Alma Katsu: The Influential Power of Fairy Tales: Rise or Fall?



The Influential Power of Fairy Tales: Rise or Fall?
Guest Essay by Alma Katsu

Fairy tales never quite leave us, do they? The stories that we’re told when we’re young—often the first stories we learn—echo in the back of our minds our entire lives. Some might argue that this is because fairy and folk tales are derived from legend and myth, which are themselves so old that they’re rooted in our DNA, part of what Jung called the collective unconscious.

Even so, it would seem that fairy tales are enjoying a resurgence in our popular culture lately, what with the release of two movies—Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror—and not one but two hit television series, Grimm and Once Upon A Time. Can this be mere coincidence or is it a manifestation of our collective longing?

In the NY Times, reporter Terrence Rafferty suggested that, with more kids raised on Nickelodeon than Grimm’s Tales, fairy tales might be losing their power as touchstones in our subconscious, and popular works based on them might not be as resonant as they were a few decades ago. As someone who was raised on “Fractured Fairytales” in the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, I concede that Rafferty might have a point. We might be at a point where European folk tales are being replaced as the basis for stories by myth from other parts of the world, such as the heavy Japanese and Chinese influence on morality and character in anime.

As an author, I understand the power of fairy tales. I drew on fairy and folk tales in writing my two novels, The Taker and The Reckoning, combining history, magic and mystery to caution readers against being too reckless with one’s heart. While the Taker novels are not fairy tales themselves, I wanted them to have the same off-kilter feel and dark, evil (and sometimes sensual) thread running through them as the old fairy tales. Little bits of folk tales—Pinocchio in the case of The Taker, Beauty and the Beast in The Reckoning—were sewn throughout the books with a light hand to make the reader feel a subtle connection.

Fairy tales are referenced so often in literature, however, that one can hardly say it’s enjoying a resurgence, although the trend does seem to have heightened the past few years. It’s a common device in young adult books, used to great effect recently by authors such as Jackson Pearce (Sweetly, Sisters Red and most recently, Purity). And while fairy tales have long been a staple in fantasy fiction, it seems lately that more literary writers have are rediscovering fairy tales. Very interesting work is being done at the Fairy Tale Review, founded by Kate Bernheimer, whose 2010 anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, proved that these familiar tales can inspire great original new works.

What do you think? Are fairy tales enjoying a resurgence in pop culture, and if so, why? Are we attempting to retreat to a simpler time in our lives? Or do you agree with Rafferty and believe that fairy tales are less of a touchstone for younger generations?

Alma Katsu is the author of The Reckoning (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the second book in The Taker Trilogy, a centuries-spanning supernatural love story. Scott Westerfeld, author of Leviathan, called The Taker “a thinking man’s guilty pleasure.” The Taker was selected as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011 by Booklist. For more information on the books, please visit