Fractured Thoughts Workshop
Fractured folk tales including fairy tales, fables, myths
Marilyn A. Kinsella
What is a fractured tale? Usually, the fractured tale is a folktale from the oral tradition that is retold to find unexpected humor in the way it portrays characters, uses a different vernacular, has plot deviations and twists, or uses writing ploys.
In my personal opinion the types of folk tales that are good for fracturing include fairy tales, morality tales, fables, and some mythology. Folk tales is an umbrella term for many types of oral traditions stories. Fairy tales, morality tales and fables are three of them. Mythology is usually not lumped together with folk tales, because it is the collection of stories that has many religious aspects. In libraries they are not in the folktales’ 398.2 section, but rather they are with religious books. I have heard Greek myths fractured and they are hilarious. However, (IMHO) fracturing the mythology of an existing religion outside one’s own religion could be construed as hurtful. The same goes for parables, Sufi tales, and many wisdom tales that have a religious or spiritual base. Having said that, there are a plethora of stories out there from which to choose.
First of all, the story you choose to fracture has to be a recognizable folk or fairy tale - otherwise the humor is lost. Most trickster, tall tales, and noodle head stories are not good for fracturing, because there is already the element of humor in them. It is the more serious fairy tales and morality tales that are easier to fracture, because of their more serious nature and archetypical characters.
Folk tales have changed and morphed as they traveled around the world creating cultural versions. They may change the characters and animals to reflect their culture and the setting is often different, but these versions do not intend to make the story funny – just more relevant to the listeners. For instance, the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is called “Lon Po Po” in China. There are cultural versions in many other countries. However, fractured versions may only be funny within a culture since they often rely on the humor, references, and word play unique to that culture. An interesting factoid that I uncovered while writing this paper is that fractured fairy tales are not at all popular in Europe. It really seems to be an “American” genre!
Many storytellers find folk tales and write their own version of it. In doing so, oftentimes, their personality and humor naturally comes out in the story. But, they are still telling the story without changing the integrity of the tale. They may add a few fracturing ploys listed below, but it doesn’t change the story. In Marilyn Kinsella’s story of Rumpelstiltskin, she adds a lot humor and participation, but it is not truly fractured. It is her version of the story. There is, sometimes, a fine line between one’s version and truly fracturing a tale. True fracturing will usually alter the tale in some stark contrast to the original story. An exception to this is when a teller exclusively or excessively uses a ploy such as spoonerisms, dialect, or alliteration. They don’t alter the story, but the fracturing comes from the overuse of the ploy.
Parody is another form that is very close to fracturing. According to Wikipedia a parody is, “in contemporary usage, a work created to mock, comment on, or poke fun at an original work,” A good parody will spoof or lampoon a piece of art, a speech, literary story, movie, tv show, or song. It often relies heavily on satire to make social or political points. IMHO, a parody is often a more modern spoof on current events or arts. It doesn’t lend itself to folktales because those stories are ancient – they are not “an original work.” Part of the fun of parodies is that it lampoons recognizable people, events and arts. Storyteller, Beth Horner, tells Ravens of Piute Poet Poe. Poet C. L. Edson wrote the parody (ca. 1955) mocking Poe's alliteration and repetition:
"Prophet," said I, "thing of evil, navel, novel, or boll weevil, you shall travel, on the level! Scratch the gravel now and travel! Leave my hovel, I implore."
It’s rather difficult to figure out when fracturing fairy tales started. James Thurber wrote “The Little Girl and the Wolf” in 1939. It was the late 1950’s when Rocky and Bullwinkle Show had a segment on Fractured Fairy Tales. Perhaps, it was that show that coined the phrase “fractured fairy tale”… or was it older than that? I don’t know. Since that time, there were some fractured tales published. But, in 1986, when Jon Scieszka authored The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, it opened the door for publishing a plethora of fractured fairy tales. Now, there are not only books with fractured tales, but plays, DVDs, and even games using the fairy tale motifs. Storytellers often create their own fractured tales.
Writing fractured fairy tales
When you decide to write your own fractured tale, begin by asking yourself, “Who is my audience?” Fractured fairy tales can be for children, teens or adults. Once you know who your audience is, it is easier to modify, fracturfy and solidify! Most fractured tales don’t work on pre-school to second grade. They may listen attentively to the story, but they won’t get the play on words, puns, references, etc. Most young listeners, either don’t know the original version well enough, or they are too young to get the humor. Don’t get me wrong…they love the story. They listen and laugh but at different places. They think that this is the way the story has always been told.
Ploys to use when fracturing stories:
You can write a fractured tale by simply telling it as a story. But, here are some other ways to present a fractured tale:
Storytellers’ Fractured Tales:
And “Little Red Hood Song” – No need for a woodcutter because Little Red is a Hill Billy Kung Fu Champ.
Storytellers who tell authored, fractured tales:
Ideas from other Storytellers:
I like to make fractured tales with my audience. I do it in "Mad Lib" style & purposely ask the questions, scattering them about in what seems a random fashion, so it doesn't become obvious what story we are creating.
As an example, I ask the audience to give a color, give a favorite food, give a type of career or grown-up job, give a predator animal, give a type of relative. Point out the type of sweatshirt or sweater called a "hoodie" & begin the story of Little ___ Hoodie. That career or grown-up job, by the way, is the 1 who saves Little ___ Hoodie & his/her (I tend to go with whichever is more numerous in the audience) relative. In a recent version a lawyer had to do the saving. . . what fun!
LoiS(ticking to just the facts & that's my story!)
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Judith wrote the following “Miss Muffit” fractured Mother Goose (whom she portrays) for the 2008 Summer Reading Programs called “Catch the Reading Bug.”
Spidey the spider
Was weaving her web wider
To lure in some bugs to eat.
Along came Miss Muffet,
Who plopped down her tuffet
And tore up Spidey's web with her seat.
Spidey the Spider
Climbed up besider her
To get an apology.
Muffet let out a shriek,
Spidey's chances looked bleak,
And away Miss Muffet did flee.
I usually tell Cinderella and ask for a character from another fairy tale, a character from today's life, three things used in school . . . and a NASTY HABIT! It is fun working with this format because the kids all wait for the selections to come up. I usually write them down just to make sure I get them in. This really keeps the teller thinking on a regular basis and gets the attention (and listening skills) of the class into high gear. I also always try to put the "Nasty Habit" right at the end of the story so that the kids are waiting and listening for the entire story to find out how I put it in Cinderella. 95% of the time kids will choose "Picking your nose" as the nasty habit so I have a special ending just for that event.
Ed Stivender – Pioneered improvising fractured fairy tales on stage. He asks the audience for 2 folk characters from different stories, a problem, a saying, and a place. Then, he plays a harmonica or banjo until the story forms and he spontaneously tells a fractured tale.
Ideas for Workshop Group Work
Group work: take one story and fracture it by having one group tell it using a different point of view, one adding puns, one a different plot, one telling what happened after the story ended or what happened to a minor character or object in the story.
Group work: take different stories and let each group work with a different form – raps, poem, song, readers’ theatre, news article, interview.
Adult Fractured Fairy Tales:
Adult fractured tales that are still humorous but humor is for adults:
Adult – Retracted Tales
Uses certain folk/fairy elements to tell a deeper, adult story. Some of these tales are adaptable for telling:
Datlow, Ellen, and Terri Windling, editors.
- Black Thorn, White Rose. (Avon Books, 1994.) A collection of fractured fairy tales for adults, in the fantasy realm. Sleeping Beauty is a favorite in this collection of 18 tales that range from the intriguing to the bizarre. And Black Heart, Ivory Bones
- de Lint, Charles. Jack the Giant Killer.
Urban Fantasy bringing "Jack" to Modern Canada
- Lee, Tanith. Red as Blood; or, tales from the sisters grimmer. New York: NAE Books Inc., 1983. Fantasy/sci-fi adult versions of nine tales. Religious/feminist content and White as Snow: a retelling of Snow White darkly intertwined with the myth of Demeter and Persephone.
- Tepper, Sheri S. Sleeping Beauty. A dark fantasy.
- Wrede, Patricia. Snow White and Rose Red. An adult novel from the Fairy Tales series. The story of two sisters, placed in Elizabethan England.
- Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose. Tor Books, 1995. A holocaust story, using the tale of Briar Rose, from the Fairy Tale series.
- Brust, Stevens. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars Modern tale entwined with Hungarian story.
- Dalkey, Kara The Nightingale
- Frost, Gregory. Fitcher's Brides (Fairy Tales) Take off of classic Bluebeard tale.
Maguire, Gregory The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West An extension of the Oz story by telling the story of the Wicked Witch. Also made into the musical “Wicked”.
Cadnum, Michael Can’t Catch Me This collection of deftly rearranged myths and fairy tales rekindles the excitement of reading adored childhood stories. These witty, perceptive stories from an award-winning children's author cleverly twist, turn, and veer off into unexpected, enchanting territory.
Storytellers who tell deep, metaphoric refracted tales: