The “Logic” of Fairy Tales

The other night, my husband was reading the small, mobile one Rapunzel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, a pregnant woman craves the lettuce in the witch’s garden next door, and the witch says she can have it if the witch can have the child once it’s born. (And then there’s long hair and towers and “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” and all that.)

Me> Why would anyone agree to that?
Husband> Do you mind?

But, honestly, why would you agree to that? The story says they’d been trying to have a child forever, so why would they give it up for some pregnancy cravings?

There’s other bits of the story that I have issues with. Rapunzel is just one of the fairy tales we’ve gotten for the small, mobile one, and reading them often reminds me that fairy tales seem to come with a healthy amount of ignoring common sense and logic for the sense of telling a tale or teaching a moral.

But, as Genevieve Cogman points out over at the Tor blog, while fairy tales are often passed off as tales of morality, unless you meet certain requirements, you’re pretty much screwed. You have to be the youngest, or have a certain set of virtues, or possess certain protective charms.

I think this may be why reworking fairy tales has become so popular. Because fairy tales don’t make sense, because characters make plot decisions that have no basis in logic or even emotion, because the villains have no motivation besides being wicked. And that makes us curious. Why, after threatening to kill the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, does the king decide to marry her? Why the reliance on “love at first sight”? Why does the wolf go through the charade of being Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood? (What is a “riding hood” and why wear it for a walk?)

(I actually explored the Rumpelstiltskin question in one of the first anthologies I ever did.)

What do you think, Squiders? What’s your favorite example of fairy tale unlogic? Also, share your favorite redone fairy tale in the comments.

7 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t have a particular favorite, but I love fairy tale story structure. There is a great breakdown of this in Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. It’s pretty interesting to learn that The Godfather is a fairy tale.


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