From cackling, wicked witches to blue-scaled snake princesses, some of the most traditional fairy tales have been forgotten over time. Bethany Park spoke to award-winning author Jamila Gavin about the extraordinary nature of fairy tales and their importance in reflecting a modern, multicultural Britain.
Attendees stepped into an enchanting world of witches and enchanting forests during Jamila’s storytelling event. From Hansel and Gretel to the Indian fairy tale The Snake Princess, the audience was mesmerised by the stories that Jamila says were a prominent part of her childhood and helped shaped her into the author she is today.
“I have been brought up on fairy tales,” Jamila said, “and so it has been very much a part of my storytelling vocabulary. Over the years I have read and written lots of tales from India and various folk tales. I soon realised that there are such similar threads and tales interwoven between them.”
Is this why it is so important for kids to read ‘original’ fairy tales?
“I think that kids should just read widely, and realise that there is not just one version of a fairy tale. I am always a bit sad when I talk to kids about fairy tales in schools, and I realise that they haven’t read any of them. They have just seen the films, and so they do not know the history behind all of them. You can even link stories to Shakespeare, who obviously knew lots of fairy tales. Even in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there is a monster similar to the one in Beauty and the Beast.”
What made you want to write fairy tales yourself?
“I wanted to write tales that would reflect multicultural Britain.My first book was Magic Orange Tree, which has different ethnic threads in it. When I first had grandchildren, I realised that each time they opened a book about fairy tales, they were always beautiful, blonde haired blue-eyed princesses. I just thought that children needed to open up a book and find a different image. So I was trying to blend European tradition with elements of other cultures. My book Blackberry Blue it is still quite European, but some characters could be Libyan or Muslim.”
Do you have a favourite fairy tale?
“There is no definite favourite, but one I like is Beauty and the Beast. In the story, two older sisters wanted jewels and wealth from their father, but the youngest one said: ‘I just want a rose’. But that turns out to be the most difficult thing to get, and with the most consequences.
“King Lear is based on this as well. However, in King Lear, he asks ‘how much do you love me’, and they all say the same as the first two. But the last one actually says: ‘I love you as much as my bond,’ and he doesn’t accept it. And with King Lear, you end up with more death and mayhem.”
Read Jamila’s latest tale ‘Into The Mountain’ in the short story collection Winter Magic.