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A question regarding current sensibilities in fairytales and fables

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This is not exactly a craft question. It's closer to how we view things now, while using older forms of storytelling. I'm thinking, specifically, about stories (PBs) written as fables, more symbolic than realistic here-and-now tales.

  :bow I'd love thoughtful opinions on matters such as:

Should such a story not include things like a child walking alone at night? Or knocking on a stranger's door? Or asking a stranger a question?
With clear fantasy elements, (as such fables often have) would you still have all these sorts of considerations? I find it odd to insert the now-mandatory safety concerns, so right in realistic stories. Think of Little Red Riding Hood walking alone in the forest... I suppose no modern Mama would approve.  But then, no fable.
I'm working on an original story, not a re-telling. But it is in fable-form.
 :thanx
#1 - June 13, 2016, 12:48 PM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing
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Mirka, I wouldn't worry about the safety conventions that are placed in books like wearing a helmet, walking alone, etc. And I really enjoy modern fables. I think Kathi Appelt wrote my favorite: THe UNDERNEATH. More recently, ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan? I'm in the middle of it and it's beautiful. Even the font and artwork give it a timeless feeling.

Happy writing, Vijaya
#2 - June 13, 2016, 01:47 PM
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I think it also depends on what genre you're writing. You're asking about picture books. I had something in a picture book - it had kids playing outside with monsters after they were supposed to be in bed - and an agent told me editors wouldn't like it because parents would be concerned about the danger of kids going outside at night. Evidently the scary monsters were fine.

It wasn't a fable-form story, but you still might find it a problem with that age in a new, unfamiliar story.
#3 - June 13, 2016, 02:06 PM

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Throughout most of the 19th century, so-called fairytales were actually instructional: cautionary tales showing the rewards (and penalties) for adhering to (or failing to) the moral standards of the age. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a big departure, for it was written purely as children's entertainment. Baum believed that moral instruction in America was being well-handled by public education, thereby opening up the market for pure children's fantasy.

I don't think there's much market these days for neoclassical dreary allegory or gruesome, hectoring fairytales.
#4 - June 13, 2016, 02:59 PM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

I consider some things in relation to the tale as they pop up and then decide what to do. Certain things fly in the face of contemporary fears and ideas, but (most) kids know/learn the difference between a story and real life. A kid knocking on the door of a disheveled house to get met by a friendly singing dog and a crusty, grumpy, old fairy can't be compared to current, real-life fears. Context.

I have an original fairy tale that was critiqued by a couple authors. Not one mentioned concern that the MC, and later other kids, were out at night--and in the woods. But, they were authors, not agents, as was the case with JFriday.
#5 - June 13, 2016, 03:23 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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C. S. Lewis, in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children, addressed the "context" issue mentioned above, and in particular the role of realism in setting a story.

Lewis seems to suggest that the best and most fulfilling stories are those that reassure the reader that everything's all right, and that courage, hard work, and other redeeming virtues will enable one to succeed and triumph in the end. Fantasies are especially effective at this because the virtues portrayed are decoupled from approximations of the "real" world of the reader. They are superior to "reality" stories in that they preclude inevitable disappointment and frustration when the reader returns to the "real" world: reality cannot measure up to the idealized reality of non-fantasy stories.

Thus, perhaps counterintuitively, fantasy settings are actually better than realistic ones in imparting to the reader demonstrations of how to handle real-world problems and moral issues. Characters forced to choose between correct and incorrect are admirable... or not. The trick is to make the characters sympathetic, believable etc. But take it too far, and fail to entertain and fulfill the reader, and you're back to dreary allegory and "lessons".

Kids don't have to "learn" the difference between fantasy and real life. The more fantastic the fantasy, the easier it becomes for the writer to convey and the reader to get something worthwhile out of a story when the story ends.

Sure, Narnia and Middle Earth are alluring, but they're also scary as heck. Most healthy minded readers welcome a return to the comforts of just plain ol' Earth.
#6 - June 13, 2016, 04:54 PM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

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Very grateful for all the thoughtful and thought provoking responses.  :thankyou

What prompted my asking was the super sensitivity I have encountered, not as a reader or a parent myself, but from other readers (including professionals.) Example: the use of the word "slave" as verb, in a parable, (imagine an animal character complaining that she has slaved at the kitchen stove all day) is apparently a no-no. Another was the mention of a character walking into someone's house unaccompanied by character's mother. That the story is in every way symbolic (houses are only marked by color and the houses are characters themselves, as in "Blue House' and "Green House" and yet it was a no-no, lest young readers think it's all right to walk into a house whose resident is not known.
So now, as I write a new tale, I am debating this big time. I really appreciate what y'all have written here.
#7 - June 13, 2016, 06:02 PM
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I need to think about this--my first reaction is to tell you not to be scared off by nervous reader feedback, but it's also true that there just isn't as much of a market for folktales/fables as there used to be...

I'll come back if I come up with more.
#8 - June 13, 2016, 07:32 PM
Harold Underdown

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It probably depends largely on context and how easy it is for the readers to step into fairytale/fable-land. Sometimes the failing is in the reader (even professional readers, who love different genres and are not experts on them all). Sometimes the failing is in the writing/context/idea, and revision or a completely new concept are necessary. Only you can decide where the failing lies. In your shoes, I would collect a little more feedback before deciding if these things really aren't working.

I can think of a couple recent pictures books that are in the fable and fairytale family that have characters doing things no one would allow their children to do in real life, but that work marvelously well, IMO. In THE MOOSE BELONGS TO ME by Oliver Jeffers, the boy is out alone with the moose in the first place, and he then goes looking for the moose, gets into an argument with an adult stranger, and ends up in all sorts of ridiculous positions before he figures out that it's okay that the moose doesn't really belong to him. In DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER by Dashka Slater, the princess collects dangerous plants (that explode, etc.) and rides a bike alone through the woods.
#9 - June 13, 2016, 07:40 PM
« Last Edit: June 13, 2016, 07:42 PM by HDWestlund »

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My WIP is a fable, not a fairytale. But I thought the general topic belongs to both. I know there is a general interest in this issue.
I read, carefully, the excellent reflections here. I then made a second version that does not have this issue. But I must say that some of the power is blunted when these considerations enter.

Y'all--  :yourock
#10 - June 14, 2016, 03:41 PM
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Just saw this thread. I've been gone for awhile, but happy to be back.

I think there's starting to be a tendency to admit more historical realism into picture books (yes, even in fables and fairy tales). Shouldn't part of our goal as writers be to introduce children gradually and gently to the idea that there's pain and suffering in the world? And that children haven't always been protected as much as we might wish they'd been?

Honestly, 217, keep it in if you feel you've blunted the effect by taking it out. If an editor likes the overall story, I don't think that would stop her from making an offer.

I agree, Vijaya, THE UNDERNEATH is one of my all time favorites too.
#11 - June 15, 2016, 04:44 PM
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How can we admit/submit to historical realism while glossing over/avoiding the present? Or do I mean, giving into present fears?

I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to say--I think there's a lot of GRRRR in the back of my brain--but I do recognize one thing: with the global advent of being reminded to be more sensitive (to everything, including don't let kids play in the sand on the beach b/c of sand germs--OMG), we're actually, slowly, losing sensitivity, and practicality, and common sense. There's more feeding this thought, of course, and this thread is fleshing it all out, things I've buried since you can't fight "city hall." (Which, incidentally, I believe you can, b/c I have.)

Awesome thread.
#12 - June 15, 2016, 05:24 PM
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein.

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So, I think you should stick to your guns (oops, bad choice of words... ;-) ). But I do see edgy stuff in picture books. A 2016 version of Red Riding Hood in which Red has the woodsman's axe, for example.

There are different forces in the "market" pulling in different directions, and that can be confusing but it also allows for different approaches. Go for it!
#13 - June 15, 2016, 07:23 PM
Harold Underdown

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  :like I'm going to quote you, Harold  :yup
#14 - June 15, 2016, 07:52 PM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing
THERE'S A TURKEY AT THE DOOR, Hometown520

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I need to think about this--my first reaction is to tell you not to be scared off by nervous reader feedback, but it's also true that there just isn't as much of a market for folktales/fables as there used to be...

I've stubbornly stayed with fairytales/folktales (especially ones modern audiences think they've forgotten or "objected to") on the reason that if you think there's something "wrong" with a story, maybe you're just not telling it correctly:

C. S. Lewis seems to suggest that the best and most fulfilling stories are those that reassure the reader that everything's all right, and that courage, hard work, and other redeeming virtues will enable one to succeed and triumph in the end. Fantasies are especially effective at this because the virtues portrayed are decoupled from approximations of the "real" world of the reader. They are superior to "reality" stories in that they preclude inevitable disappointment and frustration when the reader returns to the "real" world: reality cannot measure up to the idealized reality of non-fantasy stories.

Neil Gaiman's picture book "Instructions", about important advice for fairytale travelers, demonstrates the complex dangers of taking anything in a fairy/folktale for granted, as only the lazy or selfish would:  "Say please before you lift the latch and go in...Walk through the house.  Take nothing.  Eat nothing."
In fairytales and fables, since your character's not always necessarily dealing with humans, he has to pay attention to an even higher, more basic sense of morality and safety than our own contemporary PC one.  Walking at night in a strange place with scary monsters requires a much different sense of self-confidence, bravery and awareness than walking at night in the city, and it takes more awareness to know what to say to a witch than what to say to an adult stranger.

There should always be a place for fairy/folktales that reminds us that getting through a fairytale intact is the ultimate test of survival and good character, and trains us for those boring old squalid unimaginative ones we face in our daily lives later on.
#15 - June 15, 2016, 11:08 PM
« Last Edit: June 15, 2016, 11:21 PM by EricJ »
Know the movies.  Show the movies.  Start the revolution:
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  :like I'm going to quote you, Harold  :yup

Go right ahead.
#16 - June 16, 2016, 05:47 PM
Harold Underdown

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I think context is everything. I bet kids do some of these things all the time. What if the stranger is the new neighbor and your ball has gone over their fence or their dog is lose?

I send my kids to ask questions in stores. Always have. They've never once found someone they knew.

So does it work for your story? Does it make sense in the story's world? If so, go with it. (Preaching for a moment. Parents, please let your kids talk to strangers. Then ask them how they felt about it. The gut feeling matters way more than who the person is. The confidence to speak to strangers promotes the confidence to say no to them. Abusers are more likely to be known to you and the child than not.)

Another thing to consider is that sometimes the illustrations add that piece that isn't in the text. I recall hearing an author mention a parent added in the background of illustrations. So write your story and see what happens.
#17 - June 19, 2016, 09:31 PM
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