There’s A Reason You’re Afraid of the Dark (A RavenCon 2023 panel)

Faerie tales used to terrify and in so doing, teach valuable lessons in how not to die. One could argue that they are the original horror stories. Everything in Grimms’ Fairy Tales is particularly… grim. Over the years though, many of these nightmarish creatures became cute and cuddly (or sexy—looking at you, Shape of Water). Have these myths become permanently nerfed or is there hope they can maintain their dark allure?

Here are notes from the titular RavenCon 2023 panel, with panelists Tina Glasneck, Jennifer Allen, Bishop O’Connell, and Alex Matsuo.

Favorite Fairy Tales

In nearly every culture, there are tales for children — tales with monsters and moral lessons. Most of us have our own favorites. For the panelists, their favorites included:

  • Oisín goes to Tír Na nÓg
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Fionn MacCumhaill and the Salmon of Wisdom

Fairy Tale Lessons

Most fairy tales have moral lessons – takeaways meant to keep the listener safe, by avoiding the errors of the characters in the stories.

  • Stay on the path — to stay safe from animals or people who would do you harm
  • Treat people with kindness — in the stories, they might be gods or supernatural/influential people
  • You can’t take everything at face value
  • Don’t go into stranger’s homes
  • Sometimes, the wrong person can get the reward, by being in the right place at the right time

Why fairy tales and not lectures?

If fairy tales are supposed to be moral lessons, why do we use storytelling instead of lectures? Well, there are many reasons, but here are a few:

  • People don’t like being told what to do
  • Tales can show the worst-case scenarios, without sounding like a paranoid parent
  • People are more open to learning when they’re being entertained
  • It’s easier to listen to stories of monsters, instead of being told to watch out for other people

Are We Past the Age of Myth Creation?

While various themes are carried through, most of our modern fairy tales are retellings. Now, some of our fairy tales are newer than we think. But, in this age of social media and the expectation of any new ‘myths’ being fact-checked for dates, times, and faces, some think that the age of myth is over.

They’re wrong.

  • Writers filter the world through stories, and the myths evolve to show our current fears and hopes
    • This is where urban legends come from
  • Stories make life more palatable
  • Too much information is overwhelming and often conflicting. Stories can simplify and people crave that.

What Makes a Fairytale Remake Worthwhile?

Many storytellers and their fans enjoy a retold fairytale, but what keeps them from turning into tired tropes?

  • They should translate motivation and goals into the chosen story setting
    • In Ever After, with Drew Barrymore, the storytellers leaned into putting their Cinderella in the place and time
    • In the live-action Disney Beauty and the Beast, they had more nuanced versions of Gaston and the Beast, rather than the jerk caricature of Gaston and the awkward but “means well” Beast of the animated classic.
    • Bram Stroker’s Dracula
    • Gawain and the Green Knight (I think they were referencing the 1991 movie, and not The Green Knight from 2021)
  • Villian retellings can show new perspectives
  • They can make the stories more accessible to a wider array of readers/watchers
  • Translating the setting and goals into a new setting and perspective often illustrates the fears and hopes of the current age

There is a discussion to be had if making more accessible characters weakens them, but it depends on the storytelling, not the fact the characters are being made more accessible.

What Creatures Get Overlooked?

There are many fairytale creatures that don’t get their fair share of the press. I’m thinking the panelists don’t read the same books I do because while I’m seeing plenty of these, they were craving more:

  • Selkies
  • Muses
  • Goblins

Where To Find New Fairytales

We can find them anywhere! From Reddit’s r/afterdark to An Archive of Our Own, to youtube videos about created Minecraft mythology. Some highly recommended sources are:

  • Neil Gaiman as a modern folklorist
  • Spirited Away and other Studio Ghibli movies
  • Pan’s Labyrinth

I’m a huge fan of fairytales both old, remade, and new. Now, some fear that in the future, Disney’s versions will replace Grimms’ as the best-remembered fairytales, as Grimms’ replaced those that came before. But others believe the versions that will be remembered are the retellings and fresh myths that we need. And I agree.

What are your favorite fairytales?
What creatures would you like to see more of?
Who do you think gets them right?

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