Although I read more fantasy than anything else, there are a great many books that I consider favorites that are from a variety of other genres. And many of them, now I think of it, are really fairytales at heart.
I don’t mean “fairytales” in the sense that they include fairies or magic or other worlds. I mean they are tales that tell us something more about ourselves, or perhaps about others, that we might never have seen otherwise. Something that’s so close to our own heart’s desire that we read the story and know we will never forget it, never be the same again, whether it’s romance, fantasy, mystery, contemporary, or any other genre.
So what makes a story a “fairytale” in this sense? Instead of describing it to you, I’ll do one better, and illustrate examples of what I mean. None of these are traditional fairytales – not even close. Their outer workings illustrate in stark detail the inner workings that have meaning to each and every one of us. They have elements of the eternal in them.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: Finally Seeing What’s Right Before Your Eyes
Is there any girl who is capable of not feeling something for this story? Anne is stubborn, and hot-tempered, and sharp-tongued … and utterly lovable. That’s something most of us can relate to. She also happens to be an extreme romantic – so extreme, in fact, that she can’t see the true love staring her in the face in the form of her childhood friend, Gilbert. Anne longs for a tall, dark man to sweep her off her feet, and in the end she finally (whew!) sees that her best chance of happiness (and romance, for that matter!) is with the man who stood by her through everything, challenged her when she was wrong or unrealistic, laughed at her and taught her to laugh at herself. Anne saw that true love and romance lie in small things just as much (sometimes even more so) as in the large things. Did the scenarios in her wild imagination ever make their way into her real life? No. And was her story’s ending any less of a fairytale because they didn’t? Nope. It’s sweet, and it’s romantic, and in its way it was, after all, everything Anne had ever dreamed of. It was a fairytale.
PERSUASION: Strength and Second Chances
As I grow older I learned to appreciate this story of Jane Austen’s much more than I did when I first read it as a teenager. It has such a sweet, subtle message of hope. Anne Elliot (another Anne!) had a chance at true love when she was younger, but made the heartbreaking mistake of abandoning it due to the influences of others. She lived for several years in regret, always with a sense of sadness and disappointment beneath. Every day in the back of her mind was the realization of this huge mistake she had made in letting her beloved Captain Wentworth go. But she got a second chance – a second chance! How many of us have longed for such a thing in our lives! I know I have. But it’s rare that anyone gets one. Anne’s Captain returned, their love faced trials, it rekindled from the ashes, and returned stronger than it had been. And watching Anne learn to know herself better, learn to be strong and stand for what she believed, despite the bullying of others – that’s inspiration. That, to me, is like a fairytale.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA: Never Give Up
A man who arm wrestles for more than 24 hours, until his fingernails are dripping blood, is a man to watch. You can’t not want to see what he will do. And he does not disappoint. Santiago is methodic, he is observant, he is wise, and he is feeling. Most of all, though, he is determined. When he decides on the fish he wishes to catch, he doesn’t stop until he catches it. You can almost feel your heart break for him as the story progresses, slowly going from bad to worse, until Santiago finally catches the fish he has dreamed of … and dies from the struggle. What always struck me about this short masterpiece was the old man’s fire and grit. How could it fail to? It’s a feeling I’ve known myself – and a feeling that many people, sadly, would label as fanatic or extreme. No matter what you think of Santiago’s actions, I dare you not to admire him, or perhaps even to cry a bitter tear for his fate. Dying in the pursuit of a heart’s desire, whatever that desire might be? Call it what you will – I call it a fairytale.
So, you see, there are books upon books, stories upon stories, that contain bits and pieces of “fairytale” in them. And in the end, maybe it’s not so much “fairytale” that we see in these books as it is a part of our very selves, or the promise of what we may someday become if we wish to.
The above stories are ones that have affected me greatly over the years, taught me things about myself and others that I may never have seen before. And there are many others where those came from.
But I’m curious – what are the books that have impacted your heart? Which stories, no matter where they fall on the scale between fantastical and realistic, have made you long to become something more, or have made you feel more alive?