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my father's dragon

From “My Father’s Dragon,” by Ruth Stiles Gannett. (Thank you, Project Gutenberg!)

Simplia pushed open the front door of the Fairy Tale Lobby, expecting to sit down with a cup of tea for a quiet read of the morning paper. Instead, the place was packed, and the conversation ran non-stop about favorite literary fairy tales.

“Mario in Maryland struck a resonant chord,” said Sagacia.

Simplia wondered aloud, “Why do you suppose fairy tale fan fiction charms so many of us?”

Flossie Squashblossom, a self-confessed eavesdropper and busybody, looked up from her copy of Elwyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and said, “Me personally, I think it’s something like the way newborns respond to the configuration of two eyes, a nose and a mouth—a face…and the more ‘human’ the face, the more vigorous the response. You might say it’s hardwired recognition of your tribe, your allies, the ones who will teach you how to survive.

“For me, it feels as though I am hardwired to resonate strongly and deeply with the themes, motifs, plots, and characters that recur in fairy tales and this genre you’re calling ‘fairy tale fan fiction.’ These stories evoke an empathic response from me — ‘Yeah, I know the feeling!’ ‘Been there. More than once.’ ‘Don’t you hate it/love it when that happens?’ A comforting assurance that no matter what I’m going through, what I’m feeling (or not feeling), what I’ve done, what I wish I had done, what I regret…NO MATTER WHAT it is, I’ve got company. These stories are foils against which I compare my own circumstances.” And without waiting for a comment or missing a beat, she dove back into her book.

“That’s one theory,” Sagacia muttered. “And the ‘why’ of it all does interest me. Sort of. But really and truly, I want to discover some titles of books I haven’t encountered yet.”

“I think that’s the book group holding forth over by the fireplace,” said Simplia. “Let’s go lurk.”

 Fiona Birchall was running down the spines of the books she had brought with her. “All the Narnia books! Charles Kingsley’s Tom and the Water Babies. George Macdonald — At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and Curdie. Tolkien! Kenneth Graham — The Reluctant Dragon. First Aid for Fairies by Lari Don (plus 3 more in the series – highly recommended).” She raised her cup from the saucer, and held it there. “Ooh, I nearly forgot this: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C Bunce. It’s a Rumpelstiltskin re-telling that’s very well done.”

Marni Gillard practically swooned recalling some of her favorites: “When I was a new teller I stumbled on Marianna Mayer’s The Unicorn and the Lake and it was so the story I needed. Came from her sitting with NYC’s Unicorn Tapestries. I wrote her and we had quite the lovefest by letter till a day I met her at a teacher’s conference… Oh Memory Lane….Then there’s the inimitable Jane Yolen….I’m so grateful for her retellings and many originals like “The Fisherman’s Wife” (from the Neptune Rising collection) – NOT your griping, yearning, wants-a-bigger-house and to be POPE -fisherman’s wife. Not at all…. Does anyone else out there love the illustrated e.e.cummings Fairy Tales? And my last gem – sadly out of print or maybe not? by writer/illustrated Marie Olofsdotter (yes the daughter of an Olaf) Sofia and the Heartmender. You think you are in a modern girl’s world until she meets a talking dog who is leading her to said heart-mender…”

Simplia whipped out her note pad and wrote that last one down.

“Oh dear,” said Sagacia. “Our bookshelves are already groaning.”

“But there’s always room for one more,” said Simplia. “My brain is swimming, and there are still people ready to share their favorites. Shall we have a cup of tea and let our brains catch up with the recommendations we’ve already heard.”

“Of course, dear,” said her friend. “But wait, Mario Not-From-Maryland is holding up a book. I’ve never known Mario to steer us wrong on any recommendation. Shh. Just for a moment. And then we’ll have that cup of tea.”

Indeed, Mario R. (“not-from-Maryland”) made some sterling recommendations:

How about Pinocchio?

 I am also rather fond of some of the modern retellings, such as The Prince of the Pond, Otherwise Known As De Fawg Pin, by Donna Jo Napoli (hilarious; Frog Prince from the frog’s point of view — “Fawg Pin” because he can’t pronounce “Frog Prince”); or Adam Gidwitz’s trilogy, A Tale Dark & Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion, which mixes together the various fairy tales and (with repeated tongue-in-cheek warnings) tell them in a way unsuitable for the tender ears of children.

 And then there is the comic book series by Bill Willingham, Fables, wherein characters from fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and several fictional characters from not-really-fairy-tales (e.g. Mowgli) are refugees hiding in our world from an evil that has taken over their world. Plus one could argue that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a series of interconnected fairy tales in their own right.

 If Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings qualifies as literary fairy tale, btw, almost every fantasy being written today does, too.

On their way to the counter to order a pot of nerve-soothing rooibos tea, in walked Norman Perrin, Tarkabarka and Sue Kuentz, each one hugging books to share with all at the Fairy Tale Lobby.

“Maybe I’ll just duck out to the library,” Sagacia said, “and pick up a stack of book request slips to fill out here. It’s like a golden hoard! We’ll never run out of good things to read!”

Simplia nodded and said, “Yeah, but we’ll never stop wanting to find out about more and more and more.”