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Sweatpants & Creativity | A Lesson in Fairy Tales

By Charlotte W.F. Smith

When I tell people I studied fairy tales in college, I usually get a mix of laughter and “was that the Rocks for Jocks version of English?” responses. I’m here to tell you that studying fairy tales is actually seriously fascinating stuff that delves into all kinds of subjects, and it is by no means a “for dummies” route to take in literature. For Tell A Fairy Tale Day, I’ll give you some pointers I learned in studying fairytales.

  • You need a set time and place in your head, but it doesn’t need to be directly said. When studying the ancient Chinese versions of Cinderella, there are hints throughout the story of when and where precisely this takes place between certain phrases that are used, specific types of dress mentioned, food, and other contextual clues (depending on translation and the specific telling). You shouldn’t load your setting just in the beginning! Sprinkle bits and pieces of your setting throughout. Maybe your Goldilocks tries those fancy new shippable mattresses instead of the typical bed, or your Cinderella wears the smallest Louboutins in the kingdom!
  • Happy ever after is ATYPICAL. Sorry to say, but in the very, very long history of folk tales and fairy tales, it wasn’t until translators like The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson came along that they turned happy. The Little Mermaid usually dies after her love is rejected by the prince, Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepmother have their eyes picked out by birds, Hansel and Gretel get eaten – it’s not pretty! The reason being is because these were told as cautionary tales. They weren’t meant solely for entertainment. Everything in these tales is an eye for an eye – every crime or wrongdoing deserves an equal, fitting punishment, and no one (no matter how young) is spared in order to teach a lesson. Hansel and Gretel warned against straying away from the village at night where you wouldn’t be protected. Cinderella’s stepfamily cautioned against looking down upon others. The Little Mermaid warns against trying to be part of a life you aren’t meant for. Now, some of these lessons are definitely outdated, but some still hold truth. Make sure your fairy tale ending has some good ol’ fashioned judgment involved, but know it doesn’t have to be gritty. Maybe a bully can be chased around by a bull everywhere!

  • Don’t get so caught up in details that you lose the story. In some versions of Bluebeard, one of the many versions of Beauty and The Beast, Bluebeard throws multiple balls and galas to woo the local village girl. Normally, each party will be differentiated with three different details. For example, the first ball was in the morning, had silver decorations, and some hors d’ourves; the second was in the afternoon, had red decorations, and a giant cake; and the third was at midnight, had golden décor, and had a full twenty-course feast. Whatever you do, stick with the same number throughout your story. Threes are typically the most pleasant for people to hear and allow the most information retention.
  • Combine stories! Many of our traditional retellings of fairy tales are combinations of dozens of different fairy tales, and in modern retellings we’ve even combined those. Have fun with it! Mash up Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Shrek! Make the Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood team up with Thumbelina!
  • Do the voices. Just do them, okay? It makes it so much better. Have The Snow Queen have a different voice than Maleficent, who’s voice is way different from That Princess Who Has Pea Problems, and so on.
  • Not feeling creative? Here’s a thorough but by no means totally complete list of fairy tales to read or watch (or research!):
    1. Beauty & The Beast
    2. Bluebeard
    3. Cinderella
    4. Goldilocks & The Three Bears
    5. Hansel & Gretel
    6. Jack & The Beanstalk
    7. Little Red Riding Hood
    8. Rapunzel
    9. Rumpelstiltskin
    10. Sleeping Beauty
    11. Snow White
    12. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
    13. The Emperor’s New Clothes
    14. The Frog Prince (or The Princess & The Frog)
    15. The Little Match Girl
    16. The Little Mermaid
    17. The Princess & The Pea
    18. The Red Shoes
    19. The Snow Queen
    20. The Tallow Candle
    21. The Three Little Pigs
    22. The Tinderbox
    23. The Ugly Duckling
    24. Thumbelina

Tell us what tales you created!

Charlotte Smith is an esthetician licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s married to a lumberjack version of Deadpool, is obsessed with huskies, is straight up in quarter-life crisis mode, and loves pretty much anything that could be considered creepy.

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