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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Inspired by Fairy Tales

I’ve always loved fairy tales: African fairy stories, Old Peter’s Russian tales, Grimm’s fairy tales and the western classics – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Goose Girl, The Frog Prince. The themes of love, sacrifice, keeping promises (the theme of the Frog prince) transformation (in The Goose Girl and Cinderella) justice (again in Cinderella) are epic to me and timeless, worthy of exploration in romances and modern stories.

Cinderella, the story of selfless devotion rewarded, is a popular theme for many romance stories, with the ‘prince’ often an Italian or Arab billionaire who sweeps in to transform the heroine’s drab, oppressed life. I’m sure there are romances to be written about the ugly sisters, too – positive stories where they grow from their petty spitefulness and obsession over balls and dances into generous, complete women, who also find love. That element of the happily ever after and the unexpected is strong in both fairy tales and in romance and both appeal to me greatly.

Fairy tales can also be epic, dealing with issues of life and death. Look at Gerda and her determination to win her brother out of enchantment in The Snow Queen. Look at Sleeping Beauty, where the prince rescues the princess from the ‘death’ of endless sleep.

Recently I did my own ‘take’ on Cinderella in my ‘Mistress Angel’. I made it a story of transformation for both my heroine, Isabella, and the handsome armorer Stephen, who starts as a man haunted by loss. Although Isabella has little power, trapped in widowhood with a dreadful family,I didn’t want her to be passive, simply waiting to be rescued from her situation, so she is active in the story, scouring the streets of medieval London, determined to find and recover her son Matthew. I also added more urgency by making it a ticking clock story – Stephen and Isabella must find her son before her vile in-laws can keep him from his mother forever.

The story of Beauty and the Beast has thrilled me since I was a child, with its dark and menacing beginning, the terrifying beast and Beauty’s courage and love for her father and ultimately for the beast. I was inspired by these basic tenets to write my own medieval version of Beauty and the Beast in my ‘The Snow Bride’ and its sequel 'A Summer Bewitchment'. Magnus, the hero, has been hideously scarred by war and looks like a beast. He considers himself unworthy of love. Elfrida, my heroine, is also an outsider since she is a white witch, but she willingly sacrifices herself (as Beauty does in the fairy story) because of love, in her case her love for her younger sister, Christina, for whom she feels responsible. When she and Magnus encounter each other, I made it that they could not understand each other at first, to add to the mystery and dread – is Magnus as ugly in soul as in body? They must learn to trust each other, despite appearances, and come to love (just as in the original fairy tale).

I also added other fairy tale elements to ‘The Snow Bride’: magic, darkness, the idea of three (a common motif in fairy tales) spirits in the forest and more. Perhaps in the darker elements of my forest I was inspired by that other old fairy story – Red Riding Hood.

How about you? What inspires you in your reading or writing?

Lindsay Townsend


  1. Lindsay,
    We all can use a Happy Ever After sometimes, and to be whisk off to a fairytale land, tickles me pink. Your stories sound amazing. Wishing you all the best with them.


  2. I read recently that fairy stories have origins going back at least 6,000 years old, and maybe further. To have lasted this long the stories really must feed a deep need in all humans, no matter how sophisticated we think we are. You are a genius to use this theme. Great post.

  3. I always loved the 'happily ever after' fairy tales, but many of the original tales were anything but happy - often pretty scary. I'm glad your stories end happily. We can all use more happy in our lives.

  4. Thanks, Cindy and C.A.! I agree, Ann, about the darker historical roots of some fairy stories, especially Sleeping Beauty.
    I suspect that when we were in the caves we were telling stories. It's a deep part of us.

  5. I, too, have always loved fairy tales. I particularly loved Anderson's Fairy Tales even though they were usually sad. My favorite all time fairy tale was "The Light Princess." "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is also an old favorite.
    I loved the SNOW BRIDE. In fact, it is still my favorite of your work.

  6. Thanks, Sarah! The Snow Bride is one of my favourites, too!
    I loved Anderson,s stories, too, although as you say, so many are bitter-sweet.

  7. I think we all are influenced by the stories of our youth, fairy tales included. Although I listened to those tales, I found myself enamored of the loner, the one who sacrifices for the good of all.
    I love the happy ever after, but find the harder the journey, the more satisfying the ending. I also love your stories and look forward to each one as it comes out. Doris