Thursday, March 3, 2016

Folklore Thursday: What's missing from fairy tales?

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Today I have a question, instead of a story.
(I totally did not slack off on posting, nope)

I once had a guy come up to me after a storytelling gig and ask why the "rich guy" in folktales is always evil. Kind-hearted royalty, sure - but generous rich man? It made me do a double take.

I have heard stepmothers and adoptive mothers complain time and time again about how badly stepmothers fare in fairy tales. Is there such a thing as a kind stepmother in tradition?...

Recently my good friend (and fabulous storyteller colleague) Danielle Bellone did a guest post on this blog, talking about creating "new trad" fairy tales in the face of the lack of LGBT+ representation in traditional stories.

Last month's discussion over at the Fairy Tale Lobby revolved around whether there are any female-to-female friendships (not sisterhoods) in folk stories. We found precious few.

All of these (and more) experiences made me muse a lot recently about tradition - since I primarily work with traditional stories as a storyteller - and representation.

Here is the thing:

1. Yes, fairy tales are symbolic, and folktales are often simplified and streamlined, smoothed by centuries of telling.

2. Many tellers will claim that you are supposed to absorb these stories on an instinctive, spiritual level, and not take them literally - e.g. every princess is "beautiful" because it represents their inner beauty.

3. The fact that audiences do complain, however, does mean that something is up. You can't simply blame your listeners for not "absorbing" properly.

4. A lot of "missing" things are actually there - but few and far between, or only in certain cultural traditions (or in other genres, such as epics or legends). They exist, but they are not well known.

5. "Tradition" is an ongoing thing.

Okay okay, I'm getting to the question:

What is it that YOU would like to see (more of) in traditional storytelling? 
Is there something you think is missing? Or something that we would need more of? 
Something that you thought was weird when you listened to stories as a child?
Something that is not accurately represented?
Something that could do with more diversity?

I'm curious to hear from you!


  1. More heroic ladies (Disney's Brave and upcoming movie Moana is a step in the right direction)
    magic instruments (especially instruments outside of flute, harps, and the occasional fiddle)

  2. I stick to my topic: older brothers / sisters who are kind, clever and not to forget: love their siblings with full heart. (Especially the little one.) Come on, being the older one can't be a reason.

    Another topic in connection with this: as folktales are not hard-coded forever anywhere... I mean: this is why they are folktales... you know... changes by time and place... so my question is: how much can I change on a tale if I like the main flow, but, say, the "solution" given by the storyteller in the originally recording is no good resolution for me? (like hitting the wife to teach her the proper behaviour at the end of an otherwise brilliant tale. Or: can I just re-adjust a story if I hate speaking of evil older bros?)

    1. First one: Definitely :) Older (and middle) siblings need stories too. I recently found a Hungarian folktale where the middle brother was the hero :)

      Second one: I have an entire chapter on this in my upcoming book. In my opinion, this all depends on whether the story is from your own culture (or a culture you are intimately familiar with), what genre it is (fairy tale vs myth or epic), who your audience is, and a bunch of other things. But yes, stories do change and they always have, so the question is more about HOW you change them with respect.

  3. I once found a story where the eldest brother was the hero...