What Makes a Fairytale “A Fairytale”?

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“I burned to learn to read novels and I tortured my mother into telling me the meaning of every strange word I saw”… “because it was the gateway to a forbidden and enchanting land”.       Robert Wright

What Makes a Fairytale “A Fairytale”? Get Messy Season of Fairytales prompt 2 from week 3 by EMK.

I was in Lisbon and the fairytales were closing in all around me and opening up like petals in front of me. A woman with a tattoo of a woman’s hand offering an apple on her shoulder stood next to me on the tube, a russian doll on the other arm, the woman who got off 2 stops after her with 3 russian dolls on her purse.

I wandered aroud Sintra’s Quinta da Regaleira… drinking in the crazy millionaire’s scattered visions and experiments in various esoteric traditions. Nods to the mysticism of the Tarot rubbed shoulders with the promenading Greek and Roman Goddesses and Gods, Initiation Wells or upside down towers replete with masonic and alchemic references, grottoes, watery and dry caves, dark underground passageways, Knights Templar symbols jostled churches depicting Jesus Christ, and, most surreally, dragons suggestively hanging onto a conch shell…

and then… the fairytale tower – THE tower – where, as a girl of 8, I would have seen myself lifting my skirts to show my ankles… to skip (princesses always skip, never run) the circular staircase wound around the tower. I would have been a particular style of princess, dressed in the long, crinkling dress… with a pointy hat with veil flowing from its tip.


I was trying to draw the fairytale tower… it failed… or rather, I didn’t like what I drew… The shape of a fairytale is always winding, there are towers, or steps, or a path through a forest. You always find the path, even if you lose your way. The path is always there and it always winds. It is really a circular path that spirals in. I saw my perspective shift, and I drew the spiralling path, the tower and its stairs winding around it, from above. The well from the bottom. You always find yourself journeying to the centre. You end at the centre, you are alive and whole. You have escaped death, sometimes by acheiving impossible tasks, sometimes by your wits and sometimes with the help of other beings. You grow a little more – you start outward, go inward, and mature that little bit more. You move towards your centre. Maybe you move toward the moon…

You can set a trail, but it won’t help you, you have to have the adventure first, and, even though you may think yourself lost, the lesson is always just around the corner, and it will not lose you. I think it strange and beautifully ephemeral that people so often talk about Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs and not the white stones, when they recall the tale. Even though the successful trail was the white stones, their home was no longer theirs and they had to leave. The breadcrumbs had to be eaten by the birds (probably crows) so that they could get lost in the forest and find the next stage of ther lives, however dangerous it was.

Fairytales are full of extreme colours. Metallics – gold, silver, bronze – or the severe contrasts of whites and blacks. Look for fairytale images on the internet and your search will come back full of red – apples, blood, roses and a shock of red cloak. Red, the colour of fire and youth – the colour of extremes… of adventure and danger, of anger and passion, of potential violence, of breaking and birthing, of sex and its scarier cousin, love…

We set off on our inner spiralling adventure, not knowing which version of the tale we will end up in. Will we be eaten by the wolf? Will we unwittingly eat our grandmother? Will a wolf encourage us to throw our clothes on the fire? Can we use our cunning to slip the wolf’s grasp, tying the string he winds around us to a tree-stump and making our escape? Who will our tale be told by?


“Fairy tales were not my escape from reality as a child; rather, they were my reality — for mine was a world in which good and evil were not abstract concepts, and like fairy-tale heroines, no magic would save me unless I had the wit and heart and courage to use it widely.”

Terri Windling


4 thoughts on “What Makes a Fairytale “A Fairytale”?

  1. greg Sep 12, 2017 / 9:25 am

    This is a real excursion along the winding path (yes, it does always wind!) to the perilous realm. Evocative in its strangeness and yet oh so familiar to anyone who has been there. This is what makes a fairytale…..

    • ninamgeorge Sep 12, 2017 / 7:53 pm

      Yes Greg… it’s funny how i never thought of it exactly like that before I started trying to draw images related to fairytales… i love the new perspective it seems to be letting in…

  2. Aurora J Stone Sep 13, 2017 / 5:49 am

    What an amazing find. The Tower, like time, winds in and out and around. It sucks you in and spins you out. It takes you to the hidden places of yourself and then releases you to use what you’ve discovered to make your way in the world.

    • ninamgeorge Sep 13, 2017 / 7:56 am

      Absolutely, I very much felt that… and the journey… yes, the journey… and it is a constant process I think…

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