I only went to one session today, but what a session! Myths, Fairy Tales and the Need to Believe with Danielle Wood, Garth Nix, and Wanda Wiltshire, chaired by Kate Forsyth. The panel aimed to address the question: Can fairy tales provide a cure for modern cynicism?
The writers began by talking a little bit about where the stories begin, with Wanda relating a wonderful tale of reaching the age of 40, still unsure what she was going to do with her life, and praying before bed one night that a story would come to her, only to wake with a 6-story series fully formed in her mind, complete with character names! Garth said that he never remembered his dreams, but was partial to the fugue state when one is half-asleep and said he once got an entire story—about toothache, no less—while sitting through a 3-hour root canal. Kate said she would quite deliberately go to bed with an idea tumbling around in her head and let her subconscious go at it while she was sleeping, so that she’d often find herself in the “hynopompic” state post-dream having worked out something essential overnight.
The writers discussed the richness of fairy tales as an endless source of inspiration, open to constant reinvention and interpretation, as evidenced by the fact that 3 of the panellists had their own take on “Rapunzel”: Danielle with “Lettuce” from Mothers Grimm, Kate with Bitter Greens, her latest novel, and Garth in his story “An Unwelcome Guest.”
They questioned whether the enduring power of fairy tales was due to them having been passed down as part of an oral tradition. Danielle thought maybe it came down to the fact that most of us grew up with them as our “firsts”, and they were therefore part of our common history and lexicon, reinforcing Freud’s idea of the “uncanny” frisson between the familiar and strange. Garth added that the raw material was simply so strong it forever lent itself to the creation of new work.
As for the initial question, Wanda felt that fairy tales were full of hope. Garth liked the idea that they offered the chance for Evil to get its comeuppance sometimes. Kate felt they were about metamorphosis and the possibility of things being restored whether there was a happy ending or not, and Danielle added that the tagline for her book was actually “Happy endings not guaranteed.”
Kate Forsyth’s WordMothers interview coming soon!