Storytelling: From Fairy Tales to Magical Realism

By Carole Reedy

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
— Albert Einstein

STORIES
“Man is the storytelling animal,” says the master storyteller himself, Sir Salman Rushdie. During a prestigious, nearly half-century career, he has published 12 novels, among which the most famous are Midnight’s Children (1981) and The Satanic Verses (1988). Two children’s books and 13 nonfiction and essay collections complete his writing career thus far. His next innovative storytelling will be Victory City: A Novel, to be published February 9, 2023. It is described as an Indian novel styled as a translation of an ancient epic.

The oral history of storytelling most likely goes back to the Bronze Age, but written stories are the focus of modern man. Writing down stories allows them to become static so that they can be read again and again, and thus relegated to history.

Stories help us to remember, imagine, and solve problems. In addition, they evoke empathy and provide us with many hours of thoughtful enjoyment. All these advantages apply to fairy tales as well as to fine literature.

FAIRY TALES AND MAGICAL REALISM
Fairy tales derive from the folklore of a culture, the first iteration of an oral tradition in the form of a short story. As populations became more literate, however, fairy tales appeared in written form intended for an adult audience. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the enjoyment of fairy tales extended to children.

The first formally published fairy tales were those of Charles Perrault, written in 1697, for an aristocratic French adult readership. Among Perrault’s most famous are “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” Perrault is often recognized as the creator of the modern fairy tale.

Fairy tales throughout the world vary. Those from Europe have become staples in literature in most countries, especially for children. Besides those of Perrault, you will find the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, from what is now Germany, and the stories set down by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson.

MEXICAN FAIRY TALES
Mexico’s culture is filled with folklore that translates into colorful fairy tales for children and adults. Here are a few recent ones that will engage children of all ages.

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales (2018): A New York Times bestseller, also named a Best Book by Kirkus Reviews, this richly illustrated and relevant story is based on Yuyi’s own experience of bringing her son and the gifts of their culture to a new place.

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, by Duncan Tonatiuh (2016): Tonatiuh is an award-winning author and illustrator. Here he reinvents one of Mexico’s most cherished tales, that of the two majestic volcanos overlooking Mexico City and Puebla, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The love between the princess Izta and the warrior Popoca creates the setting for this famous retold legend.

Also by Sr. Tonatiuh is a migrant’s tale, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (2013). This illustrated story tells of Pancho, a rabbit who travels with a coyote in search of his father who has crossed the border for work up north. It is an excellent way of increasing children’s understanding of the struggles and hardships of the people who need to cross borders.

Worth mentioning here as an aside is the marvelous children’s book, Danza, also by Duncan Tonatiuh (2017), which relates the story of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet and its incomparable founder Amalia Hernández.

The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez (2000): I must mention this tale even though its origin is Dominican, not Mexican, because Alvarez is a well-known novelist of adult books, most notably How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (2010). In the Time of the Butterflies: A Novel (1994) is a fictionalized account of the four Mirabal sisters (the butterflies), who sought to overthrow El Jefe, the repressive dictator General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

The children’s book, The Secret Footprints, is a reinvented legend from Dominican folklore of the ciguapas, creatures who live in the sea with feet that are on backwards so humans cannot follow them. It tells of an encounter between one ciguapa named Guapa and a human boy.

Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

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Present Day Fairy Tales
Fairy tales continue to be written for adults today. Edited by Kate Bernheimer and Carmen Giménez Smith, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (2010) includes work by some of our most distinguished and beloved authors: Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Cunningham, and Neil Gaiman, among others. I keep it available on my Kindle to entertain while on trains, planes, and automobiles!

MAGICAL REALISM
Magical realism reminds us of fairy tales with its mixture of dreams, imagination, and perceived reality. Here are some notable authors writing in this style:

Gabriel García Márquez has mastered the art, most notably in his best-selling One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, English 1970), in which the ghosts and spirits of Colombia’s history abound.

Yann Martel in The Life of Pi (2003) gives us a book about inner strength and creativity seen through animals on a raft in the ocean with the protagonist.

In his Kafka on the Shore (2002), famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami combines dreams and pop culture.

Chilean Isabel Allende has become one of the most famous Latin American writers. Her most popular work is The House of the Spirits (1986), which follows three generations of a family in which Chilean political history and dictatorship play important roles.

To end – as this article began – with a quote from Sir Salman Rushdie from Midnight’s Children, a novel filled with magically realistic moments:

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.