Do you want to know a secret? Shhhhh. Don’t tell. I don’t want to completely ruin my personna as a mom and a writer and a woman over forty. A grown-up.
Except, I didn’t. Grow up, that is. I never lost my intense love of fairytales, my desire to tumble down the rabbit hole, vanish into magic.
Which brings me to my guest today, the author Rabia Gale. Rabia is a word magician in the vein of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern. She recreates the magic of childhood wonderlands — for grown-ups.
In wired, Rabia reinvents the story of Rapunzel in a post-apocalyptic world. In Rainbird, there are half-breed eiries and dragon spines and a conspiracy to reinvent the sun. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.
Rabia’s stories are gems with countless facets. She writes fully-textured worlds, rich with knowledge of fairytales and literature, history and science. In her series, back to school for writers, she invited other writers to share their expertise on subjects like computers, Navajo code talkers, and the Celts. In her own fiction, the details are a delight.
She’s also written eloquently about self-publishing, about the genre of science fantasy, and about the slippery timewarp of the Internet. In the post, on not being a prodigy after all, she says, “Life is not a zero-sum game, and there will still be plenty of chocolate cake at the finish line, whenever I get there.” Rabia, I’d like to meet you there for cake and coffee. Until then, I’m honored to have you as a guest in my series on inspiration. Welcome.
On Fairy Tales, Myths, and Legends by Rabia Gale
I thought I’d moved on.
My first (abandoned) novel was a murder mystery retelling ofThe Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in an alternate Europe. My first completed novel was inspired by changeling folklore. My second completed novel grew out of the Cupid and Psyche myth.
And then I got distracted by the shiny fusion of science fiction and fantasy (mechanical universes and magical energy! Prayer magic and mecha! Space dragons and artificial suns!), and the fairy tale-inspired stuff went away.
Or so I thought.
But as I worked on my epic tales of adventure and wonder and Worlds in Terrible Peril, fairy tales came back into my writing.
They came back in shards and shadows, in broken characters and whispered What ifs? They were literary and dark, much darker than anything else I’d ever written. They brought me women burdened by their beauty and mirrors driven mad, curses unbroken, sacrifices made in vain, and never-afters.
The rainbow shimmer and pastel tones of my childhood fairy tales and the zestful, feminist retellings of my girlhood gave way to explorations of a darker world, failed endeavors, and bittersweet endings. My fairy tales are broken: beauty fades, love is imperfect, and those desperate to hold on to their happily-ever-afters are driven to madness. My tales are not without splashes of color, glimmers of hope, and moments of joy—but these are all hard-worn.
Why hang these stories on to a fairy tale framework? Why am I drawn to using these centuries-old stories as a basis for my own?
For one, they come down to us in strong lines and sparse details, begging to be appropriated. There is so much left unsaid, so many whys left unanswered and so many what-ifs left hanging, like roads not taken. Fairy tales are like outlined shapes, waiting to be filled in with patterns and embellished with details. Chameleon-like, they blend into different genres, from romance to literary to science fiction.
Second, what details they contain are simple but striking, pregnant with symbolism, full of magic and mystery. The Queen’s mirror, Cinderella’s glass slipper, the Beast’s rose, the selkie’s skin: these concrete objects can have a hundred origins and a thousand meanings. They burn vividly against the fairy tale landscape, drawing the eye and the imagination.
Third, fairy tales and their ilk are stripped down to the core, laying bare the heart and the bone of humanity. Love, lust, and possession; striving and sacrifice; jealousy and vengeance. Impossible tasks, unlikely helpers, clever riddles. Laughter and light-heartedness. Life in a world of magic, wonder, and curses. All our desires are laid out in fairy tales, myths and legends: to possess beauty, to be loved by a god, to defeat the strong, to outwit the powerful—and the many paths those journeys can take.
So, while I write my fantasies with their complex worldbuilding and wide-ranging storylines, fairy tales and folklore still tug at me, quiet but insistent. And every now and then, I snatch the time to bring to the page the chill of a winter sacrifice, the zing of electricity coursing through a cybernetic woman’s hair, and the salty sting of a sea-witch’s regret.
Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. Rabia grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and now lives in Northern Virginia. Visit her online at http://www.rabiagale.com
Did you read fairy tales as a child? Have you kept them close? What magic have they given you as a writer or a reader? Cozy up and share.