The essay begins by three inscriptions from Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino, and Angela Carter. Walter Benjamin says:
The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of childrenThe fairy tales are enduring cultural narratives that have shaped every storyteller on earth. Bernheimer asks us to appreciate their qualities, which are not the qualities often celebrated or taught in creative writing classes. She says they have "four elements [in] traditional fairy tales: flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic." She goes on to explain these four characteristics:
because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on
in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be,
the teller of fairy tales.
Fairy-tale characters are silhouettes, mentioned simply because they are there. They are not given many emotions—perhaps one, such as happy or sad—and they are not in psychological conflict.So, it is curious that we are so deeply imprinted by these characters.
Fairy tales [often tell not show]…rely on abstraction for their effect. Not many particular,Often called "just-so" stories, fairy tales relate events that would seem to have no connection, that are outside of concepts of cause/effect, commonly thought of as plot.
illustrative details are given. The things in fairy tales are described with open language.
The language of traditional fairy tales tells us that first this happened, and then that happened. There is never an explanation of why. In fact the question why does not often arise....
The natural world in a fairy tale is a magical world. The day to day is collapsed with the wondrous. In a traditional fairy tale there is no need for a portal. Enchantment is not astounding. Magic isBernheimer says fairy tales bring together traditional and fantasy and avant garde writers, Countless poets have written work connected to fairy tales. Here is the first stanza of Sylvia Plath's Mirror:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles.
I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart.
But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
This poem alludes to the queen's words, mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Fairy tales are a rich source of material for all poets.
Read Bernheimer's full essay here: http://www.katebernheimer.com/images/Fairy%20Tale%20is%20Form.pdf