Tag Archives: fairy tales

Hitting the Wall: Not Your Standard Frog Prince Story


What happens when you stake everything on one particular version of a fairy tale? Find out in “Hitting the Wall”, my interpretation of “The Frog Prince”, posted on Enchanted Conversations:

“Become a frog,” they said. “You’ll have pretty girls lining up to kiss you. Sure way to get that girlfriend.” …

But what nobody had told me was that the folklore about frogs is different in Europe. Girls read fairy tales from books there, and the way the old Grimms tell the story isn’t what I’d always heard.

It was a nasty surprise…

To keep reading, go on over here...




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The Seven Ravens: a Tale for International Women’s #FolkloreThursday

It’s International Women’s Day today. It’s also Thursday, which invariably generates a flurry of Twitter posts under the hashtag #FolkloreThursday. So, of course, today a fairy tale nerd’s Twitter feed is awash in tweets about women in folklore.

“Ah, women in fairy tales,” you say, “damsels in distress, passively waiting for a prince to come rescue them – right?” Bwhahahahah! Excuse me while I laugh loud and long (not to mention a little scornfully). Yes, sure, they exist, the Sleeping Beauties and Snow Whites in their glass coffins or rose-covered castles (and we love ’em). But just as common are the wide-awake Beauties who are the ones that do the rescuing – of Beasts or Frogs, for example, to mention just two of the best-known tales. And not all of those tales’ happy endings are weddings, either – there are people other than lovers or boyfriends to rescue, you know.

Here is one such story, one that’s always been one of my favourites, featuring a very heroic little girl indeed. It’s well-known in German-speaking countries, but not so much hereabouts. So, in honour of International Women’s Folklore Thursday, let me tell it to you. It’s Grimms’ fairy tale #25, and if you want to read the original without silly side comments, you can find it here. So here goes:


Once there was a man and his wife who had seven sons. (No, this isn’t an advertisement for my book, Seventh Son. Although – hmm, there’s possibilities. What if that youngest son went on to have seven sons himself… Sorry, I digress.) So after a lot of years of wishing, the wife finally gave birth again, and this time it was the longed-for girl. However, the poor little mite was sickly, so the parents decided to do an emergency baptism. They sent the boys to the well to fetch some water.

The seven boys were so excited to have a baby sister, they fought over who would get to dip the jug in the well, and as was inevitable, the jug fell into the well. Now, the kids feared their dad’s temper (with good reason, as you’ll see in a minute) and they didn’t dare go home (I guess the fate of their sister’s soul wasn’t as important as the possibility of getting a smack around the head).

Sure enough, when the boys didn’t come back with the water, Dad got really ticked off (to be fair to him, he was a little stressed at the moment, with the possibility of his baby girl dying without baptism). “They’re probably just fooling around again!” he said. “I wish they’d all turn into black ravens!”

And what do you know – they did.


Dad was very, very sorry, but by then it was too late. The raven boys were gone, and all they had left was one tiny, sick little baby girl.

However, fortunately for them, she survived. Not only that, she grew up beautiful, kind, smart, and, as you shall see, quite determined.

Mom and Dad, feeling rather guilty about the boys, carefully never mentioned their existence to the girl (and I suppose she never thought to ask why her bedroom was full of Lego and GI Joe action figures and the family car was a 12-seater van). But one day, she overheard a couple of gossippy neighbours talking, and she pricked up her ears.

“Mom,” she said, “Mrs Schlipfengruber from next door says it’s because of me that my brothers got lost! What brothers?”

So the parents had to own up, but, being rather decent parents, they assured her that it really wasn’t her fault and there was nothing she could do about it.

Still, the girl wasn’t buying it. She realised quite clearly that even if what happened wasn’t precisely her fault, it still was her birth that had precipitated her brothers’ bad fortune. And besides, she wanted somebody to play Lego with (her pink girlfriends’ Barbie games bored her to tears), so she decided she would go and rescue her brothers. All seven of them.

As she knew her parents well, she didn’t bother telling them what she was up to (they would only have thrown their hands in the air and said “No! You can’t do that! You’re a girl!”). She packed her provisions, which consisted of a loaf of bread and a jug of water (possibly even the same one that had fallen in the well on that fateful day – I’m sure somebody fished it back out), and a little chair to sit on when she got tired (it always seemed tedious to me that she’d carry a chair around with her, but maybe it was one of those collapsible lawn chairs with a carry strap). She also took along a golden ring to remember her parents by.

So she set out, and she walked on, and on, and on, and on, and… (you get the picture). Finally, she reached the end of the world (which is right past the white parts on the map where it says “Here be dragons”), and what’s beyond the end of the world is, of course, the sun.

But the sun really isn’t very nice – quite apart from being a giant flaming ball of gas, it’s also fond of eating children. (Who knew, right?) So the girl grabbed her lawn chair and jug of water, the last drops of which had evaporated when she got close to the sun, and she skedaddled.


Next she got to the moon, but it was no better. It was freezing cold, and it was also fond of children – for breakfast. When it got a whiff of her, it started going “Fee fi fo furl, I smell a little human girl” (or something equally ogrish), and the girl beat it out of there as fast as she could.

But then she got to the stars, and they were actually quite nice. They each had their own chair to sit on (some of them saying “Director” on the back), and they all gave her their autographs, but the morning star, who was the nicest of the lot, gave her something much more useful: he handed her a chicken bone. “This bone,” he said, “is the key to the glass mountain, which is where you’ll find your brothers.”

The little girl, although she wondered what seven ravens were doing inside a glass mountain, thanked the morning star profusely, wrapped up the chicken bone, which was just the size of her pinkie finger, in her hankie (which she, like any well-brought-up child, carried in her pocket) and went on her way.

When she got to the glass mountain, she couldn’t see inside it, so she had no way of verifying if, in fact, her brothers were there, but then that glass mountain wasn’t really the sort of giant paperweight that I always pictured it to be, because it had a door. And that door was locked and had a chicken-bone-shaped keyhole.


So the girl pulled out her hankie, but when she unwrapped it, to her great shock, it was – empty. (The bone had probably dropped out of her pocket somewhere on the edge of Star Land among the crowds of fans pushing and shoving to get autographs from the stars.) So there she was, standing in front of a great glass mountain without a key.

However, as I mentioned, she was determined. She was also good at problem-solving (probably due to all the Lego-building she’d done; it trains the logic brain). You know where this is going, don’t you? That’s right. She pulled out her Swiss Army knife (another legacy of her brothers), and she chopped off her pinkie finger (I know – Ouch!). Being stoic, as well as smart and determined, she didn’t even blink, but took the gruesome relic, inserted it into the keyhole and unlocked the door (although I could never figure out why she had to chop the finger off first).

She walked into the glass mountain and met a dwarf with a great big tray full of food plates. He was by way of being the ravens’ gentlemen’s gentleman, and having been trained in the best butler schools, he politely ignored the fact that she was dripping blood on his freshly polished parquet floors, and asked, “How can I be of assistance, little miss?”

“I’m looking for my brothers, the ravens,” the girl said.

“Ah, yes. Their Lordships Raven will be back momentarily, if you would be so kind as to step this way.” He led the way into the dining room, where he unloaded his tray and set the table with plates and cups and silverware. (Then he probably got the girl a good-sized bandaid, although the Grimms don’t mention the fact. Well, they were linguists, so not the most practical-minded. But I’m sure the dwarf had it covered.)

The dwarf left to do whatever gentlemen’s gentlemen do while waiting for their masters, and the girl (who was acquainted with Snow White and knew how things are done), made the round of the table, taking a bite of food from each plate and a sip of drink from every cup. But when she got to the last place setting, she pulled her parents’ gold ring from her finger and dropped it into the cup.

All of a sudden there was a great rushing of feathers and whirring of wings. The girl quickly scuttled behind the door, hiding. In came seven large coal-black ravens, and they hopped on the table, each in front of one of the plates.

“Hey, dudes,” said the first raven, “somebody’s been at my grub.” (Okay, he probably worded it a bit more elegantly, but that’s the gist of it.)

“Yeah, mine too,” said the next one, “and it was a human!”

One after the other, the raven brothers agreed, until they got to the youngest one, who’d been so hungry he just gulped the food down in one go, and now stuck his yellow beak in the cup for a long drink.

“Whoa!” he cried, “Get a load of this, dudes!” In the end of his beak he held a ring, which he dropped on his plate. “That’s Mom and Dad’s ring,” he said. “Oh man, I wish our little sister were here – then this ‘being ravens’ gig would be over and done with!”

When the girl heard this, she didn’t bother waiting any longer. “Surprise!” she yelled and jumped out from behind the door.

And just like that – WHOOSH! – the ravens’ feathers dropped from them, and her brothers stood in front of her, fully human again. (The Grimms don’t mention whether they had clothes on or not – that’s always an interesting question in these animal-to-human transformations. But kind of beside the point here.)


So of course, everyone was extremely happy, and they packed up their gear (the oldest brother carrying the girl’s lawn chair) and went home to Mom and Dad, who were beside themselves with joy.

Dad never again lost his temper with his children, even when they left their Lego lying on the living room rug and he stepped on it in the middle of the night in bare feet, which proves beyond all doubt that he was a reformed character.

And that is a happy ending indeed.

There are a couple of other tales in Grimms’ that are quite similar and sometimes get mashed up with “The Seven Ravens” – Grimms #49, “The Six Swans“, and #9, “The Twelve Brothers” – they’re even more dramatic, with wicked mother-in-laws and a very narrow escape from being burned at the stake; definitely worth a read, too. But this one always was my favourite (even though my childhood version had no Lego in it).

Life, the Universe, and “The Seven Ravens”. Happy International Women’s Folklore Thursday!


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Enchanted Conversations: Give Peas a Chance


All about Peas: fairy tales, experimentation, and a recipe, by Yours Truly on Enchanted Conversations. I tested the weight bearing strength of a pea, found more pea stories than “The Princess on the…”, and, of course, did some cooking with them. Go check it out!



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#TellAFairyTaleDay: Snow White and Rose Red

Apparently today, February 26th, is Tell-a-Fairy-Tale-Day. Can’t pass up that opportunity, can I? So when I thought about what fairy tale to tell you, the first one that sprang to mind is one of my favourites, “Snow White and Rose Red”. I already told it once on my old blog, almost five years ago now, when I was studying the regular, dwarfy “Snow White” for a grad school paper, so I thought maybe it was time to find another favourite to tell. But when I looked up that particular telling, I found it quite amusing still, and as it’s not terribly well known in English-speaking countries, I might as well re-post it. So here it is, “Snow White and Rose Red”, with bonus snarky parenthetical comments. (If you want to read the proper Grimms’ version, #161 in the Children’s and Household Tales, you can find it here.)


Illustration by Alexander Zick (1845-1907). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Snow White and Rose Red

There once was a poor widow who lived in a little cottage in the woods. In the garden in front there were two rose trees, one white, one red. Inside the cottage, there were two little girls, one called Snow White, the other Rose Red. (Creative, eh? You gotta wonder if the kids were named after the trees, or the trees planted for the kids.) Those two little girls were the poor widow’s daughters, and they were so good and sweet, it’s downright nauseating. (The Grimms go on for more than a page about just how good these kids were. I’ll spare you the recital.)

So one bitterly cold winter’s night, they were snugly sitting by the fireside, mother reading out of a fat old book while the girls were spinning (yup, with a spinning wheel), when a heavy knock fell on the door. “Go open the door, girls,” says Mama, “it’ll be a poor woodsman needing shelter from the cold!” (Apparently they hadn’t heard of not letting strangers in the house.) So the girls opened the door, and outside stood – a big, black bear. Now, it seems they had heard that black bears are dangerous, so they let out a shriek and tried to slam the door, but the bear got his foot in the crack first (well, okay, that’s not what the Grimms say, but it’s the gist of it), and said, “Kind ladies, don’t be afraid! I only seek to warm myself by your fire.”

Now the mother figured that a talking bear must be less of an issue than the ordinary growly kind, so she let him in and talked the girls into coming out from behind the sofa, where they’d been hiding. He stretched himself out by the fire, got the kids to brush the snow out of his fur, and once they figured out that he was really quite tame (besides being able to talk), they made right pests of themselves, petting and poking and rolling all over him, using him as a sort of live hearth rug or oversized puppy dog. The bear put up with it quite good-humouredly; in fact, they had such a good time that the mother asked him to stay the night. When he left in the morning, he snagged his fur on the door latch, and Rose Red thought she saw a little bit of gold underneath – but she wasn’t quite sure, so she didn’t say anything.

Mama invited him back the following evening, and so all winter long, the bear spent his nights at the cottage, sleeping in front of the fire and being plagued by the little girls. Now, come spring, bear said, “I can no longer spend my nights in your charming company, for I must go and protect my treasure from the wicked dwarfs which come out of their caves now that it is warmer. Farewell, my friends!” (or something equally sonorous; he talked kind of posh) and took himself off into the woods.

So then one day the girls were out picking flowers or something, when they made a new acquaintance. By a log, they saw something hopping up and down, and when they got closer, they noticed it was a dwarf, with the end of his long beard caught in a slit in the log. He’d been trying to split the log for firewood, and got caught. He was an extremely rude and self-absorbed dwarf, yelling at the girls and calling them names, but nevertheless, they helped him out. Snow White had her sewing scissors in her pocket (being that sort of girl), and she cut the end off the dwarf’s beard and set him free. He swore at her for mutilating his beard, collected a bag of jewels he had stashed nearby, and scampered off.

This being a fairy tale, the same thing happened twice more: once they cut the dwarf’s beard free from a fishing line he was caught in (the fish was trying to pull him under), and the other time they pulled him out of the talons of an eagle who wanted to lunch on the crabby little fellow. Even when the dwarf yelled at them for tearing his clothes in the rescue attempt, they didn’t regret what they had done, which shows you just how sweet, good, and slightly dimwitted they were.

But the last time they met the dwarf, the outcome was just a little different. They were coming back from town, and there in a clearing was the dwarf. He’d spread a big bag of jewels all over the ground, and was gloating over his hoard, when he noticed the girls. He started screaming and yelling at them, but then suddenly, with a growl, a big black bear jumped out of the bushes. (You know where this is going, don’t you?) He attacked the dwarf, who started whimpering and whining, begging the bear to spare his life: “Here, eat those two little girls instead, they’ll be much tastier than me!” Of course, wicked ungratefulness of this kind must be punished, and the bear did the honours: one swipe of his paw, and the bad little dwarf was no more.

The girls were running for it – they weren’t sure if the bear wouldn’t take the dwarf’s advice and have them for dessert – when they heard the bear’s voice: “Snow White, Rose Red, do not be afraid! It is I, your friend!” They stopped to wait for him, but when the bear caught up with them his black bearskin fell off him, and there before them stood a most handsome young man, dressed from head to foot in cloth-of-gold. (Being good-looking doesn’t mean he had fashion sense.) “I am a king’s son,” he proclaimed (to the surprise of no one except Snow White and Rose Red), “and the evil dwarf had me under an enchantment, so I had to live as a bear until I was freed by his death.” (Which means that if the girls hadn’t been so polite to the rude dwarf and kept saving his life, the prince would have been freed from his enchantment much sooner. I guess the moral of that is that you really should let rude people get what’s coming to them.)

So Snow White married the prince, and Rose Red married his brother (which sounds like cradle-snatching to me, as the girls are described as quite young for most of the story), and with the dwarf’s treasure, which they divided between them, they all lived quite a cushy life. Mama came to live in the palace with them, of course, and she brought along the two rose trees, which continued to  bloom happily ever after, each summer, one white and one red.

Life, the Universe, Snow White and Rose Red. And if they haven’t died by now, they’re still alive today.

Happy Tell-a-Fairy-Tale-Day!



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Pennies Dropping – A Retelling


A Fairy Tale Flash Fiction piece of mine is now up on Enchanted Conversations: “Pennies Dropping, a retelling of the Grimms’ “The Star Talers”.

“Pennies Dropping” is double-featured with another Fairy Tale Flash, “Midnight” by Fanni Sütö. Two for the price of one – check it out!



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Conversing on Apples on Enchanted Conversations

Here is my first official article on Enchanted Conversations:


FAIRY TALE FOOD: Apples & RECIPE OF THE MONTH: Fairy Tale Apple Pie by A.M. Offenwanger

Food and Fairy Tales – I bet you had no idea that I’m into those.



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What Is A Fairy Tale?


Fairy Tale Castle, looking enchanted

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other word would smell as sweet…”

I’ve been thinking of the term “fairy tale” in the last little while – partially inspired by William’s and Kyomi’s recent articles on the topic. They have both made an attempt to define “fairy tale”, as well as the related terms “legend”, “myth”, “fable”, and even the overarching “folklore”. I’m not going to bother with the latter here—you can go to their articles and read up on it; they’ve done a fine job already.

But when it comes to “fairy tale”, I found myself disagreeing with them on a few points (just a few minor ones, mind you). And being a congenitally opinionated person, I couldn’t resist shoving in my oar.

To start with, why do we even have to bother defining the term? Everybody knows what “fairy tale” means. Don’t they? Prince William and Kate Middleton had a fairy tale wedding. Neuschwanstein in Upper Bavaria is a fairy tale castle. A hoarfrost creates a fairy tale landscape. And so on and so forth. We don’t have to sit down and define what we mean here—everybody knows it. Fairy tales are stories of happily ever after. Of princes and princesses. Of True Love (spelled with capitals). Of True Love’s First Kiss (more capitals). Of witches and wicked stepmothers. Right? All fairy tales have those elements.


Fairy Tale Princess, zonked out

Yeah, right—I can see you rolling your eyes all the way from over here. Anyone with even the slightest aspiration to being a fairy tale buff knows that those are clichés that have a lot more to do with a handful of Disney films than with fairy tales as a genre.

So then I went to the Internet and a number of dictionaries and took a look at what they have to offer by way of definitions. Here is a sampling:

-The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.):

1. a tale about fairies. 2. an incredible story; a fabrication


a : a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (such as fairies, wizards, and goblins) b : a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending


A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.


1. a story, usually for children, about elves, hobgoblins, dragons, fairies, or other magical creatures. 2. an incredible or misleading statement, account, or belief.

Hmm. All of that leaves me scratching my head. Because, while those definitions cover some aspects of fairy tales, it doesn’t fit all of them by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t even cover the colloquial use of it (see above, the Royal Wedding etc.). As for fairy tales being “for children”, we won’t even go there.

Wikipedia’s says a fairy tale is “a type of short story”—well, what about Andersen’s novella-length “Snow Queen”, or even more, Mme de Villeneuve’s original “Beauty and the Beast”, which is a full-sized novel? I don’t think anyone would deny them fairy tale status.

I must say I like Merriam-Webster’s option b) the best: “a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending.” But even there, it’s really just the first half of the sentence that works for me, because not every fairy tale ends happily. Cases in point: “The Little Mermaid” (no, in Andersen she does not marry the prince); “The Little Match Girl” (another Andersen—he’s depressing); Perrault’s original “Little Red Riding Hood” (she just gets eaten, The End); Mme D’Aulnoy’s “The Ram” (a “Beauty and the Beast” tale in which the beast just—dies). Again, we can’t claim they’re not fairy tales—Andersen’s name in particular is practically synonymous with the genre.

Another claim I’ve seen is that fairy tales are inevitably set in an unnamed place among unnamed people (they’re only generic princes or miller’s daughters or dwarfs). But how about “The Bremen Town Musicians” (Grimms Tale #27), or “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”? They take place in real cities in Germany that still exist today. As for unnamed heroes, what of Hansel and Gretel, Vasilisa, or Kai and Gerda from “The Snow Queen”?

The fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that the definition of “fairy tale” is as hard to nail down as the tales’ slippery trickster heroes. In the English language, we are furthermore hampered by the word “fairy” in the term, which leads the definition-seeker to false expectations, as demonstrated by all the dictionary entries above that call for magical creatures or fantastic beings. Again, by no means does every fairy tale have a fairy in it, be she godmother, evil, or otherwise. “The Little Match Girl”, for example, has no magical creature in it at all, only a sad child who in her dying moments has a vision of her grandmother.

But that leads me to another point. Andersen’s tales in particular do, in many cases, refute the points that have been claimed as defining the genre—yet I don’t think anyone would argue that they are not fairy tales. But they exemplify a particular type of fairy tale: the literary fairy tale. Literary fairy tales are original tales written by specific, known authors—Hans Christian Andersen, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, to name just a few. This is opposed to folk fairy tales, stories told over many years among “the common people” which were “collected” and written down by the likes of the Brothers Grimm. (There is a large overlap between the two types of fairy tales, with the Grimms, for example, editing and “literarizing” folktales, or, conversely, literary fairy tales becoming folk tales; but that’s a topic too big to deal with here.) Both kinds are fairy tales, but they’re often rather different from each other, with literary fairy tales frequently exploding the bounds of the common understanding of the term.

So back to our definitions: “a story in which improbable events…” Let’s end that sentence right there. Actually, along those lines, the best definition I’ve found so far is not an English one—it’s from the German Wikipedia:

Fairy tales (”Märchen”) are “prose texts that tell of wondrous events”.

That, as far as I’m concerned, nails it. Prose texts—not poetry, not ballads—that contain wondrous events. The essential element of a fairy tale is magic, something unusual, something wondrous. It can be kings, queens, castles, princesses, dwarfs, fairies, ogres, magic objects, spells, unicorns, princes, talking animals… but it has to be unusual, out of the ordinary.

Forest Path Cold Wintry Winter Forest Hoarfrost

Fairy Tale Landscape (a bit chilly)

And that, in turn, requires the setting to be, to a certain measure, ordinary. Fairy tales might take place “once upon a time” in “a kingdom far, far away”, but that long-ago time and that far-away kingdom are still part of our world. Fairy tales are not happening in Middle Earth or on the Planet Naboo (because from what we understand, in those places magical events are normal and ordinary, so stories about them aren’t fairy tales), but they can happen at the back of an old wardrobe or by having your house whirled away in a cyclone—ordinary to wondrous.

And of course they happen, over and over, to scullery maids and stable boys, and princes or princesses who have to work as scullery maids or stable boys and meet talking foxes and unicorns and witches in gingerbread houses. And sometimes magic kisses make for magic love stories (though far more often, it’s sheer hard work and determination that saves the day), and for the most part, everyone does live happily ever after, or at least until the end of their days—just like it can happen to us, every day.

Stories of magic in the midst of the ordinary—that, as far as I am concerned, is what the term “fairy tale” means, and what we mean when we refer to something as being “like a fairy tale”. Of course, all the other definitions have very valid points, too; “fairy tale” means many, if not all, of those things, just like an individual fairy tale can take many forms, depending on who tells it.

See, we do know what a fairy tale is—and the rose, by just this name, truly smells sweet.

Rose (3)

Fairy Tale – um, Flower? It did smell lovely, though.



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