Magic, Mystery and Victorian Passions

I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale, me. It started young, with the likes of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a touch of Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin and all that crowd. Couldn’t stop myself: I was hooked, needed a fix.

Years later, coming to Scotland, I discovered the folk tales of kelpies, and selkies, of Tam Lin and the great tales of the Travellers such as Duncan Williamson. And a trip to Ireland many years ago brought me into contact with a great mass of stories hundreds of years old. Great tales – find the Sons of Tureen and marvel.

Screenshot 2015-08-25 09.28.33So at the Edinburgh International Book Festival it was a pleasure for me to hear about a new collection of Victorian Fairy Tales, direct from the editor himself. Michael Newton has brought out Victorian Fairy Tales, an anthology of the classic tales plus a few lesser known ones.

In his conversation with Stuart Kelly and a frighteningly knowledgable audience Michael (“I’m a fan of melancholy”) Newton points out the grittiness in these stories, but also emphasises how fairy tales were where children grew up in their stories. And fairy tales take us to other places, places of resistance to modern life. Newton quotes Tolkien, saying they open up a place of wonder. He argues also that the Victorians were more literate than we are today: now there’s a point of discussion.

Newton mentioned the spate of recent films based on fairy tales such as The Huntsman and Snow White and the Huntsman, but pointing out that Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella was a straight telling of the story.

But it was Kelly’s question that caught my attention: who writes the sincere fairy tales now?

As an editor of a science fiction magazine, I’m aware of the danger that I could be accused of wielding a hammer while looking for nails everywhere, but it isn’t a big leap to think that this is exactly what a lot of short SF stories are: sincere fairy tales. Just looking at one issue of a recent magazine, say, Shoreline of Infinity, for example: we have a story of lighthouses sharing tales over a few pints; a morality tale involving a time machine; a story about looking at the world through another’s eyes and … well I don’t want to spoil you if you are yet to read a copy.

And looking back at my favourite short SF story writer, Ray Bradbury, many of his stories could fit the bill. His short The Pedestrian springs to mind, for example, a foretelling of the horrors of a TV fixated world.

Interestingly, the author that sprang instantly to mind in answer to Kelly’s question was Angela Carter. Neil Gaiman quickly followed. My case rests, m’lud.