Cate Fricke: Tales for Willful Readers

Cate Fricke writes about fairytales and their significance to contemporary living. In one of


Fricke's articles she writes about the communal ownership of fairytales, and, as Angela Carter writes, searching for the true author of a fairytale to trying to find the true inventor of meatballs. Fairytales are a result of communal storytelling, no one owns a tale. However, Fricke stresses that stories survive because they change.

Fricke goes on in her article to describe how, as an example, that there are several versions of "Cinderella," and not all leave us with a bad taste in our mouth about a helpless princess relying on marrying "up" in order to escape poverty and abuse.

In fact, one of them features a flaming skull mounted on a stick.

Which is awesome. And possibly Visalia will be my next halloween costume. Must remember this.


Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin

Some Cinderella type tales do not have a fairy godmother, but rather Cinderella is assisted by birds that live in the tree under which her biological mother is buried, or the Cinderella figure raises a giant fish (which is then cooked and eaten by the stepmother), and Cinderella makes wishes on its bones.


Frick goes on:

Several versions of the story, including Grimms’ and Perrault’s, do focus on Cinderella’s piety and goodness. But what stands out to me in these and so many other versions of the tale is that the heroine is given help by an outside force that is tied to her by the bonds of parental love. Suddenly “Cinderella” becomes a story about loss and remembrance even in the face of cruelty, and it is that remembrance that gives her the strength to overcome her persecution. The more versions of this tale that I read, the more I come to see Cinderella not as a passive princess, but as a woman of vision. She has outside help, yes, but at the same time, she has the ability to see her life as something other than what it is, and to take the steps necessary to prove herself worthy of that life. She holds fast to hope even in dark times, and in many, many versions of her tale, she walks to the place where she will meet her fate without the aid of a mouse-drawn carriage. In short, she’s willful. And I like that.

There's much more in the article worth reading (go check it out!) but I'll just mention one of Fricke's last thoughts here (in case you don't go read it):

We should embrace willfulness and curiosity and a culture of questioning, not just when it comes to fairy tales, but to all-too-easily digested stories presented to us.

In another article of Fricke's, which I quite like, she discusses the tale The Robber Bridegroom. In the context of #metoo and attention on the much too common frequency and tragedy of sexual assault, Fricke notes that fairytales, and the horrible things that happen to women in these tales, are traditionally told by women, crafted by women.


The term “fairy tale,” in popular culture and casual parlance, denotes magical wish fulfillment or perfect love. But the tales themselves, even when they end happily, are laden with horror. They are dark places for women, threats of violence and abuse on every other page.The Brothers Grimm did collect this story and publish it; they even made a number of significant revisions to the tale between editions. But historians tell us that it was women who gave them these tales, complete with all the sordid details of terror inflicted on their own sex. “The Robber Bridegroom” was shared with the Grimms by a young woman named Marie Hassenpflug, who, according to Jack Zipes in Grimm Legacies, had a special talent for telling tales in which female heroines find victorious ends.
As rife with violence as they are, fairy tales are in fact women’s stories, and always have been...Fairy tales acknowledge that violence and assault can occur at any time, but they also remind us that justice can be done when women and their stories are truly heard.

I'm delighted to come across Cate Fricke's writings. I think by reviewing her articles that I've just recently come across, I can more fully understand my attraction to fairytales <3

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