The chapter from One Year to a Writing Life that I worked on during the month of July was entitled Tales: Folk, Fairy and Contemporary. It was a fun chapter to read which talked about the form and function of the tale and how it’s only fairly recently become something meant “for children”. It also features a contemporary tale by Lynne Barrett called Little Red Returns (each chapter in the book features a few examples of the discussed type of text), which I really enjoyed.
The first two exercises in the book instructed me to write a short journal-like entry about two tales presented in the book, jotting down the thoughts they brought forth. Here they are, one after the other.
The Three Feathers is a very classic fairy tale, I think I’ve even read it before. I can’t help but like it for classic nature but I wonder… what’s it really saying? The “underdog” wins but should he? His brothers went out into the world and made an effort to win the contest, while he had magical help. Does that make him the worthiest king? If not, the what? There is some indication he was mistreated, is that it? Is it that he had bad luck, and then good luck, with how the feather fell? All interesting questions.
I don’t believe I’d read or heard The Six Statues before, what a sweet tale! I can just imagine the gods-in-statue-form standing out in the cold, how touched they must’ve been by the old man’s gesture, how they decided to reward him for his kindness. Nice also that the story is about an old man, not a young boy or girl.
Not terribly interesting, I know. The rest of the exercises focused on writing a fairytale. 3-5 covered the beginning, middle and end. Exercise 6 instructed to include one threefold repetition of some event (which I’d done already from the start), 7 to work on one’s opening phrase and 8 to give the fairytale a title. Since little changed for me between exercise 5 and 8, I will just post the finished product here.
The Princess and the Statue
Once, in the oldest of time, there was a powerful king who ruled a rich, vast land with equal parts justice and strength. The king had a daughter, the princess Layarna, whose mother died when the girl was only a baby. Since the king had no other children, and since he wouldn’t take another wife, the princess was the apple of his eye and he doted on her. He gave her anything she wanted, until one day when the princess asked something he couldn’t give.
“Father.” She said. “I am almost a woman now and someday I will be Queen and rule this land. A true, just ruler knows her land and her peoples. Let me travel out into the kingdom to see for myself what I am meant to rule.”
The king was very upset by this question. The princess Layarna was his only child, and he couldn’t bare the thought of some danger befalling her while she traveled. Instead of forbidding her outright, he decided to make up some excuse, hoping she would soon forget the whole idea.
“Dear daughter,” He said. “I would gladly let you travel, but you haven’t the necessary equipment and clothes for it. These fine dresses of yours do well in the castle but would wear and stain and rip out on the road. I cannot permit you to go.”
Saddened, the princess fled to the castle gardens and took refuge at the foot of one of the many beautiful statues there. This one depicted a fierce warrior woman, and the princess had sought it’s counsel and company many times before.
“Sweet statue…” The princess sighed. “I’m so distraught. Father will not let me travel the lands without travel gear, and I don’t know how to make it myself.”
The princess wept, and her tears fell on the feet of the statue. Once evening fell, she left the garden to return to her room, where she fell asleep. In the morning, she woke up to find several sets of traveling clothes, beautiful but durable, as well as bags and pouches for packing in her room and anything else one might need on a trip. Delighted, she put one of the dresses on and ran down to her father’s room.
“Father! Now I have traveling clothes and everything else I could need. Will you let me travel the lands and learn about my people?” She asked.
The king still didn’t want his child to leave the safety of the castle, so he shook his head. “Dear daughter, although that is a fine dress I cannot let you travel. You do not have a horse fit for such an expedition.”
Once again, the princess returned to the garden and wept at the feet of the statue.
“Sweet statue…” She sighed. “I’m so distraught. Father will not let me travel the lands without a horse, and I don’t have the money to buy one.”
She stayed in the garden until evening fell, and then she left the garden to return to her room, where she fell asleep. In the morning, she woke up to the soft of neighing outside her window. She looked out and spotted a horse, the finest and fittest one she’d ever seen, with a shining black mane. A fine saddle sat on it’s back.
Delighted, the princess ran down to her father’s room.
“Father! Now I have a horse, as fine as can be. You can see it yourself in the courtyard. Will you let me travel the lands and learn about my people?” She asked.
The king followed her into the courtyard and was very surprised at the sight of the horse, but he still didn’t want his child to leave the safety of the castle. Once again, he shook his head. “Dear daughter, although that is a fine horse I cannot let you travel. There may be people who wish you harm, and I do not have guards to spare to send a guardian with you.”
Once again, the princess returned to the garden and sat by the warrior statue.
“Sweet statue…” She sighed. “I’m so distraught. Father will not let me travel the lands without a guard to protect me, and I have no-one to take with me.”
The princess wept and when her tears fell on the feet of the statue it shook and came to life. It’s stone surface turned into living flesh, the armor and weapons to metal, and it bowed to the princess. “Sweet princess…” The statue said. “I will be your guardian, and protect you from anyone who wishes you harm.”
And so the princess and the statue went before the king to ask once more if he would let his daughter travel. The king was so impressed with the formidable warrior before him, that he finally relented and soon the two rode off into the lands. The princess saw many things on her travels, and when it was her turn to rule her knowledge of the land and fondness of its people made her the greatest regent the land had ever seen.
It might need a bit of work, but overall I’m happy with it. The princess in the story is actually my oldest “living” main character who I some time ago transformed from a MC proper to a mythical and historical figure in the fictional world she belongs to. It was a lot of fun to get to write her again, in this new role of hers. The opening line was inspired by the classic Arabic version of “once upon a time”: “kan ya ma kan fi qadim al-zaman…” (roughly translated: “there was, oh there was, in the oldest time”). I’ve always liked that one so I made my own version for the fairytale (and any others I want to write for that fictional world).
Next chapter is entitled Poetic Prose and The Prose Poem. That’s gonna be fun!