Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today's fairy tale

I have the start of a fairy-tale, which I was going to use as the opening for a book, possibly a YA novel. I'm worried it's too slow, though. What do you think?

When I was little my mother told me fairy tales. She always told very long bedtime stories, long enough to give me the chance to fall asleep by their end, nestled in the quilt she had made between my motley collection of teddy bears. Usually I didn’t hear the ends of these tales, as my mother’s stories trailed off into warmth and sleepiness. In the morning I would demand to hear the end of the stories, not quite sure where the last part was that I remembered, and she would shake her head at me and say that I had to wait for bedtime. Fairy tales don’t exist in the daylight.

But there was one fairy tale that I remember in its entirety, and it went like this:

Once upon a time there was a fisherman. He was a very young fisherman, the youngest son in a big family. Their family had never been very successful. He had been hungry all the time when he was growing up, and now he was determined that he would never be hungry again. He always wanted to go out to sea, and in the wintertime when he couldn’t, he sat by the fire and always kept his hands busy making beautiful wood carvings to sell. Some people said that he was hard-working and clever, and other people said that he was too ambitious and foolhardy.

The truth was that some of the people who said those mean things about him may have been envious, and may not have liked him too much. Some of the people who said those nice things may have been envious, and liked him too much for it. Either way, though, both groups were right. . In truth he was a very, very impetuous young man, and he was a little bit greedy, but he had a kind heart.

He saved up all his money. He wouldn’t think of spending any of it on a new cottage to replace his rundown shack, or on a bride – which made some of those people that had liked him, like him a little less. Finally came the time when he had enough money to buy his own boat. He took this ship, which he called Good Fortune, and its crew out every day, and even in the worst conditions. He was very careless, but he was also very successful. He still didn’t spend any money, though, but saved it up for a newer and better ship further on.

And this went on for years, and the fisherman refused to take a bride, and he kept on living in his little run-down shack. Everyone said that he was a miser – mostly because they were miffed that he didn’t want to marry any of their daughters, when he had enough money to be such a good son-in-law. Soon he had a fleet of ships, but he kept on going out with one of his crews every time, and that was always the most successful boat—whether because he really had the good luck that everyone was beginning to attribute to him, or because he drove them, I don’t know.

One day he was out with a boat when it brought in a net of what was supposed to be tuna, and in the midst of all these unprepossessing and wiggling tuna there was a enormous gold fish. Not a goldfish like you keep in a little bowl – a great long fish with golden scales that shimmered under the sunlight and big golden eyes, like a cat’s. Everyone backed away from the flopping tuna and the still, great gold fish, that didn’t move except for the slow pained sputtering of its gills as it failed to get enough air. And everyone, of course, looked to the fisherman, because he always knew what to do.

“That’s a strange fish,” someone volunteered helpfully. “It must be worth a lot of money to someone.”

“Yes, it must,” the fisherman said, because almost everything is worth a lot of money to someone, if you find the right buyer. And especially things that are shiny. Yet he was stirred by a strange sensation looking at the oddity amongst his tuna. He picked up the great fish and dumped it over the side. Everyone watched him in a little bit of shock. Then he gruffly told them to go back to work, they had a lot of fishing to get done before dark. They expected that kind of thing from him, so everyone felt better and went back to dealing with the unfortunate tuna.

After that the fisherman couldn’t stop thinking about the gold fish, though. He wondered if its scales just looked like gold, or if they really were gold, and he couldn’t believe he had let it go. After a while he convinced himself that the scales were made of gold. He was so sad about the thought that he had let all that gold slip away that he began to wander outside at night, along the shore, wondering if he would ever catch the gold fish again. Although he still thought about tuna, his primary interest now was the great golden fish.

That's the first part of the tale. The idea is the women in this family tell fairy tales that mask the true stories from their lives. The main character, Lydia, grows up thinking that the Fisherman and his Golden Wife, or How Gretel Saved Hansel, are fairy tales that every child knows, and comes to learn that these fairy tales are private to her family. It's their way of retelling family secrets, and pretending to be discreet about it.

I'm just not sure my made-up fairy tale is quite as intriguing to everyone else as it is to me.

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