Once Upon a Time … and Even Now

The Never-Ending Story of Fairy Tales

Are we all supposed to grow out of fairy tales? If we are, then perhaps I’m a Peter Pan who will never grow up because I still love fairy tales as an adult as much as I ever did as a child. I still believe in an alternative world where elves, witches, fairy godmothers and talking animals interact with humans. I cannot ever imagine myself to be so “grown up” that these creatures cease to exist.

I don’t remember exactly when I started to read fairy tales, but I do remember how much I loved it whenever one of my aunts read one to me and my older brother. I would lie in bed as I listened to the stories. The characters would all come alive in my head where they stayed long after my aunt had read the closing words of “happily ever after”. She would go to sleep once her reading duty was done, but I would remain awake with a smile on my face, as I imagined myself in the esteemed company of Jack, Pinnochio, Tom Thumb and the Seven Dwarfs.

Books of Magic

I also remember escaping to my school library for my daily soujourn in the Land of Fairy Tales. While my classmates chased each other in the playground during the breaks, I was in the library catching up with my magical friends. My favourite corner of the library had a book rack with some titles from the Ladybird Well Loved Tales series. I remember the pride and satisfaction I felt when I finished reading Jack and the Beanstalk. I think it was the first book that I read from cover to cover. It took me several trips to the library to finish it but what magical trips those were!

The first book of fairy tales that I proudly owned was Once Upon a Time Story Book by Jane Caruth, published by Littlehampton Book Services Ltd. It was a big hardback book filled with glorious colour illustrations. It soon became my most treasured possession, one which I would read over and over again. My mother bought me more books of fairy tales over the years but not nearly often enough. I could never have enough magic and adventure. I wanted more, more and more.

Then in 1983, the greatest invention in the world of fairy tales appeared: Story Teller, a fortnightly magazine from Marshall Cavendish featuring both classic and modern stories, with a cover mounted cassette tape which had readings of the stories by famous celebrities of the time including Sheila Hancock, Derek Jacobi and Bernard Cribbins. For two years, I saved my pocket money to buy each issue. Story Teller was the best thing ever. I didn’t think I could get any more excited about fairy tales but Story Teller somehow had the magic spell to bring even more colour and joy into my life through stories with its unique combination of lavishly illustrated books and readings of the stories complete with music and sound effects.

At some point, I got old enough to read what I used to refer to as “extended fairy tales” (i.e., novels) including The Chronicles of Narnia and classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. As a teenager, I went on to the more serious fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed all of these immensely but they complemented rather than replaced Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and their friends.

Books of Hope

Today, I still read fairy tales. I still collect fairy tales. They are proudly displayed on my bookshelves next to the works of the likes of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Fairy tales continue to inspire me in all aspects of my life. The morals that they teach are timeless, as relevant today as they were when first written. Fairy tales remind us that things aren’t always what they seem. They give us hope. Fairy tales also encourage and enhance my creativity. They nurture my love of literature and the English language.

I remember a scene in The Belgariad, one of my all-time favourite fantasy series by David Eddings, in which a haughty city guard told Belgarath the Sorcerer that he had stopped believing in fairy tales when he grew up. In response, Belgarath told the guard regrettably, “What a dull world you must now live in.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.


(Featured image by Scott Gustatson.)

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