For our celebration of Fantasy, we are so happy to welcome back Ruth Long to the blog who partook in our last fantasy theme. Ruth’s upcoming YA Fantasy is steeped in myth, and her other novels published by Samhain also take the fantastical approach to fantasy. To learn more about Ruth and her books, please head over to her official website.
Fairytales in a modern dress
By Ruth Frances Long
Some stories are timeless. They stay with us, returning again and again, and twist themselves into new shapes to hide unexpectedly, in plain sight. Much like the fae themselves, fairytales lie in wait for us, ready to pounce.
Writing always involves dipping into other stories—references, themes, archetypes. Shakespeare was a master of this, like a kid at a pick n mix, taking a story here, a folktale there, a legend or a political rumour that suited his patrons.
Fairytales and folklore are the oldest of our stories. They are quite literally the stories “folk”—the common, average person living their day to day lives—told each other. Sometimes this was to convey a warning (“Don’t go near the pond or the Green Witch will leap out and pull you in” aka “Don’t go near the pond or you’ll fall in and drown”), a moral stance (don’t be greedy/selfish/cruel), folk memory (“a funny thing happens in the sky every year or so and this is why”) or historical events (“once upon a time there was a king called Coel”). These stories are a way of explaining what happens in the world around us, our past, our values, our hopes and our fears.
Did I mention that they are old? OLD. They are stories that recur and evolve, that filter up through our collective consciousness and resonate with us. We recognise our archetypes, no matter what our background. A hero is a hero and we know them by their actions.
Why does the boy go out alone to face a dragon when he can’t possibly win? Because he will. He’s noble and true, loves his people, or maybe one girl in particular, even when he shouldn’t. Why does a girl follow her lost brother into a forest? Because she will find him and win him back, through her wits and her courage rather than sitting around waiting for someone else to do it. Why does the youngest brother or sister set out on the quest that has claimed both older siblings? Because that’s what the youngest child does in fairytales. That is the role of each of these characters.
These are things we know. Or rather, to emphasize the importance of this point—These are Things We Know. Story tropes, if you like, figures from our collective memory—the stories we tell and have always told each other, be they folktales, fairytales, or today’s urban legends. Living in Ireland there is evidence scattered across the land of a culture, who built barrows, ring forts and monuments which we no longer understand. And today, in the modern world, we can scoff and dismiss and explain away the stories of fairy forts and people living beneath the ground—the fair folk, the Shining Ones, the Daoine Mhaith. But then someone wants to dig up a mound, and there is a story about someone who went there at night and never came back. Or a tale about someone who moved a pile of stones and never had good luck again. If we forget, our stories remind us.
So many of our fairytales have been scrubbed clean over the years, recreated for ages that didn’t want to know about their darker origins. But it doesn’t take much looking to dig out the darker warnings beneath. Love is glorious—our stories tell us—but it must be won through trail and danger. Be sure your love is worth it. Prove your worth, and your partner should do the same. As time moves on, and cultures change, its worth remembering that yesterday’s ghostly highwayman is today’s phantom hitch-hiker. Re-imagining our oldest stories can shed new light on them, or perhaps that light is older than we imagine and we are just seeing it as new. Re-imaging our oldest stories is to reinvent them for our age, and to reopen the doors they hide which can let us catch a glimpse of a truth.
Fairytales resonate within us—in our stories and songs, in our culture, ancient and modern. They call to things deep inside us, things that we don’t always realise that we know. I often found while writing The Treachery of Beautiful Things that fairytales would appear out of the words I was writing, elements of old stories that were weaving their own way through my words. I hadn’t intended to put them there. They did that all by themselves. But given the type of novel I was writing, and the folk tales and fairy tales that form the basis of the world-building, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that other things I wasn’t entirely expecting should find their way in. Like, as they say, calls to like. Part of the magic of writing is when the story seems to take off on its own and the writer finds themselves struggling to keep up. You tap into something else, something older, a pool of stories that have always been there, dressing themselves up with the clothes of a given age, reinventing themselves and appearing to us in a garb like our own. Much like those beautiful, treacherous fae. When you start to work with fairytales and folklore, perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised when something magical happens.
A lifelong fan of fantasy, romance, and ancient mysteries, Ruth Frances Long studied English Literature, History of Religions, and Celtic Civilization in college and now works in a specialized library of rare and unusual books. She lives in County Wicklow, Ireland. The Treachery of Beautiful Things is her first novel for teens. She writes for adults as R. F. Long (The Scroll Thief, Soul Fire, The Wolf’s Sister, The Wolf’s Mate, collected as Songs of the Wolf, and The Wolf’s Destiny). Visit Ruth at www.rflong.com.
The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long (Dial, 16th August, 2012)
A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction.
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.
We want to thank Ruth so much for being here today. Ruth has kindly offered to giveaway an arc of her upcoming YA, The Treachery of Beautiful Things. It’s open internationally and ends April 13th. All you have to do is comment below and let us know what myths and legends do you like the most?