{Guest Post} "The Failings of Fairy Tale Fathers" with Author Sophie Weeks

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Last week, Sophie Weeks stopped by The Book Rat during FTF to share her own retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful.

Don't forget to check it out!

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. Sophie resides in Payson, Arizona with three furry miscreants, who are wanted in multiple states for criminal adorableness. She is the author of OUTSIDE THE SPOTLIGHT, UNSETTLED SPIRITS, and THE SOURED EARTH.
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The Failings of Fairy Tale Fathers

by Sophie Weeks

When I was a little girl, perhaps six or seven, my family spent part of the summer on a small island.  Since it was a very safe community, I was allowed to ramble and play mostly unsupervised.  One day, when I was playing by the rocky shore, a big, aggressive black dog approached.  It barked.  It growled.  I knew it meant me no good.  I tried to get away from it by wading into the chilly sound, but it followed.  I screamed for help.

Within instants, my father came tearing out of the house.  He chased the dog away, came into the water, and scooped me up in his arms to carry me to shore.  Though my relationship with my father has pretty much never, as far as I can recall, been trouble-free, I knew that when the chips were down, he would save me.  And that's how it's supposed to be. 

So what's up with these fathers in fairy tales (http://thesecretadventuresofwritergirl.blogspot.com/2013/02/horrible-fathers-in-fairy-tales.html)? The “stepmother problem” is fairly easy to understand.  In an age where women frequently died in childbirth, it was quite likely that you might lose your mother.  And if another woman came along, one with her own children, could she really love you as your mother would?  But fathers!  If mothers are the nurturers in our collective consciousness, then fathers are the protectors, the ones who keep the family safe (I understand that there are many dads who are more teacher than warrior and plenty of mama bears who defend their young, but I'm talking about how most people perceive these different roles).  In stories, though, they don't.  They abandon their children in the woods (Hansel and Gretel), send them off to live with a beast to save their own skin (Beauty and the Beast), drive them off for not being sufficiently ingratiating (Love Like Salt), chop off their hands (The Girl Without Hands), or eat them in a stew (The Juniper Tree). 

Why are these stories so skeptical about a father's affections?  I can think of a couple of reasons.  One is that fathers throughout history weren't always encouraged to be particularly intimate with their children.  Dad's job was to set the whole baby process in motion and then earn enough to feed the brat.  It was Mom's job to actually give the child attention and affection.  To generations who grew up with distant or absent fathers, it may have seemed quite probable that your dad would unknowingly eat you up for dinner, happy to have such a yummy stew.

But I think there's another answer.  Fairy tales are romances: adventures that portray erratic wanderings, mystic creatures, and impossible tests.  But for these elements to become active, the forces of order must be disrupted.   The foolish son must set out to find his fortune, the unhappy princess must find people who respect her true value, the clever daughter must save herself (and often her brother too).  If the father, who symbolizes law and order, is present and attentive, none of these these things will occur.  Cinderella will go to her father, show him her ashy gown and cry, and he will right things.  Hansel and Gretel's father will kick out his nasty wife and hug his children tight to his chest.  Beauty's father will be killed by the Beast, and poor Beauty will mourn him—but she will never meet her prince.  For stories to happen, the forces of authority have to be lacking in some way. 

Just as nearly every gothic heroine is an orphan, fairy tale parents have to be unsatisfactory.  Tolstoy famously remarked, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Happy families don't send their children into the woods—but the woods are the place of magic, adventure, and transformation.  There must be an initial failure that then drives the hero or heroine into the broader world.  So forgive, if you can, these loathsome fathers, and remember that without them, there would be no story.

O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Sophie Weeks
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Booktrope Editions

In a world created by human ingenuity and dreams-the world of songs, stories and books-Isabella has lived in Christmas for over four hundred years. But when she seeks a vacation from the endless Christmas puddings and jingle bells, she discovers that the world of ideas is more dangerous than it seems. Given permission to visit the foreign genre of Mystery, Isabella experiences a shocking crime, one that threatens the very fabric of her society. With the help of Sherlock Holmes, she must find the murderer who is picking off literary characters one by one, threatening annihilation in a world where death is unimaginable-after all, a well told tale never dies. As the investigation grows ever more troubling and dangerous, Isabella must learn to trust both her heart and Baker Street's notoriously woman-hating sleuth.