Londonist is proud to be media partner to the British Academy's Literature Week.
A week of fairy tales and wonder is coming your way from the British Academy between 11-17 May, as its biennial Literature Week returns for the fourth time. It's crammed with talks and storytelling, theatre and hands-on fun. Best of all? Everything's free.
We'll be highlighting some of the events — themed around fairy tales and folk tales — over the coming weeks, but here's an overview to whet your appetite. Lionel Shriver and Pin Drop will be making you see the short story in a whole new light; Globe Education perform their reworked (and shortened) Midsummer Night's Dream in an event that's perfect for families; get enlightened in your lunchtime with talks at the British Library on translation, African folklore and Angela Carter; and explore the British Academy's beautiful Carlton House Terrace HQ after dark in its first Late, with live storytelling, pop-up lectures and some Londony fun with us... And don't forget to pick up your free booklet of modern fairy tales for London, written by our readers.
Everything starts on 11 May and there's a special launch night with live storytelling from the Crick Crack Club's excellent Ben Haggerty, plus author, academic and critic Marina Warner and author Marcus Sedgwick will be talking about fairy tales and how they fit into the modern world and the tales we tell now. We spoke to Marina — an acclaimed mythographer — about fairy tales and our continuing obsession with them.
Why do you think we're so drawn to fairy tales and folk tales?
The stories are written in a rich poetic language of symbols and images — apples, glass, ice, thorns, gold — and they explore the deepest mysteries in endlessly inventive ways, filled with thrilling, sometimes cruel, incidents and shot through with yearning for better times. The fantastic events and scenery do not make the plots unrecognisable, but draw us back toward home (and all its problems) but make it bearable by being strange and faraway.
Why do they endure over time?
They speak in a language held in common so that they're intelligible across borders of culture and language and time. They create other worlds where alternatives happen, and these possibilities also offer hope that things might get better. The happy ending is a promise that consoles even when it doesn't fully convince.
What qualities do you think make a good fairy/folk tale?
'Reasoned imagination': this is a term the great writer Jorge Luis Borges used about fantasy. Magic must persuade, emotionally and psychologically. In recent stories, twists and turns on familiar themes have become crucial today in the retelling of old fairy tales. We enjoy the familiar but we like to be surprised. The most powerful fairy tales pioneered 'Never say sorry, never explain'. Unlike novels and plays, they observe without analysis the extremes of behaviour.
What future do you see for fairy and folk tales in the modern era?
A long one — the form has been moving off children's shelves into a wider world again (where it started) for a while, and some very fine writers, film-makers, as well as artists in every field are drawing for inspiration on this shared corpus — 'the ocean of stories'.
The British Academy's Literature Week runs 11-17 May. All events are free. To explore the programme and register visit the British Academy's website. You can also follow #LiteratureWeek on Twitter for updates from @britac_news.