|Posted by Angie on September 17, 2015 at 8:15 AM|
It's Fairy Tale Friday with Natalia Theodoridou!
This week’s Fairy Tale Friday’s featured writer is Natalia Theodoridou. Natalia writes stories that sing of strange darkness and stark beauty. She is a media & cultural studies scholar based in Portsmouth, UK. Her short stories and weird unclassifiables have appeared in The Kenyon Review Online, Clarkesworld, Interfictions, the Black Apples anthology, and elsewhere. Find out more at her website (www.natalia-theodoridou.com) or drop her a line on Twitter @natalia_theodor.
1. The term ‘fairy tale’ can conjure up clichéd images of ‘happy ever afters’ and thanks to Andrew Lang’s ‘Coloured Fairy Books’ Victorian tales for children told before bedtime. In your experience as a reader and writer, what is a fairy tale?
As a child of the 1980s I was, of course, exposed to all the Disney-fied versions of well-known tales like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, etc. But I was also growing up in northern Greece, with grandparents that spoke Turkish mixed with Russian; their fairy tales were very different. They felt darker, dangerous. These were the stories that attracted me the most, the stories I kept going back to: there were short men with long beards defying giants and making soup out of stones; women cutting off their breasts and feeding them to their husbands; girls hunted down by their fathers and turning into stars. Later I also went looking for the original, untamed versions of the fairy tales that came to us from further west. What I found clicked perfectly with my experience of fairy tales as something wild, and sometimes deeply cruel, but resonating in a very truthful way.
2. Writers such as Angela Carter have written retellings of fairy tales set in contemporary worlds. In your retellings or re-imaginings how important is it to keep the original content? How important is divergence to you? Or is this something that is discovered through the writing process and unique to each story?
I never begin a story with such considerations in mind, unless I am doing it as a writing exercise or I am responding to a very specific call for submissions. That said, it is usually the thing that makes a specific fairy tale resonate for me that I try to preserve in the retelling, be it a major component, such as a character or a plot element, or something subtle and hard to pin down, like a particular detail, some tragic irony, a feeling. For example, in "The Shadow and the Snake" (in Black Apples), it was the sense that all these extraordinary things that can happen in a Greek folk tale are absolutely normal--they can happen every day, any day, to anyone. In "The Ravens' Sister" (in The Kenyon Review Online), it was the origin of the motif that intrigued me; a lot of stories about lost brothers turning into birds (e.g. the Seven Ravens, the Six Swans, the Twelve Wild Ducks, etc.) came about at times of war. I wanted to explore this in a more contemporary setting.
3. Sometimes writers work with the bones of fairy tales to write new tales. When ‘working the bones’, do you find that the original tales act as scaffolds, metaphors or symbols for your new tale?
Fairy tales are useful blueprints, but I think it is the story-as-metaphor that has more impact in the end. Because some of these narratives are so familiar to many readers, it is easy to make them do double duty in a retelling: on the one hand they act as familiar background, and so perhaps allow the writer to set the scene with a few broad strokes, and on the other hand they bring in old themes that illuminate, and are in turn illuminated by, the new settings in which they are transplanted. It is my feeling that, when a fairy tale is rewritten and retold, both the "original" and the "retelling" are imbued with something new. After writing or reading a retelling, the original tale will never be the same for me again--it will have always already included its own retelling, as well as all of its other retellings by other writers I've read. That's what makes fairy tales so interesting, I think; can you really tell when you first read a fairy tale and what you thought of it, or is your memory already coloured by all your subsequent encounters with it? It's almost as if you can never read a fairy tale for the first time.
4. Can you tell us about a favourite fairy tale you have worked with for one of your stories? Was it a retelling or a re-imagining or a new story with the skeletons of past tales?
I think I may have already answered that when talking about "The Ravens' Sister" above. It would be the story of the Six Swans (even though I ended up retelling the Seven Ravens instead, which had similar themes but a different structure). I followed the major plot points of the original story, but I went experimental with the format, because I wanted to say something about the ways histories (both personal and national) are fluid, contested, and full of silences, erasures, strikethroughs. I also wanted to find out exactly who the Sister was, how she viewed the world. So I tried to write her as a fully-formed person rather than an archetype. Inevitably, where there is a new character, there is a new story.
5. If you could invite three fairy tale characters to dinner, who would it be? And why?
I'm not sure how many dinner guests I could handle (I am terrible at social interaction), but I would definitely invite as many of the children from Hamelin as I could fit around my small dining table. It's not easy being uprooted from your home--I bet they would have some interesting stories to tell.