Sunday, 26 August 2012

Once Upon A Time we Thought, What is our Favourite Fairy Tale?

Once Upon A Time we Thought, What is our Favourite Fairy Tale?

Recently over on the SCWBI (Society of Children’s book Writersand Illustrators) British Isles Facebook page, there was a discussion on what Fairy Tales are. The discussion was interesting and varied displaying one astonishing thing, that what a fairy tale is subjective, and that different people have very different perceptions on what a fairy tale is. This has prompted three SCBWI members to think at little more about how we see fairy tale and what they mean to us.  

We have made a series of blog posts discussing fairy tales, the first of which  Once upon a time, we wondered, what is a fairy tale?  can be found over on Emma Graham's Blog; press here

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Emma Graham

Lewis Carroll describes Alice in Wonderland as a fairytale, but this is hardly a short story.

This has to be one of my own favourites. A talking Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, magic potions and food and mystical lands. Carroll takes everyday creatures and objects and animates them in a lively and crazy manner to weave this fantastic tale.
I guess my love for this tale was nurtured by my mother, who just after I was born painted a large picture of Alice’s world for my bedroom wall. I was always intrigued by what was down the dark rabbit hole and I still am.

Alice and Caterpillar By Emma Graham

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Donna Vann writing as D.V. Hawkes

As a child, I devoured folk tales and fairy tales, particularly those by Hans Andersen. While escaping from the real world I also learned so much that formed my character and that I still draw on today. For example, it was clear that a scruffy, unimportant person might be a powerful mentor or a prince in disguise. I learned that courage and kindness were much more valuable than wealth or celebrity.

My favourite books growing up were by George Macdonald – he was a contemporary of Dickens but is pretty much unknown today. In ‘The Princess and Curdie’ a miner’s son is given the ability to understand a person’s character by taking their hand, which inspired something the novel I’m working on at the moment. Macdonald’s books are dotted with preachy asides, but that didn’t trouble me at all back then.

My favourite modern-day fairy tale is Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’. An ordinary hotel, where a boy and his grandma are staying, becomes extraordinary when it transpires that the hotel is hosting a major convention of European witches, recognised by their blue spit, lack of toes and disgust at the smell of children.

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Sally Poyton 

The Three Snake Leaves by Grimm

I don’t know exactly why I love this tale, but I think it’s got the balance just right, it’s about love and survival, plus it has the perfect balance of dark and magic. It not one of the tales you’ll find in a children’s anthology so if you want to read it then my favourite version can be found in Grimm’s Grimmest (1997 - Maria Tatar - Chronicle Books)

It’s a story about a poor man who agrees to marry a princess despite having to agree that in the event that he should outlive her he will accompany her to the grave. They live happily together, and when the princess dies her husband keeps his word and is incarcerated in the crypt with her. Here, in the crypt, three snakes appear. The man so overcome by hunger kills one of the snakes. To his astonishment, he watches the remaining snakes use three golden leaves to bring the dead snake back to life. Seeing this magic, the man uses the leaves to bring the princess back from the dead. The couple make such a racket on the door that the king comes and is overjoyed to find them alive. However the Princess has changed, and no longer loves her husband, so has him killed. Fortunately the husband has entrusted the leaves to a loyal servant who uses them to bring him man back to life. Alive once more the husband uses his wit to his construct his wife’s demise.

Ayame and gold leaves 

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment to tell us what your favourite fairy tale is...


  1. Great post, Sally, I've been doing a lot of fairy tale reading over the last couple of years on Charles Perrault and more recently The Brothers Grimm. This has got me thinking about which is my favourite and I'm kind of torn between the Grimm's Hansel & Gretel or Perrault's Blue Beard, off the top of my head. It's also amazing how many variations on some of these tales there are - i.e Tom Thumb, Little Red-Cap/Riding Hood etcetera. Never heard of The Three Snake Leaves before, so thanks for introducing me to that, cheers, really enjoyed this - a nice surprise in my extended coffee break :)

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for taking a look and commenting. Yes I love both those tales but especially Hansel and Gretel. I love that their are so many versions of the same fairy tales, like the Chinese version of Red Riding hood where Goldenflower has to beat not the wolf the BEAR. Much pleased to have shared the The Three Snake Leaves as it is a fabulous and lesser known tale!