To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being named Most Memorable Love Story of 2013
by Australian readers, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!
This interview was originally published by SUNDAY LIFE Magazine in April 2013
SL: Explain your fascination with fairy tales
Kate: I first began to read fairy tales as a little girl in hospital, after suffering a savage dog attack when I was little more than a baby. As a result of my injuries, I was in and out of hospital for most of my childhood. Everyone who visited me knew that they had to bring me books - they were my only shield against fear and pain and loneliness. My mother gave me a beautiful, red-leather edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales when I was about seven. I read that book to absolute rags. The stories in it both bewitched and troubled me. They were so full of beauty and mystery and danger. I felt as if they spoke to me on some deep and secret level, like something heard in a dream and only half-remembered after waking. I loved the whole atmosphere of the fairy tale world – this was a place where anything could happen, a place where girls could defeat witches and frogs could turn into princes and bones could sing to accuse their murderers. I’ve been trying to recreate that sense of wonder and strangeness in my own writing ever since.
Me when I was about 7
SL: Where does this book take us?
Kate: ‘The Wild Girl’ tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous stories. Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm family in Hessen-Cassel, a small German kingdom that was one of the first to fall to Napoleon. It was a time of war and tyranny and terror, when the collecting of a few old half-forgotten tales was all the young Grimm brothers could do to resist the cultural dominance of the French. Dortchen told Wilhelm such well-known tales as ‘Hansel & Gretel’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, ‘The Singing Bone’, and many, many more. They fell in love but were forbidden to marry, and had many obstacles to overcome before they could at last be together. It’s a very beautiful, dark and dramatic story, a true-life fairy-tale.
SL: Why are we still so fascinated by fairy tales? Why do they continue to resonate with us?
Kate: I think it's because fairy tales operate on more than one level. On the surface, they are magical adventures filled with wonder, enchantment, beauty, romance, danger, and the consolation of a happy ending. On a deeper level, however, they are serious dramas that reflect, symbolically and metaphorically, problems and pitfalls that are can be very real in people’s inner lives. They offer a stage where the reader can act out universal fears and desires, and so resolve deep, subconscious tensions that they are, perhaps, not even aware of.
SL: What is your understanding of how they have evolved over 200 years?
Kate: Once upon a time, our ancestors used to crouch about the fire in their cave, telling tales of heroes and monsters and quests and enchantments in an attempt to keep the terror of the night at bay. The tales they told taught the young about the dangers of the perilous world in which they lived, and gave them some clues as to how to survive it.
As language evolved, and symbols were created to express meaning, these tales began to be written down. People took the tales they had heard and retold them, transforming them into new tales. Then those tales were read – both silently and aloud – and told and retold again, constantly changing, constantly finding new forms. The printing press was invented, and the old stories were remade and retold again and again, like a shapeshifter constantly shedding its skin. Sometimes they were told for the entertainment of adults, sometimes for the enthrallment of children, sometimes to teach, sometimes to warn, sometimes to amuse. New technologies brought new ways to tell the tales – yet the vital metaphors and motifs still endure and shall as long as humans tell stories.
SL: Do you have any favourite retellings?
Kate: I love fairy tale retellings! I have a whole shelf of them in my library. It’s hard to pick only one so I’ll list my favourite seven:
The Glass Slipper
by Eleanor Farjeon (published 1955)
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
by C.S. Lewis (published 1956)
The Stone Cage
by Nicholas Stuart Gray (published 1963)
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
by Robin McKinley (published 1978)
Daughter of the Forest
by Juliet Marillier (published 1999)
by Edith Pattou (published 2003)
by Kate Forsyth (published 2012)
(Yes, I included my own novel – a retelling of Rapunzel - but then I do love it with all my heart.)
SL: Will fairy tales endure? And why?
Oh yes, fairy tales shall endure – happily ever after. They’ll endure because they seem simple and fanciful, but are in fact very deep and very old and very true.
SL: Do new fairy tales emerge, or are they all derived from the same originals?
Kate: Jane Yolen says that stories are like cities; they are built on the stones and bones of the past. I think this is absolutely right. We can never escape our narrative past. It is encoded into our brains and our imaginations. We can all, however, create new stories, all of them as different from the old as a butterfly is from a caterpillar.
SL: Which is your favourite of all of them?
Kate: My all-time favourite fairy tales are ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, and ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
SL: What role do fairy tales play in our modern day society?
Kate: Fairy tales play the same role they have always played – they entertain and educate, while also disrupting the known world to make space for marvellous alternatives. Fairy tales teach us that anything may be possible if we just try hard enough, and encourage us to have courage and compassion and to trust in our own cleverness. What more beautiful and necessary life lesson can we learn?
SL: Why do we all still want to be in a fairy tale – swept up by a prince etc?
Kate: Fairy tales are stories of true love, triumph and transformation. They arise out of the deepest longings of the human heart, and offer us some hope that these dreams may one day come true. We need dreams, we need to imagine what kind of world we want, we need to have hope that goodness and love can triumph over evil and hatred. Fairy tales both console us and compel us; they give us a star-map for the future.
Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!