Monday, June 30, 2008

Inspiration: Mythology and Fairy Tales, part 4

Hold onto your hats, I'm about to whip out one of the lessons I teach in class (hope y'all are more awake than some of my students!).

The "Cupid and Psyche" story is one that we can track throughout history fairly easily. For example, we know that the first written record of the story was written by Apuleius just a bit after Christ's birth. But the story shifted and changed. It reached many part of the vast Roman Empire, and it extended beyond the Roman Empire as merchants crossed borders. There's a German version, recorded by, guess who, the Grimm Brothers. In fact, there's a version of the "beauty and the beast" story in nearly every European country...so many, that fairy tale researchers have cataloged and classified the different stories here.

It's easy to track this story. Started in Rome as a myth, got passed down as a folk or fairy tale in the new countries that became part of the Roman Empire, expanded over the decades and centuries beyond the Roman Empire's borders. The story shifted and changed when it changed place and time periods: in Rome, there's a wicked mother-in-law (Venus), but later the story has wicked sisters. There is a king when the story's a myth; later the father becomes a merchant (probably because it was merchants sharing the story).

It even makes it's way across the pond: Whitebear Whittington was one of my favorite stories as a barefoot Appalachain child.

So what's my point? Don't be afraid to take a myth or fairy tale and develop your own unique story based on it. People do this naturally when telling stories--stories change over time, they develop, they update characters and scenery and situations. If you've got a fairy tale "type" that you love--Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty--research it. Look for the common themes. Try to change the purpose or the characters or the plot to make it a story that fits your audience.

Because that's what people have been doing for centuries.

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