Take the Fair Face of Woman by Sophie Anderson

Castle St Theatre, Kendal, Saturday August 5, 2023



ON AUGUST 5, MORE THAN 20 readers, of all ages, will be reading ‘fairy’ tales for 12 hours, non-stop, In Kendal Library: our marathon to raise money for another production by Kendal Community Theatre.

Last year’s version of A Christmas Carol for Kendal was an original adaptation of Dickens’ story, inspired by his rage at the inadequacies of the ‘ragged schools’ system for educating the poorest of the poor in Victorian England. Kendal Community Theatre was praised for its wholly inclusive approach in casting members aged 6–90+, none of them having to audition for parts, and many with acute special needs.


This year the production in December 2023 will be A Snow Queen for Kendal – another original adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of Gerda’s heroic quest for her lost Kay.


I looked up ‘fairy’ largely because I’ve written two novels of magic realism, in which this world and another flow in and out of one another. It’s an ancient genre, dating back thousands of years and across all cultures, never designed largely for children but usually encapsulating the deepest fears and longings of human nature. ‘Fairy’ derives from ‘fae’ and ‘fata’ – the Fates. There’s nothing childish in fae. The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from adults, not children.


I was given a copy of Joseph Jacobs’ collection of English Fairy Stories when I was six, and John Batten’s illustrations have haunted me.  In writing my novel Anna and the Snake Queen I was influenced by the picture of Childe Wynd, holding in his arms his sister who had been turned into the Laidly Worm. When I was writing If Dreams Should Die I kept recalling the image of Janet, meeting her lover Tamlane in a forest, after he had been stolen by the Queen of Fae.


These are sinister pictures, nothing like the sweet-faced girl-fairy so often depicted.


We say some of the stories we read on August 5 will be for children, and others for adults, but the division is artificial. There’s nothing comfortable in the story of Hansel and Gretel, or Rapunzel. Violent death, grisly cruelty and danger are integral to most of the folk tales labelled ‘fairy stories’ and they wouldn’t get a PG or U listing from the British Board of Film Classification, though they are regularly found in the children’s section of libraries.


I’ll be reading from my two magic realism novels but I hope to find time for Terry Pratchett, too. If you don’t know his novels, DEATH (always in capitals) features in several.



Image that inspired Anna & the Snake Queen cover