Teller of literary fairytales

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Teller of literary fairytales

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Oct 16, 2010, 4:50 pm

DWJ, along with other living and recent fantasy authors (such as Ursula LeGuin and Joan Aiken, is included in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales on the basis that her writings include fairytale motifs and themes. Do you think that this quality is what particularly makes her books attractive to readers of all ages?

Oct 18, 2010, 7:08 pm

Good grief, no. I think her ability to amalgamate the ordinary and the extraordinary, her humour and ability to draw readers into the storytelling are what keep her readers; I certainly don't think of her as a reteller of fairy tales like,say, Jane Yolen or Robin McKinley ..

Edited: Jul 3, 2011, 5:33 pm

Maybe I was being rather sweeping when I used the word "particularly" -- sorry about that. I totally agree that she doesn't merely retell fairytales, but she does often employ typical motifs and themes (eg seven-league boots in Howl's Moving Castle or Jack and the Beanstalk in The Ogre Downstairs).

Of course those other aspects of her storytelling that you mention make her style distinctive, particularly in the various combinations that she employs (The Homeward Bounders for instance isn't very humorous, but does amalgamate the ordinary and the extraordinary, and draws the reader along).

My question was merely to highlight a side of her storytelling -- her use of fairytale tropes -- which continues the tradition of the specifically 'literary fairytale' in the 21st century. Indeed, Enchanted Glass combines fairytale characters and folk traditions (such as Beating the Bounds) with Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and brings the whole lot up to date. This is one of the things I like about her style, the combination of the archaic with the modern.

Feb 12, 2011, 4:46 am

I don't think that DWJ engages with fairytales (or mythology) is what makes her accessible to a wide age group. However, I suspect what she does with those motifs, tropes and storylines (rather than their mere inclusion) has a lot to do with what makes her stories so interesting and appealing. It brings depth, cleverness and humour to her works. It means her stories are in dialogue with other stories. It's an aspect I really love about her books - but I wouldn't be interested if I didn't also love the other aspects of her storytelling: what she does with characters and dialogue - and as previously mentioned, the juxtaposition (or amalgamation) between the ordinary and the fantastical.

So I'd say her engagement with fairytales, mythology and literature is undoubtedly a strength of her novels, but not necessarily what draws readers to them.