Tuesday, January 7, 2014

5 Epic Quests For Inspiration from Fairy Tales

Article by Ty Hulse

It's rare for fairy tales to be epic adventures as they tend to be peasants tales and so are about people who succeed by working hard, being clever, or just plain lucky (Think "Cinderella"). There are, however, those occasional heroes who go on long, dangerous quests to gain wealth or save a loved one.

As always the challenge with interpreting these fairy tales is that they don't include a lot of details and because many of these stories are based on Shaman's spirit journeys we have forgotten most of the rules regarding them in the modern day. This confusion and lack of details is also an advantage, however, because it gives you a lot of room to interpret the fairy tales, however, you want. In fact it's perhaps best to think of fairy tales as a series of writing prompts which you are free to interpret and spring off of.

1-The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh 


A Princess is turned into a dragon by her wicked step mother. In this form the princess rages about the countryside devouring everything in her path. To save her, her brother must defeat his wicked step mother, yet sadly she is in control of his sister in the form of a dragon, unable to fight his own sister he must first lift the curse with a hug and a kiss while she's trying to devour him. After succeeding in turning his sister back into a human he must deal with his Step Mother.

2-"The Fairy Elizabeth" 


This is a particularly hard story to understand because it's a tale of a journey into the Other World (Think "Alice in Wonderland") in which the protagonist is lured into the strange world by a woodpecker. Such stories are fairly common among Ugric peoples (such as the Hungarians) in which a person can find themselves in the other world by leaving the trail or village.

The fact that this story takes place in the Other World means that there are a lot of rules and conversions that are based on folk religious and mythological ideas which are difficult to understand at times.

In folkloric terms you should keep in mind that this is the story of a shaman gaining a spirit helper which is often a brutal act (In "The Frog Prince" stories the princess kills the frog in order to free the man inside) which means that you either have to find a way to explain the shamanistic elements in the story or find a way to tone down the cruelty of them for a general audience.

Regardless there are three important writing prompts which can come from this story.

1-A boy finds himself in the other world, one in which conventional rules of society no longer work and very little makes sense.

2-The boy is adopted in this realm by a powerful giant/spirit whose brother is the ruler of creeping things (mice, snakes, etc) and so is likely some form of nature god himself.

3-The boy is seeking after a magical wife who can aid him in helping his people who are likely poor. Only with her help can he insure the prosperity and safety of his people in the future.

To find this wife he seeks help from many magical beings for she is located in Johara, in the country of Black Sorrow.

3-"The Childe Rowland"


Rowland's sister is kidnapped by the psychopathic king of the elves, so he seeks out advice from Merlin who tells him he must slay all he meets in the elves Kingdom.

Elfland in tales like this is typically written as a neighboring kingdom, one which likely exists under a hill or in a small grove of trees as if an entirely different plane of being (Think of Narnia in the closet in which a massive world is hiding through a small doorway).

4-Three Princes


This is sort of the classic 'save the princess from the dragon' tale, except that the Prince makes himself a beast master (or a witch/shaman by taking familiar spirits if you so choose).

However, killing the dragon is only the beginning  this story for a false knight tries to pretend that he has slain the dragon and after he's married he's attacked by a witch and has to be saved by his brothers.

5-Boots and the Troll


This is another story which is originally based on a shamans journey into the other world. The young man in the story is lazy at first and does nothing but lay by the fire all day (a sign in many tales that he is a dreamer, which can also be a sign that he goes on spirit journey's in his dreams)

In this story a young man is ordered by the king to steal the wealth from a troll, multiple times, and each time his attempt becomes more and more dangerous.

Raven's Shire is dedicated to helping writers and artists learn about the strange world of fairy tales, so if you have any questions or need any help understanding the fairy realm, please contact us.