Master storyteller Garth Nix shares his experience of and thoughts about fairy tales today as part of the lead-up to the launch of the new Fearie Tales anthology, edited by Stephen Jones.
IT WASN’T MUCH of a posse, only six men, all of them old and tired, and Sheriff Bucon himself was pushing sixty and hadn’t ridden more than two miles for years. There wouldn’t have been a posse at all if it wasn’t for Rose Jackson literally dragging the men out of the hotel by shirt collar or waistcoat button, dragging them right out of their comfortable Thursday afternoon poker game and shouting and shaming them on to horses, repeating a similar process that had been enacted on Bucon a half-hour before, when Rose had winkled him out of the town’s one and only jail cell, where he’d been shutting his eyes for just a moment since earlier that morning.
1. What is the fairy tale you remember most from your childhood ? the one that made the biggest impression on you?
I think the fairy tale I most remember is ‘Rapunzel’, but that is because I loved the Nicholas Stuart Gray novel The Stone Cage, which is based upon that story. I also remember reading the original Grimm’s ‘Cinderella’ at quite a young age and being both entranced and horrified by the sisters cutting off their toes and heels in order to fit the slipper. I could almost feel those gristly toes being removed and the blood everywhere . . .
2. Is there a natural link, do you think, between fairy tales and horror?
Fairy tales are often a kind of mirror to life, where both the mythic and horrific are magnified beyond the ordinary. So you get extremes of both wonder and horror, often in the same story. I think this is one of the reasons why fairy tales tend to stick around.
3. Does your work usually play with fairy tale elements or is this a first for you?
I can’t say I usually play with fairy tales any more than I usually do anything. I have written a number of stories explicitly drawing upon fairy tales, such as ‘Hansel’s Eyes’ and ‘The Unwelcome Guest’ in A Wolf at the Door and Troll’s Eye View edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. But I have also taken elements or ideas from fairy tales, fables and legends and woven them in here and there in lots of works. For example, there is a character based on the Pied Piper in my children’s book series The Keys to the Kingdom.
4. What do you think the fairy tale form offers to writers and readers?
It provides a recogniseable foundation on which to build something different and new. People like the familiar made somewhat different, if you can get this mix right then you may well create a story that will have a strong life of its own.
5. What is your favourite fairy tale trope/motif/element/character with which to work?
Interesting question. I would have said that I don’t have a favourite, but upon examination it might be fair to say that I have an ongoing interest in humans changed by their interaction with a faery realm or people.