Kate Wolford wants to tell you a story about winter.
The fairy tale maven behind Enchanted Conversation and a friend of Unsettling Wonder, Wolford has been called “the college professor you always wish you had.”Her new book proves this yet again: she can even make talking about the weather fascinating and enlightening. Frozen Fairy Tales collects fifteen new fairy tales which, the blurb explains, ‘explore the perils and possibilities of the snow, wind, ice, and bone-chilling cold that traditional fairy tale characters seldom encounter.” As Wolford explains in her introduction, “Winter is not coming. Winter is here.”
One of these winter tales is by our own general editor. So, as the book arrives in stores and winter arrives outside, we sat down with Kate for a long-distance discussion about—well, about the weather, and how it shapes the stories we tell. Join us below, and then follow the link to get your own copy of these chilling tales.
UW: I suspect that almost everyone who sees the phrase Frozen Fairy Tales will start humming that cold never bothered them, anyway–whether they want to or not. But in the introduction, you mention that the fortunes of Elsa and Anna weren’t the inspiration for this book. So what did inspire it?
KW: I’ve always been a weather geek–I guess everyone is, to some extent. But, as a gardener and a citizen who is concerned with climate change, I’m highly focused on weather. Plus, I’m just fascinated by it. It might be because, during the ’70s, I lived through a major flood and those terrible winters we had back then.
As for fairy tales, as someone who has read a lot of Hans Christian Andersen, especially stories like “The Snow Queen,” and “The Little Match Girl,” the idea of a collection like Frozen Fairy Tales appeals to me. Also, to be honest, while the book is not about the movie Frozen, I’m very aware of the movie’s cultural impact.
Yes, and speaking of cultural impact, in the introduction you of course mention that “Winter is Coming”—it’s been on its way in George R. R. Martin’s book for around twenty years now, I guess. There’s a cultural resonance here: as in the tales you mention by Andersen, winter is often presented as something hostile. The cold is adversity, and the warm spring is the happy ending.
And yet, you mention climate change—the not-quite-arrival of winter is a genuine problem. What do you think these stories speak to a world that’s dying from the loss of winter?
As the person who chose the stories, I suspect that there’s some early nostalgia on my part for what I think will one day be thought of as “old fashion winters.” I’m not sure what the writers intended when they wrote, as to climate change, but I do think the winters represented in them are classic winters.
When I picked them, I paid a lot of attention to the role winter played in the stories. Winter was significant in every story–not merely a backdrop.
The terrible power of winter in some of the stories was a factor (as in yours, for example). Since climate change is already starting to bring us extreme weather events, we can look forward to the dubious pleasure of a warmer world that can bring us extreme winter weather. So being reminded of classic winter, as in these stories, also brings to mind the spectre of extreme winters in the future, as the planet heats.
Along with those by Andersen, have you found significant roles for classic winters in any classic fairy tales?
Hmm. I think that this collection has encouraged me to create the opportunity for writers to rethink classic tales with weather in mind. For example, right now, I’m doing a flash contest that requires writers to mashup “Sleeping Beauty” and snow.
But, while there are some obscure “Snow Child” European tales, snow, and indeed weather, are not often major players in the most well-known Western fairy tales. But someone might be able to remind me otherwise. As I recall, in some versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty’s father gets stuck in a snowstorm, and that’s how he ends up in the Beast’s castle.
I should note that playing around in the background of these snowy fairy tale ideas is William Steig’s Brave Irene. (Everything by William Steig—who gave us Shrek—is worth reading.) In it, Irene must deliver a dress in a terrible snowstorm. It’s a fantastic book, for adult and child. William Steig’s books were essential reading when our daughter was little. And many of his books have fairy tale elements.
You’ve been involved in fairy tale publishing, writing and teaching, for a number of years now, encouraging this kind of rethinking of classic tales. How have you seen the study and discussion around fairy tales change since you first started?
More people definitely understand that classic fairy tales were not just “sweet” kids’ tales. A much greater percentage of the public in general gets that.
I also think that men have an increased sense that fairy tales aren’t really “princessy,” but are, rather, adventure stories. Just as important, women get that as well. That’s a major move forward for both studying and writing fairy tales. The rescue fantasy syndrome has been grossly overstated and perhaps even over studied.
I’m glad that the “misunderstood villain” trend is dying, when it comes to retellings. I have nothing at all against Wicked, but people need to stop imitating Maguire’s books.
So, when a writer is retelling an old tale, or trying to create a new one, how can they keep weather in mind? or make it integral to the story, rather than just window dressing?
Weather is tough to write about. You can end up with a bad “it was a dark and stormy night” situation. I’m not sure how people avoid the bad weather writing, but I will say that the pieces in Frozen Fairy Tales all used weather as more than a mood setter. In each case, weather was a major obstacle (and occasional helper).
The weather really had its own life in every story. I guess to write about weather successfully, in these stories, the weather really transcended setting. It truly was its own force, often scary, frequently beautiful, always complicating the plot.
Frozen Fairy Tales is available from World Weaver Press, and wherever good books are sold.
Thanks so much for supporting the book on your wonderful site. If people want to learn more about fairy tales and wonder and good writing, they need to keep reading Unsettling Wonder.