Fairy Tales: Dark, Gory, Frightening, Hilarious
I understand if you don’t think of fairy tales as an inherently funny genre. Kidnapping, cannibalism, animal maulings, children getting their feet chopped off - none of that is exactly laugh-a-minute material. But was I crazy for wanting to write a comedic fairy tale? It’s not like all of those old stories were dark, violent cautionary tales. The vast, vast majority, perhaps — but not all. The point is: There’s plenty of humor in classic fairy tales if you know where and how to look for it.
And that is exactly what I did when I sat down to write The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. I read through a slew of classic fairy tales, hunted down the funny bits, and utilized the same types of humor as Andersen, the Grimms, and Perrault (albeit with a modern spin).
Let’s start with slapstick. Pratfalls are perhaps the oldest form of comedy; probably dating back to the first time some Neanderthal tripped on a rock and landed in some sabretooth tiger dung. And it’s in fairy tales, too. Perfect example: When Goldilocks breaks Baby Bear’s chair. If you don’t think that scene was meant to be funny, look at almost any illustrated version of the story. She sits on a chair and it collapses - I’d be surprised if they didn’t borrow that exact gag for the new Three Stooges movie. Plus, it follows the Rule of Three: When something happens twice, but goes wrong on the third try, it is always hilarious.
And then there’s mistaken identity — a pretty common device in fairy tales, but not always used to comedic effect (meaning the Grimms missed a lot of awesome opportunities). But you’ve also got stories like The Bremen Town musicians, where a hapless robber gets batted around in the dark by a dog, a cat, a rooster, and a donkey. That climactic scene is a ripsnorter from the start, thanks to its element of Home Alone-ness (see “slapstick,” above), but the real kicker comes when the thief runs from the house and tells his buddies that he was attacked by long-taloned witches and knife-wielding murderers. Hey, I didn’t say it wasn’t dark humor.
On a related theme, there’s also the verbal misunderstanding, often paired with puns or word play. This is often my personal favorite type of comedy. The plot of “The Brave Little Tailor,” for instance, revolves entirely around someone’s misinterpreting of “seven with one blow.” It could have been the premise of a Three’s Company episode.
And finally, there’s food humor. What can I say? Food is funny. Especially when it’s out of context. Just look at the sausage on the nose gag from “The Fisherman and His Wife.” You don’t even have to view that one in Freudian terms to realize how hilarious it is. It’s a guy with a sausage on his nose! Comic genius.
Taking all of these different types of bona fide fairy tale humor into account, perhaps you will now understand why I have a scene in Hero's Guide where someone misinterprets a question and mistakenly replies in reference to the melon that was just smashed over Prince Charming's head by somebody who failed to recognize who he was.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom will be released May 1st by Walden Pond Press. It's a book you won't want to miss.
And stay tuned! A little later today, you will have a chance to win a copy of Hero's Guide along with other amazing Walden titles!
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