“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I grew up playing in the wrinkles of the Rocky Mountains. On winter ski lifts, the fierce contrast framed snow against evergreens as far as I could see, my lips frozen beyond speech. In summer, rugged sun-spangled cliffs slashed by falling rivers, danced in the light. Too many times I hung over the rushing creek dangling my shoes from the thick branch that offered me a place to sit and memorize the earth, the clouds, the dreams alive before my eyes. Till one time my shoe leapt into the froth below. What was a girl to do? Kick the other one in to join its mate. Having ridiculously tender footsoles, I hobbled painfully home never regretting my loss.
Now, the remembrance of the footpath, the tree, the bridge over the wide creek throws me into clarity. And fairytales become real again. Dragons can be conquered, but I have to remember that.
Earlier than Neil Gaiman, G.K. Chesterton took it deeper. He said, “Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey….”
I didn’t get to read fairytales until I was old enough to read for myself. I didn’t have access to them until I was out of grade-school. (Maybe that’s why the bogeyman wouldn’t ever go away.) By then, I considered myself too mature for them. Finally, I grew old enough again to read them. And like a pent-up wind released, they gave my imagination somewhere to go.
Then, I wanted to waste nothing in the making of tales. Poetry came first. I never thought I’d be able to commit to a novel, even though it ran through my brain over and over. Poetry is a quick glance, a smile, a nod, an embrace and then you’re done. Maybe a re-visit here and there to tweak it. But a novel, now that’s a marriage. Too many novels turn pretentious at some point, woody at others, and the risk to make every single word draw the story out, seemed so daunting. When I read “Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels, I knew I had to at least try.
Anne said in an interview, “You spend your time when you’re writing erasing yourself. The idea is to get out of the way of it.”
I knew I could do that…get myself out of the way.
About poetry, she said…
“…it’s such a good discipline for a novelist: it makes you aware that even if you have four or five hundred pages to play with, you mustn’t waste a single word.”
Since poetry’s my practice, this, too, seemed possible. I was aching to try. In the folds of life, word by word, Delicate winked its way out. Part gothic, part myth, history, love and revenge, it’s a fairytale that brushes against the mystic. (But isn’t that the nature of all fairytales?)