Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Makeover Fiction or Metamorphosis

Fairy tales (and other old stories) recycled.
Ancient stories passed down through the centuries, and especially old fairy tales, fascinate me. They are the bedrock of our modern love affair with fiction of all kinds. The earliest stories were told by hunters who sat around campfires relating their tales of 'daring do' to other tribe members. This would be the evenings' entertainment for them. And the best stories would be repeated by story tellers - and enlarged upon, no doubt.  But spreading a story would obviously all be by word of mouth. So, nothing much changed there, then? It's still the best way of selling fiction... But I digress...
 When we think of fairy tales we think of children and yet some of the most loved stories are actually quite gruesome. For example ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ where a wolf actually eats the child’s grandmother, and Hansel and Gretel where two small children are abandoned in a forest to fend for themselves!
In plotting thrillers, we could occasionally consider some of the storylines used in fairy tales. There is many a suspense/horror story based on the child in peril theme and the early writers of fairy tales were not averse to a little bloodshed either. Many fairy tales are based on the general theme of a quest for something (e.g. Cinderella) and many are also tales of morality and heroic feats that transformed ordinary characters.
If we look even further back in history we can see many morality-type tales whose themes and subject matter have been used and re-used right up to modern day. The notion of the Trojan horse in the city of Troy has been used as a useful plot device in many a spy thriller and the ancient stories of Ovid in the Metamorphosis has given rise to thousands of classical tales including Icarus and Daedalus. Using these stories as inspiration for modern-day thrillers is nothing new and I, myself, used the Ovidian tale of Philomena and Tereus as the basis of a modern day rape and imprisonment story.
So, is it wise to use some of the basic plot devices of fairy stories as the basis for a good thriller? I once read a book, centred on the holocaust, that was basically the Hansel and Gretel story re-done as two children trying to escape the Nazis. It was an excellent thriller full of suspense and nail-biting drama.
As someone once said there are only a few master plots in the world and most novels are variations on a theme anyway, so why not utilise the revered stories of old?
Have you ever re-used the basic plot of a fairy story? Do you think it is a good idea to look to old fiction for inspiration for new fiction?


  1. I personally like the evil step-mother good princess trope and have used it a few times. Also, the hero's journey (or heroine). As you say there are only (I've heard) 12 plots in the whole of storydom, so we have to use what we can and make it better.

  2. I say, as long as it's not sooo obvious, why not? I do get tired of all the erotica titles that play off of fairy tales

  3. Thanks for the comments, folks! Appreciate it.

  4. Nice post, Pat. I haven't used a plot of a fairy tale, but I think the core of some of these fairy tales are in thrillers, such as the fight between good vs. evil. Thrillers rely on the tension between good vs. evil while other subplots weave in and out.

    I believe consciously or unconsciously, we tend to borrow from past literature, embedding a plot, characters, or a heroic scene.

  5. I have often wanted to use the plots from fairy tales. I think probably I have in some abstract way. I know that Agatha Christie used nursery rhymes to base her stories on. That's cool. Thanks for the interesting post.

  6. Nice post! I think fiction forms a bit of our subconscious even from early childhood, and that we almost can't help but copy it a little. After all, most of us have a relatively limited life experience, so we have to look to other things for inspiration and guidence.