Guest Post: The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales by Selah Janel

Posted: May 30, 2014 in Guest blogs
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m pleased to welcome today’s guest author Selah Janel, who is stopping in at Exquisite Corpse as part of her blog tour celebrating the release of her latest novel Olde School.


About Olde School:

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

Olde School is Book One of The Kingdom City Chronicles.

* * * * *

The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales

 It amuses me that people still like to argue about fairy tales. “Oh, they’re children’s stories.” “They’re too dark.” “They’re not dark enough.”

Illustration from Olde School

Illustration from Olde School

“They’re sexist.” “It’s not a real genre.” I’ve heard it all. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that we’re seeing a resurgence of fairy tale titles in books and on the screen. They’re very visual, they’re visceral, and they tap into parts of people that beg for something deeper from a story. The thing is, these stories have refused to die for hundreds or thousands of years, and have inspired many generations of storytellers to tap into similar themes.

But why? What is it about these seemingly simple stories that ignite our imaginations and keep us coming back?

These tales have some things in common with myths and legends. There are larger than life problems and solutions. Magic and strange creatures lurk around every corner. Sometimes the problems the characters face seem to go on and on until they rise above them or succumb. Still, there are some differences, in my mind. If myths are huge and vast with idealized heroes, fairy tales deal with those who should be overlooked dealing with impossible odds. Tailors, fools, simpletons, servants, scorned lovers, abuse victims…none of these seem like the blueprint for a hero. Yet time and again the tailor faces down the giant, the simpleton brave graveyards full of ghosts and ghouls, the scorned lovers dare to face impossible curses in the name of the heart, and those who were hurt can fight and have adventures and end up discovering a love worthy of them. Things may not turn out happily ever after for all, but there is the possibility of justice, the possibility of resolution, the possibility of happiness. There’s also the possibility of death, of disappointment, of heartbreak.

Fairy tales are possibility.

They encourage us to put our belief in their characters and their magic. They keep us guessing. You never know what stranger on the road will hold the answer to your problem or which is really a monster or witch in disguise, ready to do you in. When you think you’ve had it and you’ve been turned into a deer, cursed with eternal sleep, or killed, suddenly the pieces fall into place one day and things turn out all right after all.

They may be for children now, but once upon a time (before Grimm, before Perrault, before a lot of the names we associate with them) they were handed down orally. There’s the thought that they were teaching tales, warnings on why you don’t do things like go out into the woods on your own. A lot of the stories we know today are actually very edited. That isn’t a Disney quirk – Grimm edited their tales to be marketed to children because that’s how they were able to sell them, and it’s been going on ever since. Originally the level of violence met the level of wrongdoing, and some of it was apparently fairly graphic. Stories that seem lopsided now, stories where millstones are dropped on people and people are forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes – well, the thought process is that the actual crimes were much more fitting of their punishments. Even in their current forms, you can kind of understand the thought process. I mean, think about it – you have characters who are willing to kill innocent girls or worse, or exact curses for simply existing and being too cute. Those are not normal or sane people. At the end of the day, the world can be a terrifying place (even without magic and monsters), and if those stories told around the hearth fires encouraged people to keep watch over their shoulder, then you can understand why some of these tales are so over-the-top violent and dark.

I get the gender argument, but again, you have to keep in mind when these tales were conceived. A woman didn’t have much of a choice as to her station in life, and marrying up was about the best she could hope for. It’s interesting to me that a lot of people forget that there are a good many stories about poor boys struggling then doing a service for a kingdom and marrying up, as well. It’s true that through the years the stories didn’t change with the times. If anything, I think it’s more the modernization and lack of explanation of circumstances that’s the problem.

By Anne Anderson (1874-1930) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsWe’ve been quick to sanitize the stories, but not really provide context, or even let the stories age with children as they grow up. Personally, I really love a lot of the international Cinderella stories. A lot of these girls escape their homes to get away from some awful circumstances. Some are very bright, others are bold, some have luck and magic on their side, as well. A lot of them involve a strange cat-and-mouse game where she wanders to a nearby kingdom and is actually a servant of the prince, and toys with his emotions by being bold as a servant, then aloof when she appears as the princess of his dreams. Maybe it’s just me, but once they’re together, it’s occurred to me that the men they marry are going to hear about where they’ve come from at some point. I’d like to think that these princes in question possess a certain kind of loving understanding and willingness to stand by his bride. And the stories back me up – there are plenty examples when after the wedding the abusers in question are brought in and punished at the hands of the prince.

These stories evoke possibility of love, possibility of retribution, possibility of adventure, possibility of having things work out. They remind us that yes, the world can be an awful place, but sometimes all it takes is a little twist of fate and the story can change entirely. They involve foreign lands and fantastic concepts, but at their core they’re about us: our desires, our darkness, our fears, our hopes, our needs, our loves, our possibilities.

It’s that hope, romance, and possibility that I think keeps these stories lurking in our minds and hearts. The magic, the distant kingdoms, the fantastic creatures, the adventures and quests may hook us and get us reading, but I truly think it’s the fact that they give us something to believe in, a possibility to keep firmly in our hearts and heads that insures these stories will never go away. They may get edited, they may get twisted, they may get gritty revamps, they may get blended into other forms, but they will never truly die.

Besides, everyone knows that in fairy tales, death doesn’t always last, anyway.

* * * * *

About the Author:

SelahJanel-smallerSelah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination and a love of story since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Learning to read and being encouraged by those around her only made things worse. Her work ranges from e-books to traditional print, and she prefers to write every genre at once rather than choose just one. The stories “Holly and Ivy”, “The Other Man”, and “Mooner” are available online through Mocha Memoirs Press. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil, Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery, The Grotesquerie, and the short story collection Lost in the Shadows, co-written with S.H. Roddey. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.

Catch up with her thoughts and projects at:


Twitter: @selahjanel




  1. […] Exquisite Corpse – I did a guest post here about the enduring appeal of fairy tales. It’s an issue that’s near and dear to my heart and I could easily talk your ear off and put you to sleep for a hundred years discussing it. […]

  2. admin says:

    Thanks so much for having me on your blog! 🙂

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