“We read to know we are not alone.” – why reading should always be a child’s passion…

Once upon a time, as all good stories start,

There was a little girl who longed with all her heart.

To fill her world with magic, and live through stories told.

To wear those ruby slippers, to never dare grow old.

 

Her Neverland she found it books, oh how she longed to go!

But wardrobes failed to lead her to that magic land of snow.

Every thrilling tale she read, the lands they took her to

The looking glass within her mind would let her journey through.

That was the opening to my first published book Faerytale. The little girl in my book is me as I was then and as I am now. The title of this post is a quote from C.S Lewis which I have always loved for its simplicity. Reading has and always will be a passion of mine and the importance of reading for any child should never be underestimated.

When I was little my parents read to me every night, my dad read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to me many times over. When I was very small I had no idea what was going on apart from the fact that the story was about a little guy with hairy feet who became invisible when he put on a golden ring, but I loved his crazy voice when reading as Gollum. To this day Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite books.

Every book I have read has been of a continual source of inspiration to me, be it fairy tales, mysteries, horrors – they all filled my head with ideas and stories and gave me the passion to put them down on paper. The importance of reading and tales of imagination in my life is beyond sufficient explanation for me. It grabs you when you’re a child, before you can even read yourself, instead relying on your parents voices to guide your imagination. Then as you grow older you get to choose what type of tale to immerse yourself in. There are so many genres out there to appeal to each and every child, be it fantasy and fairy tales, action, mysteries, humour, poetry, science fiction the choices are endless and so are the benefits.

In a world of quick fixes such as video games and films reading has never been more important. Books do what computer games and films can never hope to achieve, they allow children to use and develop their own imaginations. These worlds are not given to them directly from a computer or TV screen. They dream and create these worlds within their heads as they read and even after they have finished the story. It can also give them a good start on the road to viewing reading not only as a necessity in everyday life but as a lifelong source of pleasure, be it for recreation or even professionally through writing.

Stories can free up imaginations and open up exciting new worlds of fantasy or reality. You carry these stories and characters with you into your adult years, even when you are told to put away childish things. But they are stories you go back to again and again and then through your children and your children’s children. They never lose their magic or their charm.  I have never grown tired of reading of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy on her journey to find the Wizard of Oz, and of course the never ending list of fairy tales which never seem to lose their charm or their meaning. I remember well the lessons of Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White in the world of the Brother’s Grimm where fairy tales don’t necessarily end happily forever after.

So reading and the world that books can create in your mind, and in your children’s minds, should never be underestimated. They help shape you into the person you will become and keep you in touch with the child that you were. Everybody has room for a little adventure and magic in their life, which can be lived through the books you read, no matter what age you are or what you like to read.

Just remember, even the children in Peter Pan had to grow up someday, but Wendy, John and Michael never forgot Neverland.

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“What do you get when you guzzle down sweets…?” Hansel & Gretel as a Horror Film.

Hi everyone, I hope you had a fantastic Easter and stuffed yourself silly with chocolate. Bad things seem to happen to children in fantasy stories who eat too much of the sweet stuff. Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bruno in The Witches and of course, much earlier than that, Hansel and Gretel.

Not necessarily one of the most popular fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm but it is one of the darkest in my opinion. There are no romantic subplots like in Cinderella or Snow White, there are no kindly and caring parents or grandparents like in Little Red Riding Hood in fact in Hansel and Gretal the father is weak minded and spineless and their step mother is abusive and homicidal. The children are literally on their own. To top it off the protagonist of the story is an apparently “sweet” and bizarre old lady living in a house of sweets and gingerbread who turns out to be a cannibal! So what better fairy tale to use for a horror film?!

Hansel and Gretal (2009) is a Korean film which takes this tale and turns it into to what can only be described as a twisted, fantastical nightmare. After a car accident a lost and injured young man is aided by a young girl who takes him back to her seemingly perfect family in their perfect house in the woods. But the house holds bizarre and disturbing secrets and he soon realizes that the children are not what they seem and there is literally no way to escape. The film turns this classic tale on its head where the children are the main protagonists with an axe to grind against adults who think they are “bad children”.

Although I’d love to discuss it deeper I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it as there are many unexpected twists in the story. But this film is incredibly visual and atmospheric. The children maintain an uneasy balance between cute and creepy throughout the film and the adults are suitably irresponsible and sadistic. The gingerbread house has been turned into a house of horrors with a never-ending labyrinth of an attic at the top and grounds with grotesque and unnaturally real statues of former “parents” who let them down. There is a strange mixture of fantasy and reality that is never fully explained which I found really refreshing. 

This film really sticks to the original fairy tale and, through horror, encapsulates the darkness of the story perfectly. All the themes are there from the original tale: the childrens disenchantment with adults, neglectful and even abusive parents (in this case carers), revenge, cannibalism, an oven large enough to fit a person and an abundance of cream cakes and sweets. So, all in all, a really fantastic retelling of Hansel and Gretel!

 

Fairy Tales on Film: Original Fairy Tales Part 2

OK, so my “Fairy Tales on Film Week” is kind of being spread over a fortnight but hey ho! This is Part 2, looking at two more recent original fairy tales on film. There were a few to choose from but there is one film that simply cannot be left out – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). This film is and will remain in my top ten films of all time and, coming from someone who watches a ridiculous amount of films that is quite high! (I have a film studies degree if that makes me sound a little cooler…I doubt it though)

Pan’s Labyrinth starts off with a fairy tale about Princess Moanna (daughter of the King of the underworld) who becomes curious about the world above. Blinded by the sunlight, she loses her memory, becomes ill and dies. The King, lost in grief, believes that her spirit will return to the underworld someday. The film then cuts to post-Civil war Spain with young Ofelia and her pregnant mother travelling out to meet her new stepfather: a cruel and sadistic fascist. She meets an array of unusual mystical creatures including a fairy (which looks like a large stick insect) and a faun. The faun gives her 3 tasks to complete to prove she is the princess Moanna in essence. Her first task is to retrieve a key from a giant frog (which was visually fantastic!), then to retrieve a dagger from a child-eating monster with eyes in his hands who nearly catches her. Her final task is to rescue her baby brother from her stepfather and take him into the labyrinth. This is the most dangerous task of all as her stepfather is now viciously out of control having brutally murdered a number of rebels and even caused the death of her own mother. Once in the labyrinth with her brother Ofelia refuses to harm him (the faun wants blood from his finger to open up the portal to the underworld). Her stepfather catches up to her and shoots her, and is then killed himself coming out of the labyrinth. Ofelia’s blood opens the portal and she is reunited with her family as Princess Moanna. Sacrificing her own blood was in fact the final part of the faun’s test, proving her essence was complete.

This film has all the building blocks of a fantastic dark fairy tale. A child with her head full of fairy tales clashing with a wicked and tyrannical step parent, a task/mission with 3 steps (3 being the magical number in fairy tales – things always come in threes!) and a significant increase in the danger as the stories progress. The film has a happily ever after but it is somewhat bittersweet, as Ofelia has to die to return to the underworld. I also loved the coupling of a fantasy world with post-war Spain– the contrast was really effective. Guillermo del Toro really is a gifted director. His films are so full of atmosphere and tension and that line between fantasy and reality is never quite clear e.g. The Orphanage and Devil’s Backbone.

I honestly have not met a single person who has watched Pan’s Labyrinth and did not like it! Even those who steer clear from subtitled films as a rule. With its mix of magical legend, violence, danger and sinister atmosphere coupled with fantastical and dangerous creatures and a war-ravaged setting it truly is an original and classic fairy tale on film. 

My second film is a lot more light hearted: Stardust (2007). Adapted from a book by Neil Gaiman, it is truly just a lovely, colourful and enchanting film. The author even described it as such: “It’s a fairytale. It’s like an ice cream. It’s to make you feel happy when you finish it.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/oct/13/film.fiction)

Stardust is a rip roaring love story with witches, feuding princes, protective unicorns, a quest for a fallen star in human form and pirates in a flying ship catching lightening for a living. Add to the mix Robert De Niro dancing to the can can in a tutu and what more could you really ask for?

Stardust proves that “fairy tale” films don’t have to necessarily be dark and sinister like Pan’s Labyrinth, or have a deeper psychoanalytical/sexual subtext like Company of Wolves or Black Swan to appeal to adults. Stardust is a perfect fairy tale film for adults and children alike, much like the Shrek series. Silly in places (the can can and Ricky Gervais playing the part of Ricky Gervais for example) it is also very sweet with just the right amount of cheese. It reminded me a lot of The Princess Bride (1987), which was another contender for original fairy tale film of the 80s, with its comedy characters and snappy script.

A relatively unknown fairy tale (when compared to the likes of Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood I mean) this film could not rely on familiarity with the tale to bring in audiences. Instead, along with a star studded cast and vibrant special affects (which can’t hurt!), it achieved its success as a fairy tale on film through its exciting, enchanting and romantic plot. As such it ranks very high as a contemporary fairy tale on film!

So there you have it: fairy tales on film, both from the 80s and from more recent years, all of which tell highly original and enchanting tales. Some are darker and more gruesome than others, some are brighter and more fun, some are even quite twisted in their own way but all of them are fantastic fairy tales on film that will keep on enchanting audiences, both old and young for many years to come.