All fuss and fairytales

There has been quite a bit of uproar about Richard Dawkins supposed opinions on Fairy tales and their effect on children.

Do listen to to hear what Richard Dawkins actually said on Radio 4 and if you want some silly fun, follow  on Twitter.

I don’t intend to comment on over-simplified reporting or whether Mr Dawkins stirred up controversy for the sake of notoriety – whilst these are interesting topics, this is a blog about writing after all.

What I do want to do is to celebrate the love for fairy tales and fantasy I share with thousands of others – and to think about why this is a good thing.

First of all, stories must entertain – and stories with magic of one sort or another can absolutely enthrall both children and adults. The glorious inventiveness of, say Catherynne  M.Valente or Frances Hardinge, uses enchantment to engage. We delight in sheer ingenuity  – and that I think has much to do with Einstein’s point of view.

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” EINSTEIN

Secondly, all stories that last act as settings for things we hold precious. They let us experience the results of hope and courage, love and steadfastness for example. They teach, more or less obviously through fable, and the wonder of the fairytale world helps us remember what we learned all the more.

Of course, realistic fiction can do this too – but for those with a taste for the extra-ordinary, characters like Iorek Byrnisson or Eowyn thrill us more. There’s more connection with these invented characters, their largeness and other-worldliness gives us space to explore ideas and emotions.


My third and final point is more contentious. The first two could be agreed with by the most ardent rationalist – unless they regard all fiction as irresponsible lies.

However, I do hold with ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. It is the storyteller’s role to leave room for the numinous. My experience is that the deepest, most treasured parts of human life cannot be measured, weighed, dissected or rationalised  – and the wisest stories allow for this.

It should remain for the reader to explore how much is metaphor or magic – and how much is ‘real’.

I leave the last word to Joanne Harris via Katherine Langrish’s excellent blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

A story can bring down a government; or steal away a child’s heart; or build a religion; or just make us see the world differently. Storytellers come and go, but stories never die. And if that isn’t magic, then I don’t know what is.


Black & white engraving of a beautiful enchantress

The Enchantress by Howard Pyle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Blind Seamstress III

completing my fairytale for creative people


‘Then let us begin,’ the Rose Lady said and she pulled the dress apart. The sound of each stitch ripping ran inside the Blind Seamstress’s ear like cold poison. Stitches unravelled and fabric rent. It seemed to her that she was servant-of-clay with its fired skin crazed and broken. Pain trod her gut like hunger.

Yet like hunger, it pushed her on. No detail of pleats or fastenings but her need made her swallow and chew the understanding of it.

‘You must be humble,’ said the Rose Lady, ‘and ask others to see the faults for you. There will be many – they will be as grit in your bread and as salt in your coffee.’

Together they unpicked, and made patterns so numerous that rocks had to hold down their flutterings. Toiles and trials, miniatures and mock-ups filled the house of the Blind Seamstress in a soft forest.

At last, the Rose Lady bade her lay her needle down.

‘This, she said, ‘this we will take to market.’

The Blind Seamstress felt the dress lying across her wrists. Not a bead nor a silk thread broke its smooth surface. Like the desert breeze with neither scent of water or palm tree.

‘But it is too plain, too simple. No-one will want so humble a thing. I only made it to please myself.’

Trust me – and most of all, trust your own soul.’

The Blind Seamstress made her way to the market and took her usual quiet corner. Strong fingers clasped her wrist and pulled her away. With a push and a leap, she stood on a high place, the base of an ancient column.

‘I must go and you must stay,’ the Rose Lady said.

‘Have faith.’


The Blind Seamstress held out her dress and waited. She smelled camels and donkeys passing, heard the tellers of tales and sellers of water call out in the distance – but close by, the breath of many  encircled her. The tinkling of gold coins, rustle of cloth and scent of flower oils told her they were mostly women.

Words of wonder and delight bubbled up to her ears. Fingers tugged gently at the dress and lips sighed wishes that they might have such a dream of loveliness.

Then by-and-by came a merchant. Rings banded his plump hands and satin trimmed his sleeves. Tiny sandalled feet followed him, their sound no heavier than summer rain.

‘I am Hassan of the Ostrich Feathers – and my beloved daughter desires a gown from you.’

She knew he was a rich merchant fallen on hard times when his ship was lost at sea. Of his only daughter, she had heard hushed-up whispers of misfortune and ill-favoured looks.

A merry voice spoke.

‘I am to be married to my heart’s blessing – it would be an honour to wear such raiment. But I fear it will not fit me – can you alter it to suit?’

The Blind Seamstress heard the hope threaded through her words and considered.

The Merchant pulled off his rings and laid them fat and warm and heavy in her hand.

‘I give you the last that I have. Make the joy of old age happy.’

‘I must know what size and shape she is.’

He helped her down and she measured the young woman. It would take hours of work to fit someone so slight. Could she do it? Could she clothe a papyrus reed and make it into a lotus?

‘I will do my best, Hassan of the Ostrich Feathers – for your daughter’s sake.’


It was weary, fiddling work but she completed the gown and sent it. More work came her way. It seemed every quiet girl and shy woman in the City wanted a dress to fit. Hopeful buyers flocked around her little home. She clothed women tall like egrets, or plump and full-breasted as pigeons, or  dainty as quail.

To her, they were a delight. Each curve she could flatter, each skin she could wrap in voluptuous cloth, each spirit she could grow was a pleasure.

The best were the twisted ones who came by night. They crept to her window and pleaded for help. She called upon the Rose Lady for counsel and thought often fractured her sleep The labour was hard and rarely paid . But then their footsteps walking boldly by daylight made a rhythm of deep contentment for her heart to dance to.

Weeks went past. The Merchant returned.

‘You have made my daughter more lovely than I believed possible,’ he said. ‘There is nothing I could give you to repay that debt. But still – my ship came back unharmed and I would give you a token. Here is a pearl of great price – may you be blessed all the days of your life.’

She took the smooth and rounded treasure in her work-worn hand. She thought for a moment.


‘Indeed, I am.’