I can’t seem to help keeping an eye on what writing competitions are going on even when I’ve decided I’m not going to enter any for a while. For example, there are a whole load finishing tomorrow. One closing in June is the short story prize run by the National Literacy Trust in partnership with Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing – recreate a classic fairy tale with a modern twist.
For some reason this one caught my interest, and while I wasn’t looking my brain went and started chuntering, occasionally presenting me with ideas. I realised though that there was something similar keyed into each one, and when I thought about modernised fairy tales I’d already come across, I found it there too. (So it wasn’t just me!)
Modernising fairy tale = loss of magic
Just think about it. Obvious magic vanishes as fairy godmothers become super-rich patrons, and a witch is just a nasty human with human-world power in the form of influence and money and possibly a wicked creativity. The forests and mountains with little villages and lonely cottages are replaced by city blocks. Characters turn from talking animals to ordinary (if with skewed characters) humans – the big bad wolf becoming a thuggish thief.
Yes, this is modernising. Yes, it’s setting these stories into a recognisable world that more people can relate to. Yes, they keep their central plot. (For the most part) But how much is lost? Is there a way to modernise without sacrificing the magic, or is the magic stripped away not just because it’s being modernised but because these changed fairy tales are more often written for adults?
Another question is, is the magic of these fairy tales something people want back, and can a story still be called a fairy tale without it? No fairy godmothers, no curses, no princes and princesses, no epic adventures or pigs building houses or frogs becoming people or bears with cold porridge. . .
I’m not saying modern fairy tales aren’t good, but I do enjoy a bit of magic in the style of enchanted forests, talking animals, curses, last-minute saves, and good eventually triumphing over evil. The magic of childhood, however unrealistic it may be.