A Fairy Tale Remix

We’re excited to introduce our next guest poster! Lynden Wade spends as much time as possible in other worlds to avoid the dirty dishes piling up in her home. She enjoys writing stories inspired by fairy tales, legends, and history. She has had two fairy tales and a poem published in anthologies so far, and two stories accepted for 2018 in addition to ‘Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,’ her contribution to A Bit of Magic. She is still hoping for a house elf. You can find her on quillsquotesqueensquests.wordpress.com, on lyndenwadeauthor.weebly.com and on Facebook.

A Fairy Tale Remix

A Bit of Magic, due out 31st May 2018, features 11 re-imaginings of classic fairy tales. We each chose our own to rework. There are, of course, far more than 11 fairy tales. In this article I’m going to list my own favourites from the classic range1.

If you’re reading this, you probably have an interest in fairy tales already, so you don’t need me to tell you why they are fascinating. But just in case you aren’t totally hooked on them, I’ll tell you why I am. And when you’ve read this piece, where I tell you about the famous and the obscure, and about retellings and music they’ve inspired, maybe you’ll get the bug too.

It’s not even the magic. It’s the mystery. They’re full of odd and unexplained details, and I like the way they leave you wondering. And they’re bursting with squeezed-down emotions – envy, fear, hope, love, hate – all of which are in between the lines, never described. The stories might be set in faraway kingdoms where princes turn into swans and soldiers wear magic cloaks, but the themes are ones we know too well – rival siblings, family feuds, dreadful mothers, weak fathers, untrusting lovers, the small person struggling under the power of the big.

  1. East of the Sun/West of the Moon

(Popular Tales from the Norse: Asbjornsen and Moe)

One of the Beast Bridegroom cycle stories, this is a Norwegian tale about a peasant girl who marries a bear. The heroine, like Beauty/Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” goes to live with a beastly male to save her family, but discovers love after marriage. Unlike “Beauty and the Beast,” the heroine discovers soon after marriage that her partner is a very attractive young man by night, loses him in a breach of trust, and has to search him out “east of the sun, west of the moon” to win him in a battle with the Troll Queen. I loved both these elements – the scene where she lights a candle and sees how gorgeous her groom is by night, and the strength she shows when she wins him back.

A very different approach to the story is taken in Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar.

Find the original here.

  1. The Nose Tree/The Long Nose

(Household Tales: the Brothers Grimm)

You may struggle to find “The Nose Tree,” because it’s an omitted tale. The Grimm brothers decided against using it in their collection as they felt it was the same basic story as Donkey Cabbages. In both, poor men are given magical gifts that lead them to riches, only for women with magical powers to steal them. However, the poor men discover more magic that tricks the women into returning the original gifts.

In the Grimms’ place, I’d have kept “The Nose Tree” rather than “Donkey Cabbages.” The women in “Donkey Cabbages,” a witch and a pretty serving girl, are treated harshly by one young man, and the witch dies from the bad treatment while the young man chooses to marry the girl. The woman in “The Nose Tree,” however, a princess who is also a fairy, is given a taste of powerlessness then released on condition that she returns the magical gifts to the three poor soldiers. There might be people who argue that the story shows our fore-fathers felt powerful women should be punished. I’m not one of them. To me, the story is satisfying because the princess is not a characterless prize for the hero, and because poor, powerless characters win over the powers of the land. Royalty may not have the power in most modern nations that it once did, but which of us does not sometimes wish we could defeat the powers that bind our hands in today’s society?

Find the original here.

  1. The Twelve Dancing Princesses

(Household Tales: the Brothers Grimm)

This is such a recognisable story. The father with his adolescent daughters, trying to protect them from the world and failing to do so. It also has a whole other world that the princesses disappear to, a Narnia of their own.

They found themselves in a most delightful grove of trees; and the leaves were all of silver, and glittered and sparkled beautifully.

But the ending? The eldest princess is married off to the old soldier to say thank you for solving the mystery of the worn-out shoes. Her bid for freedom and romance is defeated. She can no longer slip out at night and dance with her secret prince. What does he do when she doesn’t come back? Is he still waiting for her? No, the ending is all wrong!

Find the original here.

  1. The Horse and the Chameleon

There are no fairies in this story, or even magic: it’s more of a folk tale. You’ll know the story of the Hare and the Tortoise. Its moral is clear: arrogance and complacence are dangerous, but persistence pays off. Is this actually true in real life? The versions of this story I heard in Ghana where I grew up are subtly different. The tortoise wins through trickery instead. The version I’ve chosen here replaces the tortoise with a chameleon and the hare with a horse. They are racing for a princess, and the winner is the one who reaches and sits down first on the throne. The chameleon grabs onto the horse’s tail – so who touches the throne first when the horse sits down? The crafty chameleon! Not half such a good example to hold up to our children, but a lot more fun to read about!

  1. The Juniper Tree

(Household Tales: the Brothers Grimm)

This story is in the Grimm brothers’ collection and it’s certainly grim – a story about a woman who serves up her son to his father – but told in such a beautiful way! It was contributed by Philipp Otto Runge, a poet, and it shows in his retelling.

“Then she went into the house, and a month went by, and the snow was gone. And two months, and everything was green. And three months, and all the flowers came out of the earth. And four months, and all the trees in the woods grew thicker, and the green branches were all entwined in one another, and the birds sang until the woods resounded and the blossoms fell from the trees.”

Emily Portman turned the story into a song, Stick Stock, on her album The Glamoury, a collage of ballads and folktales.

Find the original here.

  1. Fitcher’s Bird

(Household Tales: the Brothers Grimm)

A version of Perrault’s Bluebeard, this one has the heroine reviving and rescuing her sisters instead of relying on her brothers. I’m not defending Bluebeard, but really, Fatima is an idiot, marrying for money, disobeying instructions and then whimpering about it. The Robber Bridegroom, another Grimm, and Mr Fox from Joseph Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales, have similar plot lines, again with resourceful girls who rescue themselves. Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber has an alternative ending – the heroine is saved by her indomitable mother.

Find the original here. Find the pictures for it here.

  1. Tam Lin/Tamlane

(More English Fairy Tales: Joseph Jacobs)

Tam Lin isn’t really the hero of this tale – Janet is. She rescues him from the clutches of the Fairie Queen. Unlike the heroines of Grimm, she’s no pure maid – she is pregnant by Tam Lin and not yet married to him. She is resourceful, brave and tenacious, just like Kate Crackernuts from the previous collection, English Fairy Tales. Fairport Convention recorded the ballad on the album Liege and Leif, and Dianna Wynne Jones’ book Fire and Hemlock is a reworking of the tale.

Find the original here.

  1. Childe Rowland

(More English Fairy Tales: Joseph Jacobs)

Burd Ellen is captured by the Elf King and rescued by her brother. But how much does she want to be rescued? The retelling by Winifred Finlay in Folk Tales from the North says of the Elf King:

He turned to Burd Helen on her crystal throne and spoke to her in his own language in a voice so soft and sad that two tears formed in her eyes and fell to the ground where they turned into pearls.”

Alan Garner’s eerie Elidor turns the human characters into 20th century children in a demolition site. Its ending is flat but the writing is very atmospheric.

Find the original here.

  1. The Three Heads in the Well

(More English Fairy Tales: Joseph Jacobs)

According to Adrian Gray, who retells this story in Tales of Old Essex, the king is King Coel aka Old King Cole, and the princess is St Helen. Saint Helen was the mother of Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. She is also said to have recovered the bodies of the three magi. Gray sees parallels between the heads with their gifts, and the magi with their presents to the Christ Child. It’s still a weird story, and I like weird. Why should everything make sense?

Find the original here.

  1. The Reed Girl

(Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs and Magyars: Jeremiah Curtin.)

This story from Eastern Europe is very obscure. I know it from Joan Aiken’s retelling in The Kingdom under the Sea and other Stories, which apparently leaves out great chunks, including a dragon.

Even without fire-breathing beasts it is full of wild detail on a grander scale than the earth-bound Grimm stories. The king’s son seeks the most beautiful girl in the world. His quest includes consorting with the Dawn Maiden to obtain a ray of sun and placating guard wolves at the doors of the world by cutting off his hand and throwing it to them. The bride he seeks is hidden in a reed.

Joan Aiken is a master story teller, and the edition I treasure from my childhood is gorgeously illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. The story inspired me to write “Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,” which is my contribution to A Bit of Magic. In my story there are different repercussions to the finding of the reed girl.

Find the original here.

  1. The Salt Welsh Sea

(Welsh Legends and Folk-Tales: Gwyn Jones)

This tale is essentially the same as the Norwegian tale Why the Sea is Salt and tells how a poor man wins a magic grinder that inspires his brothers to envy and cheat him, but the Welsh version is told with even more charm and lots of humour – and it has mermaids! What’s not to like?

Glyn prospered and ate honey on his bread, and Lyn prospered and ate apples with his cheese, but Maldwyn and his wife walked the tired highways and shared their emptiness between them, in fair shares.”

It’s been difficult keeping this list fairly short. As I wrote this article I kept remembering more favourites! It’s time for me to stop now and to invite you to explore for yourself the wonderful world of folk and fairy tales.

There’s so much more to fairy tales than just Cinderella and Snow White.


1 When I write “classic range” I’m thinking of the Grimm brothers, Perrault, Asbjornsen and Moe and Joseph Jacobs – people who collected what they understood to be oral tales. I decided against including any of Anderson’s stories, even though they feature widely in children’s collections, because Andersen was consciously doing something different, using traditional tales and their elements and weaving them into something new. To me, he fits better with later fairy tale writers like Oscar Wilde and E. Nesbit.






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