I have always loved fairy tales. As a child, I read my way steadily through Andrew Lang’s twelve “colored fairy” anthologies: The Red Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, etc. (although the idea of either a grey or an olive fairy was not very appealing). Then I moved on to Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm (both frightening, in ways that thrilled me). I even liked the watered-down Disney versions. The first movie I ever saw was a re-release of Snow White. I was four. I was enthralled.
Much has been written about the uses of fairy tales to the psyche of a growing child. I studied some of this material when I was in college, working toward a B.A. in elementary-school education. I’ve forgotten most of the theory now, but never forgotten the stories themselves. I read them aloud to my own children. If I’m ever fortunate enough to have grandchildren, I expect to read them aloud again.
And yet—despite all this passionate devotion to fairy tales, even early on I had reservations. It bothered me that all the princesses were blonde, since I was not. The one exception was Snow White, but as I grew from four years old to ten, Snow White struck me as sort of dim. She’d been told by the dwarves not to open the door to anyone, and what does she go and do? Open the door to the evil witch and then eat the poisoned apple. If she was the role model for brunettes, I wasn’t having it.
Then, too, I began to wonder about all these helpless females in the stories. The whole idea of being rescued by a handsome prince was definitely appealing—but couldn’t any of these girls (it was always the girls I was interested in) help themselves at all? Or at least try to?
Finally, I worried about the minor characters. I was perfectly happy to have Cinderella’s sisters rolled down a hill inside a casket of nails (the Grimm brothers’ original, horrifying fate for them), but what about all those servants asleep in the castle with Sleeping Beauty? Wouldn’t their mothers all be dead by the time they woke up and tried to visit back home? Were Cinderella’s coachmen frightened to suddenly find themselves coachmen instead of rats? Was there enough porridge left for Baby Bear to get his breakfast?
Decades after I’d replaced these worries with ones about prom dresses and college applications, Ellen Datlow began to publish anthologies of fairy tales told from the points of view of minor characters. I wrote a lot of these, happy to revisit my childhood concerns. Two of them are included in ONCE UPON A CURSE: “Words Like Pale Stones” and “Summer Wind.”
“Words Like Pale Stones” is a version of “Rumpelstilskin” in which the heroine starts out helpless but does not stay that way. And even helpless, she knows more about the real, true world than does her prince.
“Summer Wind” is my favorite of my own rewritten fairy tales. As a child, I wasn’t concerned with the fates of the old people in fairy stories. The young never are. But as I grew older myself (and older, and older), the lives of all those grandmothers, crones, fairy godmothers, and ugly ancient witches began to interest me. Did magic reside in age itself, or in what has been learned through long ages of life? “Summer Wind” considers that question, with a heroine who both is and is not helpless.
I hope you enjoy both stories, as well as the others in this exciting anthology.
The official release date for ONCE UPON A CURSE ANTHOLOGY: TOMORROW, December 21!