National Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale day. If you aren’t prepared to tell a story, then read a fairy tale to anyone who will listen—your kids, your mom, your dog. Or just curl up with a copy of Hans Andersen or the Brothers Grimm and get lost in the magic. There’s no better way to keep the frigid weather at bay.
If you want something more adult, check out my apocalyptic version of “Hansel and Gretel,” published in July, 2018, in Feast Journal. My story is called, “Hansel and Greta.”

If you want something to listen to, check out this 2014 recording from the TALES Festival, Daughters of Destiny. I was telling stories in the beautiful St Michael’s Church in Ft. Edmonton Park. Enjoy!

New Fiction, An Apocalyptic Fairy Tale

A couple of years ago, I was rereading some Grimms’ fairy tales, and I wondered what these stories would be like if they were set at a time when society had collapsed. IN other words, what if I took these stories and put them in an apocalyptic context. Then, I wrote “Hansel and Greta.”
I’ve written this sort of thing before. In the early days of this blog, I wrote a collection of fractured fairy tales that offered new ways to look at older tales, such as “Red Riding Hood, Again Revisited” and “Mr. Wolf and The Seven Kids, An Urban Fairy Tale.” That collection is called Fractured and Other Fairy Tales. These stories are aimed more at kids, and I had my own daughters in mind when I wrote them.
In retelling Grimms’ stories as apocalyptic fairy tales, I have a different audience in mind. These are not stories for children; they are bleak and often violent, and, well, grim in the strictest sense of the word. Having said that, I’ve tried to maintain the spirit of the original tales, in as much as I’m able.
“Hansel and Greta” is the first of these stories to find a home. I must have sent it to a dozen journals before Laura Mansfield and Feast picked it up. Feast is an eclectic online journal about food based in Manchester, UK, and the latest issue is called Consuming Children. Thank you to Laura and the people at Feast for publishing the story. I’m especially grateful that Laura saw the piece as something she could include. Enjoy the story, check out the rest of the journal, and, as always, post any comments.

World Read Aloud Day, 2018

A couple of years ago, I was stopped outside MacEwan by a young woman.
“Are you Mr. Thompson?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, thinking she must be a student.
“I was in your daughter’s class in elementary. You used to come in and tell us stories.”
I was touched that this young woman remembered those stories and thought to say hello, especially since elementary for my kids was more than a decade in the past.
My kids have always had an experience of books. Their mom started reading to them before they could talk. For my part, I tried ordering print-braille books so I could read to them as well, but books took ages to arrive by mail, which meant the whole thing was more frustrating than anything else.
I was lucky enough to have taken a children’s literature course with Jon Stott during my undergrad, so out of desperation, I pulled out my old textbook to see if I could find a story to tell my two-year-old. The first story I ever told her was “Kate Crackernuts.” She heard that story every night for three months, and I doubt she heard the ending until much later. But telling stories became part of the ritual at bedtime, which lasted for years.
Later on, when my kids started school, I went into their class and told stories—stories I found in books or on the Internet. The teacher had the idea to turn all those stories into a project. The kids drew pictures of their favourite stories, and my mom and another parent transferred those pictures onto fabric. The whole thing became the Storytelling Quilt.
Reading aloud to children is a powerful thing. Research suggests reading aloud helps both general literacy and reading acquisition. But consider –reading to your own kids means spending time with them, and spending such time goes a long way to actively showing your kids how much you care.
February 1 is World Read Aloud Day, sponsored by Scholastic. If you can, take the time to read aloud to a child in your life. And if you can’t manage it for February 1, remember that every day of the year offers such an opportunity.

Happy World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day! Take time to read a book, or share a book with someone important to you.
In honour of World Book Day, I’m re-posting a story that first appeared on my blog in June, 2014: The Dream of the Tree. You can also find it and other stories in Fractured and Other Fairy Tales on Amazon. Enjoy, and happy reading!

Once there was a man who had a dream that ruined his life. In the dream, he was walking across a vast country. He was not just walking—he was striding. He was striding with seven-league steps so that the ground beneath him and about him blurred and shimmered. He passed through forests, over great plains of grass, and through the gaps between mountains. He strode on until he saw a mountain rising up before him. It was a mountain as he had never seen a mountain before. It went up and up, climbing higher and higher until it was lost in the sky.
He paused at the foot of the mountain and looked up. There was only one thing to do. He began to climb.
He went up and up, stepping over streams, across wide meadows, and over stands of trees. He went on until he came to the end of the trees, where there was only rock. He kept climbing.
This mountain, he thought, was surely the highest mountain in the world. He climbed and climbed.
Finally, after what seemed a year and a day, the man arrived at the top of the mountain. Across a great plain, the man could see a tree. It was surely the tallest tree he had ever imagined. It went up and up until, impossibly far overhead, the tree spread its branches.
The man walked across the plain toward the foot of the immense tree. As he did, his seven-league strides kicked up swirls of leaves. There were countless numbers of them, and as he caught one of the leaves, he realized that each leaf held a story, or a fragment of a story.
He caught leaf after leaf. He read snatches of stories about people who lived and died and who fought tremendous battles. He read stories of boys and girls, stories of men and women who wandered far, searching for love, for revenge, and for treasure. He read snatches of stories about patience and greed and the longing that goes with lost love, friendship, and family.
The man looked up to the great tree. “This must be the tree where all stories come from,” he said aloud to himself.
He hurried forward to the trunk of the massive tree that rose up like a wall before him. Reaching out a hand, he touched the trunk of the great tree. For one, indefinable moment, he had a glimpse of the ongoing story of the world, from its beginning in the depths of space and time to its conclusion at the end of all things…
And then he woke. The cry that escaped his lips in that moment was a cry of grief and loss. The man had glimpsed for one instant the story of the world, and as he sobbed aloud in the gray morning, the dream began to fade.
Later that day, the man sold his house and everything he owned. He took the money from the sale of all of his belongings, and he wrapped it in a handkerchief with a loaf of bread. He left the home where he had lived all of his life and took to the road. He told himself that he was going to find that tree, even if he had to search to the ends of the earth, for he wanted just one more glimpse into that story.
And so he did. He wandered far and met many people, and to whomever would listen, he would tell what he could remember of that story and the fragments he read on the leaves. Many people thought him mad, and others just thought him a storyteller. Some were glad of his stories, but many were not, for in everyone he met, he planted a seed of that longing for the story he glimpsed when he touched the tree in his dream.

Revisiting Beuty and the Beast

With all the fervor around Disney’s latest live action classic, Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, it seems fitting to revisit my experience of this story. And yes, before it was a Disney animated “classic” in 1991, it was a story by Madam Prince de Beaumont, first published in English in 1783.
Years ago, I went to Beauty and the Beast, The Musical, with my kid’s. We were sitting close to the front, and Belle entered from stage-right. As the actor started singing, I had a horrifying moment as I thought they had dubbed the voice of the Disney Belle in for the actor’s voice. Just as quickly, I realized it was actually the actor. That stopped me muttering to my daughter, for there was Belle, come to life on a stage in Edmonton. She was amazing. None of us has ever forgotten that performance of Beauty and the Beast.
I’ve watched the film many times over the years. I’ve taught the story in conjunction with the film in my folktale classes, and I’ve often thought it the best animated feature Disney has ever produced. I may be a fan, but I’m also a teacher. I remind my students what happens in this story and this film—details easy to forget if you approach either just as an enthusiast.
Remember, the prince in this story is under a curse. In de Beaumont’s story, it’s a wicked fairy who curses the prince, but in the Disney film, the prince mistreats an old woman who comes to the castle in a storm. In the language of folktales, which Disney understands, being nasty to strangers is always bad news.
The Prince, now the Beast, imprisons another stranger, this time the merchant, for plucking a rose. He makes a deal with the merchant—the merchant’s life for one of his daughters. The merchant isn’t stupid enough to agree to such a thing, but he wants to say farewell to his children before he is killed by the Beast. But Beauty, Belle in the Disney film, comes to the rescue. She willingly agrees to become a prisoner so the Beast will spare her father’s life.
Disney, even more than de Beaumont, turns this story into one of burgeoning love, but it’s hard to get around the fact that Beauty, or Belle, is the prisoner of a selfish, cruel, and monstrous beast. Is the story, not to mention the film, simply romanticizing the abuse and incarceration of women?
Because I have daughters, and because I can’t help, in part, reading the story through a modern lens, I wonder how the story would go if Beauty wasn’t so willing to sacrifice herself. How’s this?
***
Beauty, or Belle, now aware of her father’s predicament, decides to act. She goes into her father’s study, where she takes his hunting rifle from where it hangs on the wall. She dresses for travel, saddles her horse, and rides away to the Beast’s castle, the rifle under her arm. When the Beast appears at the castle gates to take possession of Beauty in exchange for her father’s life, Beauty shoots him. End of story.
***
This would never work—I realize that. For one, such a fractured retelling overlooks the gradual transformation of the Beast’s character, but even more it misunderstands the fundamental nature of the story. “Beauty and the Beast” is a fairy tale, and it has many antecedents. The story, “Cupid and Psyche” is probably the oldest form of this tale, while Asbjornsen and Moe tell a similar story in “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”
These are stories of transformation, of monstrous male power that needs taming. It’s up to a young woman to take control and humanize the beast/lover. Humanizing the male monster through love, compassion, and suffering is the way for the fairy tale to resolve imbalances and return the world to a state of equilibrium. But even in the world of folktales, it’s not always possible to humanize the male monster. And everyone who goes to see Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast should bear this in mind. Just ask the young woman who married that Blue Beard fella.