Tag Archives: Fairy Tales

Who Wants a Modern Fairy Tale?

UpTreeI’ve been on a fairy-tale kick lately. It started when I was thinking about the backstory of a character in my second Merlin novel. It led me to think about the character’s maternal grandparents. I’d already established the character as being Slovakian, and the character himself was based around a mythical being common in Slavic folk tales.

Quick disclaimer here: so far as I know, I have no Slavic blood. I’m a quarter Danish and the rest is a mélange of Western European nationalities.

This character’s sister was introduced in my first Merlin novel, and she told me when I was working on that book then that she was Slovakian, so what could I do? Well, that’s an easy question to answer: research. That’s how I discovered her brother.

Back to the fairy-tale kick. I had the idea to tell his back-story in the form of a modern fairy tale. I suppose some people would call it magical realism, but let me stick with fairy tale. I wrote a story about a girl who gets lost in the forest while being chased by a couple of nasty two-legged beasts (men) until she is saved by a (mystical) woodsman. I like the two main characters, but there was a minor character in this fairy tale—Babka—who insisted that I should tell her story.

I’ve had an on and off fascination with myths and fairy tales. Back when I was in grad school, I audited an anthropology class for fun. The name of the class was something like “Myth, Symbol and Ritual.” I wish I still had the class notes for that. It was a lot of fun, and a definite diversion from physics. I don’t think it was part of the class, but that was about the time that I read Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. But then life happened and I spent several decades doing science and technology. My shelf of folk and fairy tale books mostly sat unread.

One of those volumes was The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen. I’ve already written about the little gems I found there when I recently read that book cover to cover. It struck me that he seldom used the “once upon a time” formulation, and also how often he set the tales in (his) contemporary time. So, I wasn’t doing anything new by writing using a contemporary voice to tell a fairy tale.


I really only liked about one tale out of eight from H. C. Andersen’s stories. But I noticed that the ones that I did like had a magical feel to the writing. I decided, if I’m following in the footsteps of my distant not-relative, I should shoot for that quality.The story that old
Babka wanted me to tell is episodic, starting with her birth. Then, there are two vignettes of her as a girl, and the fourth occurs on the cusp of her adulthood, which also sets the stage for her role in the original girl-lost-in-the-woods story, where she’s an old lady. My intent is for each fairy tale to stand alone, but if you read them all together, they entwine. I’ve concentrated on making them feel magical.

I’m not sure that I’ve told her whole story yet. She might whisper something to me one day. But for now, I’ve got five tales.

I like the characters and what is happening to them. What I don’t know is whether contemporary readers want to read fairy tales. Would people buy a short book of newly made up folk and fairy tales? What do you think?

Email This Post Email This Post

Discover a Few Old Gems You Need to Read

CoinsHave you heard the story of the coin that is accidentally left behind in a foreign country? The shilling knows that it’s good, honest, and true, but in this country it is yelled at and called false and counterfeit. It feels even worse when the people who discovered it in their pockets pass it to others in the dark, so in the light of the next day it is again called worthless. Now, imagine its pleasure when it’s finally returned to its own country, where it is hailed for its honest picture of the beloved king.

If you recognize that story, then you know “The Silver Shilling,” by Hans Christian Andersen. I found it charming, even if it’s not as famous as some of his other stories. His most notable tale is “The Little Mermaid,” but you might not recognize that tale in the original. Continue reading Discover a Few Old Gems You Need to Read

Me and Jose

A few months after I moved to Norway, a Norwegian colleague asked me if I was related to Jose Andersen. The person knew that I had lived most of my life in Oklahoma and Texas and that I was a quarter Danish. I just thought he was asking about some person he knew who had both Hispanic and Danish blood.

Since my grandfather emigrated from Denmark back in 1912 and all of the American Andersens that I’m related to trace back to him, there aren’t very many of us. So, without really giving the question any further thought, I answered that I wasn’t related to Jose.


A few weeks later, another Norwegian who knew my background asked the same question. I answered “No” immediately, but later began wondering why everyone knew this famous Mexican-American Jose Andersen except me.

Sure enough, I was asked again. I replied with a question of my own.

“Who is Jose Andersen?”

Jon Erik—the Norwegian who asked me the lucky third time—looked at me in confusion. His look said that I must have been raised on a deserted island somewhere, not to know Jose. His answer began with a stammer.

“Uh … he’s a … writer. Very famous. And he’s Danish. He wrote in the 19th Century? You know? Children’s stories, like the Little Mermaid. Jose Andersen.”

It took me a moment to put what he said together with my rudimentary Norwegian lessons. We were both speaking English, which most Norwegians speak impeccably. Unfortunately, he—like the other two who had asked before—was saying the person’s name the way Norwegians do.

The man that Americans refer to as Hans Christian Andersen is referred to by Scandinavians by his initials: H. C. Andersen. But in Norwegian, the letter ‘H’ is pronounced “ho” with a long ‘o’ and the letter ‘C’ is pronounced like the English word “say.” What Jan Erik said was “Ho” “Say” Andersen, but what I heard, being raised in the land of Tex-Mex, was Jose.

Ain’t communication wonderful?

The famous Danish writer was born in Odense while my family hailed from the north of Jutland. Besides, in Denmark my family spelled the name Andreasen. My grandfather simplified it when he came through Ellis Island: Andersen is a much more common Danish name than Andreasen.

So it is highly unlikely that I am related to Hans Christian Andersen. I do admit to being an admirer of fairy tales, and long ago I devoured Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. As a writer, I can appreciate the significant symbolism of a young girl who becomes lost in the woods, being pursued by a wild beast, and waiting for the handsome axman to lead her out of the woods and into adulthood.

Email This Post Email This Post