Fairy Tales That Aren’t Fairy Tales

OnceUponATimeAlthough 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 anne and gilbert hair pullinglove 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.

old.man.and.the.seaTHE 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?

7 thoughts on “Fairy Tales That Aren’t Fairy Tales

  1. All good stories speak to our hearts like this. One of the most powerful is the story of the prodigal son that Jesus told. There is fairytale power in a good story.

    What makes fantasy fiction powerfully unique is that it involves an imagined world that is magical, mythical or supernatural. In doing this, it appropriates universal myths and archetypes, so everyone can understand it regardless of their cultural or historical background. It explores these archetypes by metaphorical or allegorical expressions of reality, describing alternate worlds with the purpose of self-reflection, of focusing on our reality rather than escaping from it.

    This provides unique opportunities not only to reflect on the real world, but also to describe the possible ideal world. The crazy thing is that because of our experience in this ethereal, fantasy world we are capable of planting our feet more firmly in our world. All fiction departs from reality to reflect it better; it’s just that fantasy fiction (usually) does it best.

    Heh heh! Reading what I just wrote, I think I will have to do a blog post this. I don’t think I’ve ever said it so clearly.

    btw, Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite stories. Lucy Maud Montgomery is brilliant and vivid with her descriptions. It should be required reading for all aspiring authors!


    1. Yes, very well put! I completely agree with you. I’ll look forward to reading your post about it! … and it’s so refreshing to find a man who loves Anne! Everyone EVER should be required to read that story 😉


  2. I don’t read fiction much, but tend toward history and biography pieces. In a similar fashion to fiction or fairy tales, people within history often teach us through their struggles in life to overcome the adversities they face, especially as they meet new frontiers and new challenges (think Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, or Teddy Rossevelt at the turn of the 20th Century, or even the Earp brothers as they battle the elements of Tombstone, Arizona during the mining days of the late 1800’s). The character they show (for good or bad), the determination to succeed when the chips are down, their sometime surprising reliance on God (not often advertised by the secular media), their relationships and decisions, all teach us and provide examples of what to desire or what to avoid as we find ourselves facing tough times. Or good times, which can sometimes be the toughest to endure with faith and focus intact. Whether history or fiction, we gain when we read, if we make good choices about what we read.

    Liked by 1 person

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