Pop Culture Grimm

To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm’s Household Stories:

Castle Waiting Vol. 1Linda Medley’s graphic novel series, Castle Waiting, published by Fantagraphics Books.  Medley both writes and illustrates the book, which explores the secrets and connections of fairy-tale characters and weaves them into a gorgeous tapestry.  While she does not limit herself to Grimm characters, they are featured prominently.

I highly recommend the edition collected as hardcover books, it is pretty, durable, and worthy of the delightful tales inside.  The cast of  quirky and lovable characters keeps finding new ways to intrigue and reward the reader.

Red -- No Rest for the WickedAndrea L. Peterson’s webcomic No Rest for the Wicked gleefully explores a number of fairy tales, mostly from the Grimm brothers but also from Charles Perrault and others: Puss in Boots, Hansel and Grethel, the Princess and the Pea, etc.  The characters are explored and retold in long story arcs that never fail to make me grin.

It’s one of my very favourite webcomics for its mix of storytelling, humour, darkness, surprises, and art experiments.  It’s updated at a slow rate, but it’s been on-going for a decade and is still coming up with fresh new ideas.

FablesBill Willingham’s graphic novel series Fables published under DC’s Vertigo imprint, especially those pencilled by Mark Buckingham.  I admit that in recent years the comic’s strength has waned a bit, but it pioneered the renaissance of retold fairy tales as dark (or at least gray-scale) urban fantasy which has now reached television in the guise of Once Upon A Time and Grimm.

The premise is that when the fairy tale lands were overrun by a dark enemy referred to only as The Adversary, creatures and characters from tales (“fables”) took refuge in our own world.  Many of them now have their haven in Fabletown, a little-known district of New York, as well as a location upstate known as “the Farm.”  We get to see how the likes of Snow White, Cinderella, King Cole, Little Boy Blue and the Big Bad Wolf have adapted to our world.

Once Upon a Time cardsOnce Upon a Time (Atlas Games): A storytelling card game that encourages creativity and collaborative play. One player is the Storyteller, and begins telling a story using the fairytale elements on her Story cards (e.g., “A Prince“, “Someone is lost“, “A wish is granted“), guiding the plot toward her Ending Card (e.g., “And they were never seen again.”) The other players use their own cards to interrupt her and become the new Storyteller. The winner is the first player to use all her Story Cards and play her Ending Card. The object of the game, though, isn’t just to win, but to have fun telling a story together. Even better, the publisher just issued a handbook on using the cards from the game for writing stories.

Cover: Seven Leagues

Seven Leagues (Malcontent Games): A role-playing game that uses a very light, unconstraining system created to support role-playing fairy tales, from the myths of Antiquity to modern urban fantasy. The text provides an excellent overview of the symbolism and structure of fairy tales. The system is based on narration and uses a twelve-sided die; it is simple enough for children as long as they can count and add, but the tone and theme are also appropriate for more serious themes and darker stories, including modern fantasy from magical realism to gothic urban magic. To learn more, you can read the detailed review I wrote a few years ago, including examples of play.

Cover: Faery's Tale

Faery’s Tale (Firefly Games): An interactive storytelling game, suitable for ages 6 and up, based on faery folklore. You play a pixie, brownie, sprite, or pooka, etc., in the enchanted forest of Brightwood in the land of fairy tales. You foil dark faery plots, rescue youngsters from giants, overthrow sorcerous tyrants, awaken princesses from their enchanted slumber, watch over faery godchildren, and have many other amazing adventures, happily ever after. Simple system using a narrative approach and six-sided dice. Tokens can be useful too.

Cover: The Zorcerer of Zo

The Zorcerer of Zo (Atomic Sock Monkey Press): Tailors face giants, enchanted queens dance with human peasants, talking creatures perform domestic duties, witches cast curses and fairies grant blessings. And all are seeking their Happily Ever After. The book contains very useful advice on how to run a role-playing game, including with children of various ages. The text takes the reader through every step of of campaign creation, from the initial little capsule description through setting design, actual play and final happily-ever-after. Simple system using a narrative approach and six-sided dice.

There are many more titles, but these three are good ones for practicing the interactive use of the symbols and trappings of fairy tales to create your own stories.

Read online: works by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm on Unz.org.