A to Z Challenge: F is for Fairy Tales

FAs you probably guessed already, today’s post in A to Z Challenge won’t be related to one particular title, but rather to a genre that just might be the most popular one in the world: fairy tales. Whether written down or spoken, they accompany us since childhood, since we’re able to understand the words, and are a worldwide phenomenon: every culture, every tribe has their tales.

The family on my mother’s side was a reading one, but it couldn’t have been different in a family of teachers (and people related to teaching). They’ve read me a lot and they encouraged me to read on my own (I’ve learned to read fluently when I was about 3 or 4), and the fairy tales seemed a natural choice for someone of my age.

I devoured them all, moving and sometimes dark stories by Hans Christian Andersen (you can imagine how dumbfounded I was when someone asked me in a genuine surprise “The Little Mermaid was not created by Disney?” – and I didn’t even mention that in the original tale she does not marry the prince), tales compiled by brothers Grimm, sometimes cruel and as dark as Andersen’s stories, but more likely to have some sort of a happy(-ish) ending. But also Polish tales and legends, mixed with stories from all over the world. When I was a child, one of the publishers ran a series of thin booklets that presented fairy tales from various nations, so from the very beginning I was exposed to various cultures and mindsets.

Beautiful Polish hardcover edition of the Arabian Nights I used to own.
Beautiful Polish hardcover edition of the Arabian Nights I used to own.

Later, I started reading about mythologies, starting with the Greek/Roman one, but quickly moving on to Egyptian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese… I even read the Arabian Nights when I was still slightly too young for it (the version I had wasn’t censored, so it contained nudity, sex, and cruelty).

And even when I moved onto more serious reads, I came back to those tales, as they not only filled my childhood with wondrous creatures and adventures, but also let my imagination grow and stretch its boundaries. And even though I’ve turned 35 this year, I’m still hungry for those dark fairy tales, and that includes more mature retellings or modern playing with the topic, like in “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly or the short stories in Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga (compiled in “The Last Wish” and “The Sword of Destiny”).

But I like the old, original tales too, and before I moved over to States, I’ve bought two huge volumes of Anderesen’s and Grimm’s tales. They’re with my friend now as their daughters enter the right age to get to know them (and it turned out to be cheaper to buy the books again than to ship them overseas), but I’m definitely going to get them again. And I also have my eyes on a very nice edition of the Arabian Nights (as I donated my Polish edition to the library).

Because I might be old and cranky, but I can’t say no to a good fairy tale.

And you? Are you still enchanted by them or are fairy tales nothing more but a pleasant memory from your childhood?

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Glenda Thompson

    I enjoyed fairy tales but I loved mythology and I still do. Glad to see I’m not the only one.

    1. melfka

      I especially love the non Greek ones, probably because I studied them a lot at school, while the others still are partially a mystery to me. 🙂

  2. saraletourneau

    I didn’t read many Grimm or Anderson fairy tales when I was young, though I did their animated Disney film versions. But I do remember reading a book of Greek myths. Persephone, Theseus and the Minotaur, Pandora’s Box… And while I don’t necessarily make time to read fairy tales and other myths now, I think it’s still good to have an appreciation for those stories – not just because they were a part of our childhood, but because they’re often very good stories in their own right, and we all can learn something from them as readers and writers.

    Good job on this series so far, btw, Joanna. I haven’t been able to comment some days, but I’ve been reading them when I can. 😉

    1. melfka

      I did enjoy Disney as well, though I was happy to have known the original stories earlier, because Disney had a tendency to sugar-coat everything. (Did you know that Cinderella’s sisters actually tried to cut their toes and heels off to fit in the glass slipper?)
      And thank you for stopping by 🙂 Don’t worry if you have no time to comment, I’m hardly on top of commenting all the blogs myself – I’m glad you enjoy reading my posts.

      1. saraletourneau

        “(Did you know that Cinderella’s sisters actually tried to cut their toes and heels off to fit in the glass slipper?)”

        Yes! I noticed that when I finally read the actual Grimm fairy tale version.

  3. G. R. McNeese

    I don’t remember a lot of fairy tales growing up. But knowing where most of them came from and the themes represented by them makes me a bit hesitant to seek them out. I think at some point, that will change. And perhaps, these tales will help me develop to become a more serious and adult writer.

    [@George_McNeese] from
    Project Blacklight

    1. melfka

      I have to admit, you got me a bit confused, because from my experience, fairy tales stem from various things (legends, “real” events, nature, culture, religion, etc.) and have various themes, so I’d like to know more about your point of view.

    1. melfka

      If you ever do, let me know what you think. I found The Little Mermaid by Andersen one of his darker tales, and the ending is… well, not the typical happy-ever-after for sure.

  4. Laura Roberts

    I really enjoy modern retellings of fairy tales. I think this started when I was still a kid, as my best friend and I liked to write our own versions of different stories. The one that still sticks in my mind was a updated take on the Three Little Pigs, which we named “The Three Punk Piggies.” We reversed the roles, and made the pigs the aggressors against a nerdy wolf, trying to pin the crime of destroying their houses on a bookish wolf who wouldn’t hurt a fly (meanwhile, the pigs were tossing librarians out the window… so it was pretty obvious who was the real villain!). I still think this version is pretty funny, so maybe I should do more! 😉

    1. melfka

      WOW! You definitely should write this one and then do more!

  5. sjhigbee

    We had a large volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with some equally dark and disturbing illustrations, which I read FAR too young – I don’t think anyone expected me to track down this tome. It gave me nightmares for years afterwards… But I also read and LOVED a very battered old version of J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ – again, complete with beautifully executed pictures with a layer of tissue paper over each one. My next revelation were Greek myths. We had a teacher who read us a version of the Tales of Troy and I rushed out and bought the Roger Lanceyln Green versions of every Greek story I could get my hands on. The next treat was a beautiful version of Tales of the Arabian Nights… So I was very fortunate to have discovered a rich seam of fantasy and fantastic tales that decorated my inscape and fired my imagination and seeped into my dreams when I was still very young. It’s probably why I’ve always been drawn to spec fic:). Thank you, once again, for a lovely article:)

    1. melfka

      Oh, I remember reading Peter Pan – though unfortunately, it was *after* I watched the Disney movie, and the book’s ending left me a bit disappointed at first, but after a while I grew to appreciate it.
      And my experience is similar to yours: fairy tales being a catapult into the world of fantasy and science-fiction.

  6. J.R.Barker

    I remember reading the little mermaid as a kid for the first time, the ‘proper’ little mermaid and thinking, ‘what the hell did Disney do to this?’.
    Recently I read the original Beauty and the Beast, I was always into the darker tales as a kid, as I am now.

    1. melfka

      Oooh, I don’t think I read the original Beauty and the Beast, I definitely need to hunt it down.

      1. J.R.Barker

        I found a link, I’ll see if I can dig it up. It’s truly spectacular.

    1. melfka

      And Fern Flower will be rewritten one day. Maybe you should make it sci-fi? Or contemporary? xD

      1. portiabridget

        I definitely need more time to work on it. So far I’ve been able to edit it a bit and when it comes to the formula itself I still haven’t found what I am looking for…

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