Everything I Know About Writing I Learned From Reading Fairy Tales

All right fine, that’s not exactly true. But it’s a little bit true.

When I was a kid, my dad had a book of fairy tales. It was a huge thing – phonebook sized. We struggled to haul it to my parents’ bed for bedtime stories. The cover had long since been worn away to nothing, so my dad re-bound it, using a checkerboard cut to size. We called it The Checker Book, and my dad read to us out of it night after night.

Later, I couldn’t get enough fairy tales – Grimm, d’Aulnoy, Perrault, Lang, Anderson, collections from Russia, Vietnam, Persia, Scotland and Norway. I gathered stories in my arms. Sucked them dry.

Later, because I was SUPER GROWN UP, I turned to more sober fare. I learned to parse language, analyze, make connections, dissect. But there was something about fairy tales. Something that wouldn’t let me go.

I return to fairy tales – in my thinking, in my dreaming, in how I organize the world, in how I operate with others, and in my writing. Take this for example:

(the actual fairy tale starts in the middle of the second minute)

The servant shall be king. Good prevails. The world is both dark and light – the light needs the dark, just as the dark needs the light. There are rules – and we break them at our peril. There are rules – and we follow them at our peril. True love exists – it is instant, revolutionary and life-changing. Those who think they deserve success achieve none. Those who presume nothing achieve all. The princess shall be rescued. Greed is punished tenfold. Kindness is rewarded beyond all imagining. Our perceived weakness hides the key to our triumph. The mighty bear the weight of their own destruction – and they can’t even see it.

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