On Fearie Tales duty today is the lovely Mr Peter Crowther. He talks about fairy traps, ‘The Musician of Bremen’, and goblins stealing babies. Huzzah!
‘A certain mother had her child taken out of its cradle
by the elves, and a changeling with a large head and
staring eyes, which would do nothing but eat and
drink, lay in its place.’
The Brothers Grimm (‘The Elves #1’)
1. What is the fairy tale you remember most from your childhood ? the one that made the biggest impression on you?
The fairy tales I really liked are the ones with a sense of Twilight Zone-ish whimsey . . . and I guess that has stayed with me in my writing. So, for instance, the old woman who was given a purse or pocketbook that would never run out of money. Every time you took out a coin or a number of coins, the purse would refill itself. I love that idea. Never having to be poor. But one favorite story was ‘The Musician of Bremen’ . . . and there’s a particular reason. Many years ago, I was invited into an anthology for which one had to choose a Grimm Brothers fairy story and retell it in whatever way you fancied. I had been wanting to write a story based on Chet Baker’s and Gerry Mulligan’s version of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’. I had the basic plot/story; all I needed was a name. So, after deciding that this story might just fit the bill, I went through our American roadmap atlas and scanned the town listings for every State. Finally, in Georgia, I found Bremen . . . and my story became ‘The Musicans of Bremen, GA’.
2. Is there a natural link, do you think, between fairy tales and horror?
Yes, I think there is a natural link between horror and fairy tales. After all, fairy tales (and I’m not talking about ones about magic purses!) usually contain some thing that is beyond the scope of human control. And that’s the essence of true horror. It could be Death coming calling (beautifully delivered, albeit formulaicly with the Finale Destination movies), witches riding broomsticks (as in my own By Wizard Oak novel), huge giants roaming the countryside Harvey’s old HarveyToons comicbooks which, alongside Casper and Wendy et all, featured Stumbo the Giant: when he sat on a mountain it would blow my eight-year old mind . . . I mean, it was fine cos he was such a nice character: but what if he were to turn?), goblins stealing babies and leaving a ‘facsimile’ in its place (which I touch on in my own story, along with trolls) . . . all these are the essence of horror. Stuff like Saw doesn’t do it for me because that’s just torture porn. But a tale about creatures that get together on All Hallows . . . creatures that allegedly existed thousands of years–millennia, even–before man, well, that does the trick.
3. Does your work usually play with fairy tale elements or is this a first for you?
I don’t usually do fairy stories but I did one a few years back called ‘The Fairy Trap’. It was very gentle and probably wouldn’t ring the bell for readers of this book. But I had a blast writing it because it gave me a chance to write about small will o’the wisp fairies who gathered in a woodland glade and were accidentally seen by a normal human.
4. What do you think the fairy tale form offers to writers and readers?
Enormous scope. There are no rules in a fairy story . . . no boundaries. Anything goes. As both a writer and a reader, that’s pretty much all I need to know.
5. What is your favourite fairy tale trope/motif/element/character with which to work?
Here’s a few of my favorite titles that may fit the bill of what we’rem discussing: Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy (essential reading for anyone who things fairy stories–or fairies themselves!–are soppy!), Rob Holdstock’s Lavondyss sequence, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and many of his tales in the Sandman oeuvre, Lord Dunsany’s stories from Beyond The Fields We Know, even Bradbury’s remarkable Something Wicked This Way Comes . . . all of these contain motifs with which surely any writer worth his or her salt could work merrily until the end of days.