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FAIRY TALES & FANTASY: Sophie Masson talks about fairy tales as inspiration

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On the blog this week we are celebrating the Australian author Sophie Masson and her latest novel, Scarlet in the Snow, inspired by the Russian variant of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

Today Sophie talks about how fairy tales help inspire her fiction: 

Fairytales have always been a rich source of inspiration for me, and those of my fantasy novels for young people that are based on fairytale elements seem to have struck the strongest chord with readers.

What to me makes traditional fairytales particularly suitable as a basis for modern fantasy is that in themselves they mix both enchantment and pragmatism, the world of the everyday and a realm of pure magic. And it's all done in such a matter of fact yet also profound way. You can never get to the end of the meanings of fairytale; and the fairytales of a people reveal their essence, their soul, if you like, in a moving yet also funny and beautiful way. 

And it's not just the folk-based fairytales such as the Arabian Nights, Grimm's collections and Perrault's that are so inspirational. Original fairytales can also work this way: think of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame Leprince de Beaumont, who wrote Beauty and the Beast, a story which has inspired countless writers, including me with Scarlet in the Snow!

I loved fairytales as a child. 

They were both consolation and escape; helped me to disappear into enchanted realms when family melodramas made life difficult and painful; but also helped me to make sense of the world on my return. 

I love fairytales now, both as a writer, and as a reader. There's something about good fairytale-based novels—a lightness of touch, a freshness of spirit—that I think comes directly out of that sparkling spring, that bubbling source of fairytale. 

Fairytale is less grand than myth, and less 'serious' than legend, but it is more romantic than both. More human. And yet more magical. More geared towards not the great ones of this world, but the little people. Going from light to dark and all shades in between, managing all emotions from love to hatred, joy to sorrow, dread to excitement, fairytale is humble yet powerful, full of meaning yet full of adventure. 

And in my opinion it is evergreen and inexhaustible in its potential to enrich the work of writers at all times in the history of literature. If you actually looked at the writers through the ages who have been influenced by fairytale, you might be surprised! 

They range from giants of literature like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Dickens to popular geniuses like JRR Tolkien and Agatha Christie, from the Arthurian writers of the Middle Ages to the classical children's writers such as Nicholas Stuart Gray and CS Lewis, on to modern magicians such as Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Kate Forsyth, Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley, Margo Lanagan, and many more.

Mind you, it is very important when using fairytale as a basis for your own work to understand what those writers understood: go to the core of the story you're using as a base. Don't do violence to the story's spirit; but don't be afraid of taking risks, either. The originality of what you do won't lie in turning the story upside down—anyone can do that—but in refreshing it, in making your readers see it and understand it with new eyes, in uncovering yet another magical flash of colour in the opal beauty of fairytale.

Ashleigh commented on 12-Jun-2013 10:52 AM
I loved your article, Sophie. Fairy tales are so amazing and i have always loved them. I am very tempted to go out and buy your book now, it sounds lovely.
Reilly McCarron commented on 12-Jun-2013 11:53 AM
What a beautifully written and inspiring article. Thank you Sophie for your gentle guidance on drawing insight and fresh wisdom from the wellspring of fairy tale. And thanks Kate for the lovely interview.

I'm looking forward to reading Scarlet in the Snow.
ilsa dingwall commented on 18-Jun-2013 10:05 AM
You are such an inspirational author. Lovely article.

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