Sunday, 21 October 2012

Why the newest fairy tale magazine might reignite Britain's folk heritage

...Unsettling Wonder was officially launched at the beginning of the month - click the logo to explore the website!

If you follow any of the blogs I link to on my sidebar, then chances are this won't be news for you! But in case you missed the deluge of blog posts last week, here is a bit of information from the website:

Unsettling Wonder is about going back to...that troubling, entrancing glimpse into story. Childhood affords us the first glimpse, but it is by no means the last. And the oldest stories—the fairy tales we met in childhood, the folklore and folk traditions that gave rise to them—can still be woven together for telling today. We want embrace [sic] and celebrate, re-imagine and re-invent, our folk traditions, the wild and variegated scrapheap of story and theme and motif that lies open to the magpie gaze of the writer.

But why do I think Unsettling Wonder could 'reignite Britain's folk heritage'? 

After having a look around the site I was struck by a couple of things: firstly, of the five members of staff listed, four of them have strong links to Britain, particularly to Scotland. Secondly, in the 'about' section of the website, which provides a type of mission statement for the magazine, we can read that the magazine wants to tell the tales of 'Woods and princes, elves and fools, voyages and rolling cheeses, tricksters and righteous sages, kings dressed as beggars, stories told by thieves.' Rolling cheeses? Now, that's not something I've ever seen mentioned specifically before by a fairy tale magazine! Cheese rolling is an ancient - and possibly pagan - British tradition that is still celebrated today in the Cotswolds. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have never heard of such an event happening elsewhere in the world.

Does the British folk and fairy tale need a renaissance?

Maybe. Maybe not. I think when most people think of the British fairy tale, chances are they'll be thinking of the works of Victorian writers who, for all their moralising, produced great works and great names that stay with us: Andrew Lang, Charles Kingsley, Christina Rossetti...What I personally love is the slightly blurred boundaries between folk tales and fairy tales that occur: Victorians wrote moral versions of familiar fairy tales, but also incorporated that moral tone into stories of fairies, sprites and all the other mischievous little folk whose legends litter our countryside. Kingsley's The Water-Babies is an example of this, yet it is still called a fairy tale.

And things seem to have been a bit quiet since then (although perhaps the passing of time will make it easier to see otherwise...) Fantasy is something that Britain has always done well, in short stories and novels, but I'm not aware of any rejuvenated fairy tales that have had much impact. American writers seem particularly good at producing the 'modern' fairy tale set in, say, a desert or a high school. But I haven't seen many British writers take the fairy tale in that direction - perhaps we are struggling to move on from the unique blend the Victorians produced for us? A lot of fairy tale magazines/ezines seem to be based in America and have American editors too.

I don't know. I'm just speculating, and I won't pretend I've spent hours and hours researching this - I am basing this purely on my own observations (so criticise me, agree with me, attack me - lets debate this!) But perhaps Unsettling Wonder will allow British writers to shake off the dust covering their tomes of folk and fairy tales, and re-explore a land left behind long ago, creating new footprints in the dust...

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