales, from the well-known (The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Steadfast Tin Soldier) to the almost obscure (The Red Shoes, The Ice Maiden, The Traveling Companion, The Nightingale), among others. One of my favorites stories is The Red Shoes. It's unbelievably gory. Oh oh! Trivia: Hans Christian Andersen is gay. It turns out that some of his stories were made to express his homoerotic frustrations. Interesting eh?

Parting shot: maybe the reason why I like fairy tales so much (besides my obvious glee with them being twisted after all), is that I want a fairy tale life for myself. Gowns of eiderdown and shoes made of glass—itchy clothing and uncomfortable footwear—small price to pay for a life in a fairy story. I guess Prince Charmings can be icky little beasts after all, but as long as the castle has electricity and good plumbing, I'm cool. Else this fairy tale nonsense is stretching it a bit too far.


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