Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Yat-Yee posted a quote found originally by Nandini, which is the dedication in Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.
Z emble, Zenda, Xanadu:
A ll our dream-worlds may come true.
F airy lands are fearsome too.
A s I wander far from view
R ead, and bring me home to you.
The full story of this unique dedication can be found here, but the thing that really struck me was that third line: "Fairy lands are fearsome too."

That one line, I think, is the key to modern fairy tales. It's the key to the really old ones, too--the ones that were used to frighten children into submission with squirrel shoes and missing eyes.

My point is: good fairy tales scare us. There's no point to the fluffy-bunny-happy-ending. By nature, fairy tales involve a certain level of magic--and that magic generally provides a certain level of comfort. Everything will be OK because magic can save us.

But the really good fairy tales balance that out with danger.

This is true of all speculative fiction--and all fiction in general, if it's good. The good, the safe, the comforting must be counter-balanced by the fearful, the dangerous, and the spiteful. JK Rowling expressed this several times throughout the Harry Potter series--
Stephen Fry:
People often say in the real world: "I haven't got a magic wand to cure all the worlds ills," but what you show is that people with a magic wand still can't cure all the ills.
JK Rowling:
No, that's because it's about human nature and all the people with less pure motives have magic wands too, so you spend a lot of time trying to legislate for them.

So, whatever you're writing, remember: fairy lands are fearsome too. Raise the stakes, make the safe dangerous, and make the reader fear.
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