The Timelessness of Fairy Tales

There's something about fairy tales which clicks with us; something we ache for; something we've locked away behind the heart-shaped keyhole. There's a certain desire – or perhaps loyalty – to which we regard them, and they're a part of our childhood we protect with our imaginary iron swords and fictitious bravery. And yet, why is this? Surely fairy tales transcend age, right? Surely we don't have to justify still reading them?

Whoever decided to directly associate fairy tales with children, and innocence, and immaturity, made a fatal flaw. As I've grown up, I've found fairy tales to be just as universal and intriguing – and darker than I'd previously realised.

Fairy tales offer a myriad of adventures, they're rich in morals, and, although intimately familiar, they never seem to tire. Whilst I'll admit the older collections – although fantastically morbid – do have their flaws, it's from fairy tales I personally learnt to see the reality behind fantasy. 

“FaĆ«rie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” – J.R.R. Tolkein, Tolkien on Fairy-stories

It seems to me that fairy tales are ageless. We have the toned-down childhood versions which teach us the morals, and the darker originals which delve deeper into the human condition. And yet, both do this with a sprinkle of gritty stardust, allowing us to explore other realms.

“Old stories have a habit of being told and retold and changed. Each subsequent storyteller puts his or her mark upon it. Whatever truth the story once had is buried in bias and embellishment. The reasons do not matter as much as the story itself.” – Erin Morgenstern

So, yes, fairy tales are timeless. Perhaps I won't always be reading the same fairy tales, and perhaps I won't always be reading about faeries and goblins, but maybe I'll read new and different variations of these tales. Whatever the case, I believe the faint trace of magic will always lace the pages I fold.

Do you still read fairy tales? Do you think you'll ever grow out of them?

The Agatha Christie Obsession

I've grown up surrounded by books, making friends with beings formed of dust and ink. Some of these beings have faded from my mind, and some remain dormant, whilst others I encounter regularly, greeting them with open arms and a steaming cup of tea. Two of these said beings are Christie's idiosyncratic Belgian detective, and her elderly, more-than-she-seems female detective. Across the darkening winter noons, they whisper to me, their voices muffled by the weight of words, and I know a myriad of adventures lie ahead. For me, these books are my Narnia; reality can wait.

I won't pretend Christie's novels have stunning prose or astounding character development, because, if I'm honest, they don't. However, they're bustling with ideas and thoughts, they're engaging and they're structurally flawless. Not to mention, Poirot and Miss Marple are timeless.

“Poirot," I said. "I have been thinking."
"An admirable exercise my friend. Continue it.”

This morning I rekindled my love for Christie's work through a delightful (albeit morbid) collection of Miss Marple short stories. And, as I glanced out the frosted window, and the warmth of my tea rouged my cheeks, I asked myself: why would I want to spend this day doing anything else?!

So yes, I love anything and everything about Christie's work. Perhaps her books aren't life-altering, but I enjoy them – and sometimes that's more worthwhile.

Do you have an author you constantly return to (aside from JKR)? Have you read any Agatha Christie books? If so, which is your favourite (mine's And Then There Were None)? Also, there was no November wrap-up due to a pesky case of time devourers (a.k.a mock exams) but I'll soon be done with these. :)

Books I Need to Reread This Winter

Winter is the time for rereading. Well, once mock exams are out of the way (but that's a whole other story…). Like I was saying, there's nothing better than picking up a well-loved, dog-eared copy of one of your favourites and delving back into the author's world. So, this winter, that's exactly what I intend to do. Although, with more tea and biscuits involved, preferably.

So, these are the books I plan to reread this winter…

THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under – maybe for the last time.

I've reread this book a couple of times, but it's one of those books that never feels 'over-read'. So, this winter, I'm planning to dedicate yet another day to Esther Greenwood. And, each time I read this book, I see different tones and shades within Esther and her tale, changing my perspective on everything.

DEATHLESS by Cathrynne M. Valente: The young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power.

I read this book for the first time in August this year, and I fell in love with it. It definitely won't be to everyone's taste, but it was just the right amount of darkness and magic for me. Definitely the perfect reread for winter.

NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen: In Northanger Abbey, a young woman's penchant for sensational Gothic novels leads to misunderstandings in the matters of the heart.

So yes, I read this book very recently… but ever since I finished it, I've been waiting to start all over again. I mean, it's not everyday you come across what's, quite possibly, your favourite Austen novel – right? So, naturally, I'll be returning to Catherine Morland's world this winter…

REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier: With a husband she barely knows, the young bride arrives at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca… 

To me, Rebecca seems the ultimate winter read. It's wildly mysterious, full of secrets, complete with a chilling undertone – definitely the first book I'll be rereading this winter. If you haven't picked this one up before, please do. Personally, I can't wait to return to Manderley…

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt: Richard Papen, a relatively impoverished student at a New England college, falls in with an exclusive clique of rich, worldly Greek scholars and soon learns the dreadful secret that keeps them together.

Can you notice a pattern here? Yep, the majority of the books on the list are fairly morbid. The Secret History is just that… and so much more. Intriguing, intelligent, captivating, compulsively readable, one of my all-time favourites… now, tell me, why would't I want to reread this?

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman: It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed…

I read this book right back in January, and it's been on my mind ever since… every time I see the spine of this book, I'm tempted to dive back into Gaiman's tale. And so, this winter, I'll follow these impulses, and finish the year with the same book I started it with.

Have you read any of these books? Do you plan on rereading anything this winter?

Is "the Fatal Flaw" Realistic?

“Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

… so states Richard Papen, the protagonist of The Secret History, during the first chapter. And it's a wonderful question. Is 'the fatal flaw' really existent in reality? Are we each tainted with this one, definite blemish? And, perhaps more intriguing, what's my own fatal flaw? Is it Hamlet's indecisiveness? Jo March's hot temper? Ned Stark's honour? Or am I flawed in many other ways?

Perhaps we should start with "the fatal flaw" itself. It can be defined as "a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or deficiency which holds a character back". To use a well-known example, Harry Potter has one defining fault: the need to constantly save people. And this results in rash decisions and inevitable danger (e.g. his quick and irrational decision to save Sirius at the MoM). And, in almost every character-driven novel, this flaw will be there.

And why's that? Because flaws and imperfections are an essential part of the human condition. Faultless characters are unrealistic, simple as.

And so, "the fatal flaw" is pretty much essential throughout literature. And yet, I can't help but question whether this is an accurate portrayal of reality? If I was to ask myself the same question as Richard Papen, I'd give a resounding 'no'. If I was asked to name my own "fatal flaw", I wouldn't be able to name one defining flaw, but a collection of smaller, more complex imperfections. To me, "the fatal flaw" seems an exaggeration – an exaggeration which seems realistic only in the context of fiction.

So yes, "the fatal flaw" makes for brilliant literature. But when it comes in to reality? Part of me holds the belief that, if anything, "the fatal flaw" is flawed by itself; perhaps, in reality, nobody has a defining fault, but a multitude of smaller, more intricate and complicated flaws. Just a thought, really. It could be my "fatal flaw" is just overthinking everything.

So, what do you think about "the fatal flaw"? Do you think it's realistic? 


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