Many times when my family has gathered for big events – birthdays, holidays and other celebrations – there has been an abundance of stories. We know these stories inside and out; we can map the punchlines and surprises to a mile and a half. And yet, we always ask for them until someone takes the helm and tells the story again. And even. After years, these stories have become their own adaptations and narratives. Maybe we’re adjusting the dialogue a bit or omitting parts that are no longer relevant or memorable. We will adjust the story to match the tone of the group present or the mood of the event. But the main events remain the same.
Arguably, any good story is ready to be told. Great stories, however, can be told through the ages, molded to fit its listeners / readers in the times they find themselves.
A recipe for stories
But what makes a great story worth telling? There are certain influencing factors.
I read The Mermaid Penguin Book for research lately, and the introduction touched on how fairy tales and mythologies are similar across cultures:
Since ancient times, humans have noted that the stories of distinct cultures across the world can be remarkably similar, and have tried to explain why the same patterns and themes occur globallyâ¦ What to keep in mind is that the value of stories is not the degree to which they are authentically originated, but the way in which they reflect the concerns or values ââof the group that tells and tells them.
Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown Brown, from The Mermaid Penguin Book
The last line really gets to the heart of stories that are good to tell; they can be shaped to suit the themes of the time, adjusted and even enhanced.
Additionally, I believe that stories have the ability to perfect the original fairy tale, myth, or legend, especially if the original’s first post is clearly out of date. In Marie-Louise Von Franz’s book The interpretation of fairy tales, she writes, “we can see that by being passed on, fairy tales don’t have to get out of hand but can just as easily get better.”
The examples I include below are such contemporary improvements. The authors take a fairy tale and sculpt it as a fleshed out, radiant entity of our time. These examples could very well become an inspiration to be fully told in 25, 50 and 75 years.
Extract content to tell it
For the sake of specificity and clarity, I would like to focus on one of my favorite fairy tales that has been repeated over and over again and will feature its contemporary tales.
“Bluebeard” is arguably Charles Perreault’s most famous fairy tale, published in the late 1600s. For those who do not know him, it tells the story of a wealthy man who used to ‘murder his wives. The last wife tries to avoid the fate of her predecessors. There are other iterations to this tale, such as “The Robber Bridegroom”. Some folklorists describe “Bluebeard” as a tale about the dangers of female curiosity. Others have also said that it is about rebelling against patriarchal systems (i.e. wives do not obey their husbands, and the last wife is able to overcome and end to its murderous cycle).
One of the most famous “Bluebeard” tales (and my all-time favorite) comes in the form of “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. It can be found in his collection under the same title, The bloody room. The story follows an aspiring young woman who marries a mysterious rich man. She is taken to her castle, where she is given keys but is told not to use any in particular. My favorite character in Carter’s story is the Woman’s Mother, who senses her daughter’s distress and arrives in the magnificent end of female justice and power. Carter wrote the collection in 1979, amid Second Wave feminism. Carter said of his collection:
My intention was not to make “versions” or, as the American edition of the book horribly put it, “adult” fairy tales, but to extract the latent content of traditional stories and use it as start of new stories.
From The novelists in interview by John Haffenden (1985)
Carter’s intention, to me, really shows what an effective storytelling can do: pull content that’s ready to expand and make it into something new. Carter gave the curious woman a story and a worried mother. Perhaps more importantly, the concerns and values ââthat Carter had in writing the story played a significant role in what made “The Bloody Chamber” the successful and timeless tale that it is.
Another excellent tale from Bluebeard is the gripping novel by Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Renard, which was released in 2011. Blue Beard can be found in the main character. He is a writer who has a habit of killing his heroines in horrible ways. However, Mr. Fox’s muse Mary accuses him of avoiding a true connection by killing his heroines and challenges him to explore further.
Mr. Renard is wonderfully told in stories in stories and stories reacting to stories. While Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” is gothic and atmospheric, Oyeyemi’s Mr. Renard looks like a game and is charming. Yet, these are essentially accounts of the same story. (If you are interested in the wonderful writings of Helen Oyeyemi, I would like to point out my reading journey on her work.)
Predictions for future Bluebeard stories
Bluebeard’s story is one that will be told time and time again. It has just been repeated in the recent version of November 2021 Comfort me with apples by Catherynne M. Valente, a short story that is a mixture of Bluebeard and biblical stories. It’s fast, fierce news that’s its own story animal. The way the rules of history are set and the setting reflects much of today’s rich gated communities. He also constantly plays with the definition of perfection, happiness and what one deserves.
I can see Bluebeard told far into the future, shaped in new ways to fit the values ââand concerns of the time. I can see the contemporary titles above being told as they become new items in the fairytale canon.
In the future, I would like to see a Bluebeard story told in the climate crisis, or maybe one focusing more on body autonomy, the effects of capitalism, etc. Either way, I’ll be ready to devour each story in all its glory.
The future of stories
In addition to classic fairy tales like Bluebeard that continue to be told, there are popular contemporary stories that may have their own tales far into the future. The books that have captured our imaginations over the past decade can be modified and repeated to fit the present times, especially when it comes to the climate crisis, capitalism, and the fragile political landscape. From the YA series to award-winning books, here are a few types of stories I see being told in generations to come:
Stories like The hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I have chosen The hunger Games as an example, but I think any arena / competition stories where violence is used as a means of entertainment and / or monetary success will always be dissected. As we continue to delve into the digital age, the question of how far we are willing to go – how much are we willing to sacrifice – to achieve monetary success or just for fun will always be explored and repeated. Other stories in this category might include the show Squid game, YA books Caravale and Where dreams descend, among others.
Stories like Parable of the sower by Octavia Butler
Parable of the sower is part of the solarpunk genre, which is explained in Emily Wenstrom’s brilliant introduction. In short, Wenstrom writes “the spirit of solarpunk is that of craftsmanship, egalitarianism and optimism where technology can be put to the service of our greatest problems.” This is the other side of the coin for The hunger Games stories, where the stories will be told with optimism for the technology, solutions to our growing climate crisis (or, in the event that the climate crisis is irreversible, a solution through space exploration) and a brighter future for the world. ‘humanity.
The opportunity to tell stories
From popular YA series to mainstays of genres like solarpunk, there are many stories that have the potential to be told, depending on the values ââof the author and the values ââof society at the time. Stories will be rearranged and told to better predict our future and reflect our difficulties. They will rekindle interest in original stories and create new paths, new angles, for more stories by new generations of writers.