Subscribe to The Horn Book

Transformers: What Fairy Tales Tell

hepperman_poisoned applesI don’t retell fairy tales. They retell me. Over and over again they tell me who I am, how I feel, what I believe.

This process of self-discovery happens every time I write a poem, but it seems to happen most acutely when I throw on Red Riding Hood’s cloak or pull up a chair to confront the Wicked Queen’s veracious mirror. Adopting a fairy-tale persona gives me permission to venture into the dark alleys of my mind that I would otherwise avoid. I’m undercover — it’s not me breaking all those rules! Except it is. In the tower and the castle and the cottage, I’m always there.

In Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale, folklore scholar Marina Warner — one of my idols — explains the seemingly paradoxical power of these fantastical stories to help us deal with reality. “The structures of wonder and magic open ways of recording experience while imagining a time when suffering will be over. Fate will be changed; perpetrators overcome. The wishful thinking and the happy ending are rooted in sheer misery.” Normally we call something a fairy tale when we think it seems too good to be true, but, as Warner suggests, the term could easily mean the opposite. Bad things happen to fairy-tale characters. Very bad things. They hardly ever reach the heights of happily-ever-after without first clawing their way up from hunger, abandonment, abuse, and despair.

Writing the fairy tale–based poems in my collection Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty helped me make sense of the ugliness around and inside of me without losing hope. I plunged into the wolf’s belly and eventually emerged feeling…what? Not unscathed. Not triumphant. Not like I have all the answers. More like I’m glad I asked the questions and like I might just have the courage to keep asking.

From the May/June 2015 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Transformations.

Christine M. Heppermann About Christine M. Heppermann

Christine Heppermann is the author of Ask Me How I Got Here, Poisoned Apples, and the Backyard Witch series, co-authored with Ron Koertge (all Greenwillow) and of Backyard Chickens (Houghton).

Share
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*