I do love fairytales.
Not the bland, colourful fast-food served up by Disney to fill its theme parks, but the dark, archaic gothic tales that have been told and retold around the glowing hearths of Europe over countless cold winter nights.
One Christmas, long ago, I read a tale that haunted my dreams. About a boy with a splinter in his eye and ice in his heart, imprisoned in an ice castle by the imperious, domineering Snow Queen, pitifully arranging ice blocks, trying to spell ‘eternity’ before his heart froze.
Then – just in time – a girl arrives, his childhood sweetheart, and the ice melts.
I was too young to understand all the story’s layers. Like why I found the frigid, stern, unfeeling Queen so fascinating; I wondered if she spanked the poor boy’s bottom with her icy hands before sending him to bed each night. And back then I didn’t understand the redemptive, magical power of love.
Fairytales fascinate because they are abstract stories, they tell of a world that never was, but one we can conjure effortlessly into being in our imaginations. Fairytales are not histories, but fables – stories about morals, archetypal characters and aphorisms.
Carl Jung believed these archetypes came from our common psychology, the thoughts, dreams and values we share with every human being ever born. These universal stories form the foundations of our shared culture.
And I believe fairytales have a special, secret magic: that each story shares the same words with its darker twin, hidden in plain sight, which we can see if we read the tale just slightly differently. Through a glass, darkly.
If your mind is so attuned, you’ll see the secret world that others can’t. You’ll begin to watch for it, you’ll learn to recognise the covert clues, even when it’s in disguise. Where others see an innocent fairytale, you’ll see a tale of submission and dominance, obedience and rebelliousness, subjugation and eroticism.
Perhaps you’ll develop a special fascination with the stern, domineering characters, you’ll imagine their dungeons as places of taboo excitement rather than despair. Maybe you’ll see the story not as good versus evil, but as a banal, rule-bound world being rattled by iconoclast upstarts. What is wickedness, really? Seeking to corrupt innocence and virtue, or seeking to impose it?
The idea of two stories, light and dark, coexisting, waiting to be untangled by the reader’s mind, motivated my story Throne of Shame. This is a deliberately ambiguous tale; is it a story of escape or desertion, capture or salvation?
Do you see ravishment or submission?
Do you see an abduction or a rescue?
Do you see love or lust?
And does the story end in agony or ecstasy?
As the nights grow longer, and frost begins to creep across the windows, perhaps you’ll snuggle into bed and have someone read you a bedtime story.
Because you’re never too old for fairytales.