One of the great things about folklore is that it is always evolving, adapting, and changing — it never stays inside the lines. Stories that your grandmother told you about fairies, ghosts, and graveyards might make their way into your favorite television show. That’s what I love about folklore, and that’s why I am became a folklorist. I loved how I could be reading a young adult book, and come across a story I read in a 12th century text.
It’s happened more times than I can count. Take Mailnda Lo’s recent novel, Ash. In Lo’s beautiful, somber novel, we read about Ash, a girl whose father dies. She is abused by her wicked stepmother, and locked away. Sound familiar? It is the tale of Cinderella. But what makes Lo’s telling unique is how she approaches the story. Ash longs to be rescued by the fairies — to escape the world of princes and castles. The twists and turns of Lo’s story resonate with earlier tellings, but each time she takes a step deeper into fairyland, we are forced to reconcile our idea of what the story is and what the story could be.
Stories like Cinderella continually re-enter our collective imagination. We’ve even seen Snow White make a resurgence, next to several other Disney characters in recent movies and TV series. But Disney does not own the rights to these narratives. The stories have been around for centuries. Some were captured by the Grimm brothers in the 19th century, while others are even older.
What makes these stories last so long? They each, in their own way, appeal to something deep inside each of us. The stories and folktales that linger are the ones that show us who we were, who we are, and who we could be. In Cinderella, we see the horrible nature of the world, but we also see the possibility and the power of one woman who fights against injustice.
What do we see in Snow White, then? Well, Snow White shows us even more about whom we are. You see, folktales and stories are often adapted to meet the changing needs and understandings of the current century. When Kristen Stewart took up Snow White’s fading flower crown in 2012, we saw a girl who was gentle and kind: in touch with nature, but also a powerful warrior. This matches up closely with our current expectations and changing representation of women, and clearly contrasts the Disney version of Snow White (1937), who sings a song to the wishing well: “I’m wishing for the one I love to find me…” The warrior is not part of this version of the princess. With Kristen Stewart at the helm, the tale has changed once again.
And so it is that old stories never die. Folklore never disappears. We see old stories, old characters, old ideas in the strangest, most unexpected places — teen novels, billboards, and car commercials. And that couldn’t make me happier. Every time I see a familiar piece of folklore, it’s like meeting an old friend; a friend who is constantly adapting, changing, and blurring the lines.
Kate Ristau is an author and folklorist. She writes young adult and middle grade fiction, along with grammar primers that won’t make you cringe. In her ideal world, magic and myth combine to create memorable stories with unforgettable characters. Until she finds that world, she'll live in Portland, Oregon with her husband, her son, and her dog. If you can’t find her there, you can find her at kateristau.com.
Áine lives in the light, but she is haunted by darkness, and when her fey powers blaze out of control, she escapes into the Shadowlands. But she cannot outrun her past. Fire fey and a rising darkness threaten the light, burning a path across the veil. Her fiery dreams come to life, and with the help of Hennessy, an uninhibited Irish girl, Áine dives into the flames to discover who she truly is. Her mother burned to keep her secret safe, and now Áine wields the deadly Eta. She must learn to fight in the shadows — or die in the flames. This is not a fairy tale.