Fairy Tale Friday - Erzebet Barthold

Posted by Angie on November 5, 2015 at 5:55 PM

Fairy Tale Friday -  Erzebet Barthold

This week's writer for Fairy Tale Friday is Erzebet Barthold. She  is an author, a publisher, and a book artist & binder. Her written work has been published by Prime Books, Lethe Press, Masque Books, Tor Books, Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine and more. Most of these were written under her previous name, Erzebet YellowBoy. She is the founder of Papaveria Press, a micropress devoted to fairy tales and fantasy, and the long-time editor of Cabinet des Fées, an online journal of fairy tales. Her current hobby is trying to replicate Baba Yaga's hut in the back garden. Visit her website at

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?

I've written about this before in a not-a-review of Alice Hoffman's Green Heart (two novels combined: Green Angel and Green Witch), which I think is one of the most lovely fairy tales of our time. I suggested that what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale has to do with the way in which it is read and absorbed, by the way in which it transports the reader through a specifically mythic landscape (any landscape, yours or mine), and by the way it opens and concludes. The key to the fairy tale is magic. This kind of magic is the kind that does not need human intervention to move it. Rather, it moves us. It is a serendipitous magic, the magic of the happy accident, which isn’t an accident at all but more of a synchronicity. And of course there is the tradition opening: Once upon a time. Once upon is not our time, it is a time “beyond the fields we know,” and even if the story itself is actually taking place in our time, that time has been separated from ours in that it becomes, through the agency of “once upon,” a time that lies sideways to our own. There can be deep woods, or there can be skyscrapers, or both, but the entrance to the fairy tale is found right there in the beginning, when we are transported into the landscape of a time that is not our time. It is, in fact, timeless, as are fairy tales themselves.

 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?

It is unique to the characters in each story. Some of them have been quite happy to live in their old dusty castles, while others want to shop in boutiques on the high street and still others want to go to school. I'm working on something right now set in yet another stereotypical medieval village, English of course, because that's where the main character lives, though in this work, rather than the character living in a fairy tale, the fairy tales are coming to her.

 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?

I want to say scaffolds, but it really is all three and most of the time, however they end up acting is unintentional. I aim for the scaffolding, I should say, but fairy tales have lives of their own and can't be controlled. My preferred method of writing is to let the bones speak for themselves.

 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 love the symbolism of "Snow White", the apples, the mirror, the comb, the colors, all of it. When I wrote "The Mirror Tells All" (Once Upon A Time: New Fairy Tales, 2013) I wanted to explore what the story could be if the rivalry between the queen and Snow was removed. The symbols are still there, the mirror, the apple, the comb, but the tale itself was reimagined. I'm really tired of the story of women being pitted aginst each other in general, and of this competition between a mother and daughter in particular. There are plenty of things that can go wrong between a mother and a daughter that do not involve either one's appearance or age. "The Mirror Tells All" is built on the skeleton of "Snow White", but it is a story about a daughter's resilience in the face of maternal neglect rather than of maternal competition.

 If you could invite three fairy tale characters to dinner, who would it be? And why?

I would love to sit down and share a cackle or two with Mother Hulda, Baba Yaga, and Frau Trude. I don't believe these characters are misrepresented; they are simply being true to their natures. We would trade spells and recipes, and tell stories by firelight. The question is, would I survive the meal?



Categories: Fairy Tales, Writing

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