Somebody asked Albert Einstein what children should read, “Fairy tales.” What next? “Fairy tales.” And then? “More fairy tales.” The great sage had it right… and yet I have not read any fairy tales for a while. Yet on top of my computer desk I have piles of fairy tale collections–not just the Grimm fairy tales or even European. It is funny… before kindergarten I was already being read fairy tales by my Grandma Alderson and listening to the love songs George and Ira Gershwin wrote. My childhood may not have been idyllic in any other way–my father was a terrible person and when I got to know him I hated my stepfather–but listening to fairy tales and love songs made me happy. No child should be denied listening to the Gershwin brothers (I know people believe in pop rock hits now, but I say the Gershwin brothers deliver what Taylor Swift only pretends to).
And if Gershwin is the ideal lover in his music, then the fairy tale is better–because in the woods where Hansel and Gretel eat the witch’s house and where Briar Rose is waiting for her prince strange things happen which even J.R.R. Tolkien only sort of understands. Yes, the fairy tale takes place in the shadows of the human world, where fortunes are made and princess won. Dragons lie there with their hordes of gold–as do mean little men like Rumpelstiltskin.
Though he did not write the fairy tales he wrote for his children as well as his stories for adults, Dickens wrote two great “fairy tales” for adults: The Old Curiosity Shoppe and A Christmas Carol. I watched The Man Who Invented Christmas and discovered that before Dickens nobody knew a ghost could be jolly (as in the case of the Ghost of Christmas Present). The other great writer of adult fairy tales is Shakespeare in his Midsummer Night’s Dream– it is my favorite Shakespearean “comedy” with King Lear and Macbeth being my favorites of his tragedies… though I do feel a little sorry for the real Macbeth because nobody knows if he was really as bad a man as the play makes him out to be or if he was only a Scottish king.
I have written some books of “fairy tales” though not as good as the Grimm Brothers or Anderson in the least: The Magic Orchard and Other Stories; A Child’s Haggadah; and A Pocketful of Stories. Though I love Shrek I will never give up on the stories the film lampoons. Someday I hope to add to the children’s classics list with a book Jeanie and the Gentle Folk and another adult fairy tale Oz Revisited. I have thought about writing a brief children’s book–though I doubt it would sell to anyone–Pierre the Fox Goes to America. In it the honest Pierre the Fox is reading his newspaper when the phone rings. It turns out it is Paige the Opossum, who wants Pierre to come to help Paige by studying the ways of the Buffalo. I don’t know. I might write it someday… more of a beast tale than a fairy tale, I admit–and probably not even as good as The Magic Orchard and Other Stories.