Word association: Fairy Tale
August 17, 2014 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Further to the success of a previous Ask Me, in which I was given a great idea for a fictional story I am writing, I am back with another question. I would like to know what people, places, events and objects you associate with fairy tales, folklore, myths etc.

When I asked my daughter she came up with the following list...

*Talking animals
*Evil witches

These are great, but I'm looking for ideas that might not be as obvious. The basic premise here is that my fictional world might be a place where authors/storytellers saw things that they later put into their stories.

I'd appreciate anything you associate with fantasy or fairy tales, generic or specific. It would be fun to pepper my world with things that some people will 'get' and others might not.
posted by Youremyworld to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
oddly-shaped cookies
any person who is different
any person who looks ordinary
very dark soil
paths, either barely-discernable woodland paths, trails of flattened grass through a meadow, or a walk made of round stones
rocks that glint in the sun
very clear water in a stream
a bit of hair stuck in the rough wood of an old fence
a tiny flowering plant with no similar plants nearby
a log covered with moss
a long-abandoned mill
any musical instrument
posted by amtho at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Forests. Everything happens in or because of the forest.
posted by Mizu at 6:09 PM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Neat question!
First things that come to mind are secret or hidden places, like gardens.
A sense of community among those in "fairy-land", including with the animal inhabitants.
Small things.
Very green, lush landscapes, varied geography.
Also, geography that one normally wouldn't see or doesn't exist in reality, like a forest opening up immediately to the sea with no transitional landscape, such that the ocean flows up into the forest at times.
Bio-luminescence of some sort.
Ancient books.
The co-existence of advanced technology and primitive ways.
posted by msbadcrumble at 6:12 PM on August 17, 2014

Seconding forests! Also mountains/alps, villages, cottages/cabins, hunting, and traditional crafts like woodworking, spinning, etc. (I'm sure all of this has much to do with having an old volume of Grimm's when I was a kid.)
posted by scody at 6:13 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing I associate most strongly with fairy tales is family relationships. You get a lot of two older siblings and a younger one who is braver or more clever or a set of seven brothers and one sister or seven sisters and one brother or similar. You also have stuff with parents and you can look really deeply into the different ways people relate to their parents with simple stuff. If someone is leaving home and going on a quest, are their sorrowing parents who will miss them deeply sending them out into the world to seek their fortune or are they told they have to leave because they're a strain on family resources or are they just kicked out because their parents don't want them around anymore?

Morality shows up a lot -- if you help the poor hungry wolf he will be your ally later or if you make fun of the poor old woman you will damn well regret it.

Transformation is also an enormous fairy-tale motif: people into animals, animals into people, places into other places, whatever.

If you'd like to get a little more into the theory, there are several people who have created classification systems (here's one on Wikipedia) and I think Joseph Campbell maybe did some stuff too? Fairy tales are awesome and fascinating -- good luck!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:25 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please include a blacksmith somewhere. Good for travelers on horseback, mending/making of objects, and his iron helps to repel black magic. Or perhaps a weaver? Somebody has to make clothing/mess with the patterns of lives, after all.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:25 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Take a look at the card list (pdf) for the game Once Upon a Time! Some that stand out:

falling in love
posted by lharmon at 6:26 PM on August 17, 2014

sets of three
forks in the road
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:32 PM on August 17, 2014

posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:37 PM on August 17, 2014

people, places, events and objects you associate with fairy tales, folklore, myths etc.

the origins of a civilization
ancient civilizations

-Fairy tales
stolen children/changelings
glamour (as in mesmerizing a human in order to control him/her)
false glamour (a being that uses magic or power to look beautiful but is in reality ugly or corrupt)

knowledge is passed/stolen from gods to humans
morality lessons (disguised as entertainment)
posted by Beti at 6:49 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Royalty. So many fairy tales seem to be about hidden royalty, attaining royalty etc.

Also, unexpected and unlikely friends.
posted by tomboko at 6:57 PM on August 17, 2014

A canopy of trees over a path in a forest
A natural world filled with magical elements
fairies, nymphs, sprites, animals that speak
witchcraft, dark magic, spells, sorcery
castles, gates, cottages, stone houses, moss covered houses
hollowed out logs, mushrooms/toadstools
lost/unloved children
queens witches/crones
giants/ogres, little people
wise older people/sages/teachers
animals that are 'monsters', animals that are guides or 'saviors'
rituals and rites of passage that align with the seasons
people who can secretly communicate with animals
everyday items that become magical
keys, locks, gates, walls, paths
lock of hair, baskets, wreaths, rings of flowers, ribbon, lockets
jewels, coins, gold, silver, rings, crowns
gardens, apples, herbs, wine, tea,
cauldrons, stew, milk, gruel, bread, baking
poisons, medicines
feasts, harvests, weddings, deaths, births
hearths, fires, stones, brooms, knives, torches
horses, snakes, sheep, toads, birds, wolves, foxes, butterflies
needle, thread, candles, soap, books, lamp oil, mirrors,
dawn, dusk, moon, moon light, rain
swords, armor, honor
posted by marimeko at 7:13 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things that are "golden"
Things that happen in threes
Children or women that are labeled as obedient or disobedient
Boys or men that are brave
People that are "worthy" despite first impressions
being rewarded for a deed by a seemingly powerless creature/person (later to discover they are magic/have a spell cast on them)

(mostly Grimm tales)
posted by beccaj at 7:16 PM on August 17, 2014

A long time ago in a foreign land ...

A thatched roof

A mid-sized oaken box

A small wooden box of ornate design, resting on a table. The young, honest hero/heroine found a key in the woods earlier in the day

A caldron issuing forth colored smoke

A beautiful, honest, very good girl who is poor

A handsome, honest, very good boy who is poor

An old, gray-haired, honest woman with good, honest, strong eyes of wisdom, wearing patched clothing, wearing a shawl

An old, gray-haired, honest man with good, honest, strong eyes of wisdom, wearing patched clothing, using a cane

The old, gray-haired, honest woman and/or man have a friendly dog with merry eyes, the magic comes after the man and/or woman have drowsed off at their table, leaving the young girl following the dog into ...
posted by dancestoblue at 7:21 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not an oaken box -- it's an oaken chest, half buried
posted by dancestoblue at 7:30 PM on August 17, 2014

posted by amtho at 7:31 PM on August 17, 2014

* contracts
* oaths
* obligations
* promises
* vows
* witnessing of events known and unknown by the small and/or the large
posted by jadepearl at 8:16 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

extremely long hair
shimmers in the air
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:40 PM on August 17, 2014

Fireflies and other natural sources of light
Ponds and mossy banks
Great big tree full of nooks and crannies
Castles, dungeons. Corridors
Small cottages near or in the woods
Old lady with a twinkle in her eye
Libraries and dusty leather bound books
Towers, bridges,
Travelers in horse drawn caravans
Hair (odd color, very long, braided, curled, changed to gold)
Lamps (both European and middle eastern oil lamp with a genie!)
Flying carpets, flying canoes!
Talking animals
Mirrors, looking glass
Time pieces, hourglass
Animals that make things (especially sewing)
Spinning wheels and sewing needles or fine spin cloth
Magical hats!
posted by chapps at 8:44 PM on August 17, 2014

Fairy rings. These are a real thing...a ring of mushrooms in the forest (Google it, they are cool).

You should get the Dover fairy tale books...there's a whole bunch of them "the red book of fairy tales", "the green book of fairy tales" etc...they have all the classic stories, plus all the variations and permutations you probably haven't heard of, and they're absolutely packed with the kinds of elements you are looking for.

Enchanted shoes of various types were a thing I definitely remember. ..
posted by sexyrobot at 8:49 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Heating is an issue if your story is set somewhere with a cold season. Therefore: woods (mysterious and deep, with the possibility of enchanted trees/hidden small people); woodsmen (mundane or magical axes; falling asleep after a working man's lunch; sightings of strange beings; hunting of oops-those-were-magical small creatures; drinking from enchanted streams); buildings with large fireplaces for cooking/roasting game meat; feasts and story/riddle contests around the fire.

Bee skeps, and the beekeeper telling the bees the news (perhaps confiding in them what s/he has been magically forbidden to tell another human).

An animal offering wishes in exchange for its freedom.

The lovely, tempting food that turns out to have magical properties, for better or worse.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:19 AM on August 18, 2014

Travelling merchants/storytellers/musicians
Mysterious strangers
Little people riding on the back of animals

sea water dashing on cliffs
rock pools/sea caves
Endless plains
Dwarves and trolls I associate with Norwegian/Scandinavian grounds, leprechauns, magic, princesses make me think of places in the UK, esp Ireland. Both places are what comes immediately to mind when thinking of western folklores/myths. East-wise: Large boars or deers (with too many antlers) make me think of them possibly being guardian of mountains (this is specifically Japanese I think), (metamorphosing) snakes and foxes, tiny temples and houses for gods sitting on dirt, cloth weavers
Deserts (sand-ships)
Houses with any kind of gap underneath
small hidden alleyways between buildings

Other things:
wooden doors
a nursery of various kinds of dolls/toys, or a toymaker's workshop
Little things that fall from trees (when I was little, tiny tree cones were hats for little people, leaves were their transport, petals were for making clothes and sleeping in, and such)(fallen whole-flowers lying on the ground might have had little fairies in them. Never found one though)
Dewy/rained-on spider webs
Star filled skies (the main story that comes to mind is the lovers separated by the milkyway)
Peaches (comes up in a lot of asian folklore, e.g. the little boy born from a peach in Japanese folklore, or the Sky Empress' peach garden with peaches of immortality from Chinese folklore)
Buckets with holes on the bottom
Puppet shows
Stormy nights
Windy days
Full moon or moonless night
An armchair in front of a fireplace
posted by SailRos at 4:47 AM on August 18, 2014

Fairy rings
Lone cottage in the woods
Wells, especially abandoned
Beams of light through trees
Birds trilling unexpectedly
Fern grottos
posted by Safiya at 8:23 AM on August 18, 2014

Riddles, wordplay and trickery (with the protagonist outwitting the trickster at the last moment, correctly identifying the hidden catch or the twist in the offering)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:12 PM on August 18, 2014

Cottages, towers, bridges, fireplaces, caves, mountains/hills, copses, purses, small bags (for seeds, coins), crowns.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2014

Betrothals (especially secret ones), weddings (especially secret ones), baptisms/christenings, children being ill in bed for months, the deathbed of a loved one (BUT NOT funerals), fairs or markets, balls/dances, harvest festivals, parades, tournaments or contests of skill/strength/ingenuity, staying up all night, a hundred years, bargains that last a specific amount of time (and something awful happens the minute after the bargain is up).
posted by gillyflower at 2:45 PM on August 18, 2014

very specific times:
a year and a day
under a waning moon
dark of the moon

odd locales:
east of the sun and west of the moon
glass hill/mountain
enchanted/dark/old/forbidden forest

cauldron/pot/chalice (think: holy grail, Cerridwen's cauldron)

clever older sisters
sets of siblings: youngest means something different than oldest; seven children is different from two or twins or three


important but often common things in your pockets: string, wax/a candle, a penny, a stone, crumbs, (the one) ring
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:32 AM on August 19, 2014

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