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How to Make a Fairy Tale—Jennifer Ritenour, Guest Blogger

Today we share a post by a student in our Fall 2021 Introduction to the Fairy Tale course.

My name is Jennifer Lorene Ritenour, and I’m a freelance writer and tutor. I have a BA from USC in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of California Riverside. Fairy Tales were read to me throughout my childhood and that is probably why I write them today. I view Fairy Tales as an effective method for healing trauma and grief. I have a love/hate relationship with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” but more recently, Giambattista Basile’s “The Young Slave” has become my favorite. My creative writing can be found here:

“Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. ‘This is how I make potato soup.’”

—Angela Carter

Kate Bernheimer’s essay “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale” breaks down the fairy tale structure into four ingredients: character flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic. In summary, there is typically one emotion expressed through the main character, details are limited, we don’t always know why something happens, and no one is surprised when they meet a talking frog. The ingredients Bernheimer lists are the basic seasonings found in every fairy tale. Much like how you will see cardamon in Norwegian baking, oregano in Italian dishes, and cilantro in Mexican food.

Fairy Tale Seasoning Mix

1/4 Flatness

1/4 Abstraction

1/4 Intuitive Logic

1/4 Normalized Magic

Perform the necessary action of the seasoned tale three times.

Cinderella is one of the oldest fairy tales whose origins cannot be pinpointed by a single writer. Therefore, Cinderella is a true “meatball.” Think about the authentic Italian meatball made with veal and pork, parsley, a carrot, celery, and onion paste, pecorino cheese, etc. This recipe will be different from household to household. Your household might only eat chicken, turkey, and fish. Your household may prefer a gravy as seen in Swedish meatballs. Instead of pasta with meatballs, perhaps your household plops them into soups. The version of Cinderella that you like is dependent upon your tastes.

When creating your own version of Cinderella, read as many versions of it as you can, and then choose the parts you like. What emotion do all the versions of Cinderella express? Is it an emotion you want to explore? If not, you need to choose another tale. One that matches the heavy emotion that you are carrying. If it’s not jealousy, as seen with the Stepmother and stepsisters, then perhaps explore grief, Cinderella did lose a parent or two depending on the version. Then, think about how those heavy emotions will be digested. Cinderella is often saved by her goodness and therefore is rewarded in the end with her true love and goes from rags to riches. How do you want your version of Cinderella to be resolved? Play around with the ingredients and their ratios until it’s just right.

The Basic “Cinderella” Spice Mix

1/4 Grief (Loss of a parent, typically the mother)

1/4 Jealousy (Stepmother and stepsisters)

A pinch of glass, blood, ashes, and time

1/4 Rags to Riches

1/8 A Fairy Godmother

Bake the seasoned tale for the length of a ball before midnight for three nights.

Perhaps the emotion you wish to resolve in your fairy tale is unrequited love. Then you would have to explore Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the many versions that spawned from it over the years. But wait, this is not a meatball! We know who invented “The Little Mermaid” just like we know who invented the pizza. Even though this tale is in the public domain, is it ethical to write our own version of “The Little Mermaid” and is it considered serious literary work or merely fan fiction? Knowing the history of Andersen’s life and his intention with the piece, his expression of “unrequited love,” “redemption,” or even more loosely “hope,” are the necessary ingredients in creating a respectful version (in my opinion) of “The Little Mermaid.” Like pizza, the basic ingredients are bread, sauce, and cheese. But remember that Andersen didn’t create the mermaid who has emerged across cultures like the meatball. It’s okay to experiment with the toppings on your pizza.

Jennifer’s “The Little Mermaid” Salt Mix

1/4 Unrequited Love

1/4 Redemption

A handful of pearls, teal, blood, ice cream, and the sea.

1/4 Wants to be human

Equal parts Sea Witch, witchcraft, and transformation

Stir the seasoned tale into a conch and let it set for three days before drinking.

“So who owns fairy tales? To be blunt: I do. And you do. We can each claim fairy tales for ourselves.” (Haase 537)

While the oral tales had no original author and varied from household to household until the literary elite wrote them down, and the literary fairy tales such as Hans Christian Andersen's are now in the public domain, your fairy tale recipe is yours and yours alone. It is your connection and expression with a tale that means something deeply important to you. When it is complete, try to send it out, let it live, and one day when you die perhaps a young writer who likes fairy tales will read yours in the public domain archives and decide to borrow the perfect ingredient, just what they were looking for, and create their own recipe.

Work Cited

Haase, Donald. “From Yours, Mine, or Ours? Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and the Ownership of Fairy Tales.” The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar, W. W. Norton Company, 2017, pp. 528-541.

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