Last week, I travelled to the University of Chichester for a talk and book signing with Marina Warner, hosted by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy. When I saw this event being advertised I knew I had to go, because Marina Warner. Enough said.
Instead of reading from her new short story collection, Fly Away Home, Marina read a couple of off-cuts which didn’t make it into the final book. Both of these were inspired by some of Kiki Smith’s sculptures, which were themselves inspired by stories. I love how creativity can go on like this, in a chain of inspiration, from one art form to another.
After the readings, there was a short discussion and Q&A session. Marina spoke about how she believes fairy tales and folktales don’t age because they contain artificial structures. Almost like a grid, these tales have a feeling of a mythical past which can be reworked. So long as that feeling remains in some way, the tales live. They can be altered using their motifs or emotional content, and these alterations create new retellings. There is no progress as such, just constant change.
Fairy tales and folk tales are also timeless because they contain perpetually relevant topics, for example love, death, war, relationships, and nature. These will always be important, and so it’s always worthwhile to tell stories about them them.
From what I’ve read so far, many of the stories in Fly Away Home feature characters who undergo change. Transformation is threatening for some people, but it’s impossible to go back in time. As Marina herself said, nostalgia always has to be defeated in order to move on.
Marina also discussed the notion of fairy tales and myths as a way of exploring identity. Storytelling is a cultural activity, and it’s crucial to remember this now with so many people on the move and refugees being driven away from their home countries. We need to remember that they need space for their own stories and heritage in the new places they inhabit. Culture is an exchange, and stories are a driving force behind this.
As well as getting a signed copy of Fly Away Home, I also got my much-loved copy of Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale signed. This is a useful and insightful little book, and I highly recommend it to fairy tale fans. It’s concise enough to be a great starting point, and in-depth enough to supplement existing knowledge.
Marina was very friendly, and the whole conference was was a great experience. Not only is it wonderful to meet writers in person to hear them read from and discuss their work, it’s also wonderful to attend events like this and mingle with like-minded people. Thank you to the Sussex Centre for hosting this event, and to Marina for being a constant source of inspiration.