Short Story

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl named Ellie. In truth, she was not a princess, but as the sole heir to the family vineyard, she was often treated as such. Her childhood was nothing short of magical, a few years passed full of joy, levity, and kindness. But it did not last. With the help of the best schools and tutors, Ellie grew from a precocious child into a gifted teen. Her superior intelligence and knowledge were only matched by her artistic talent and athletic ability. To an outsider, it seemed that Ellie excelled at everything she tried; in reality, her skills resulted from years of tireless training.

Eventually, Ellie’s sixteenth birthday arrived, heralding a momentous occasion in her life: it was time for Ellie to choose a college. Her high test scores had elicited a flood of brochures from institutions of higher learning. Every college imaginable was represented, and yet Ellie did not think her decision to be a difficult one. There was not really a choice for her, not when her parents had such high expectations. She toured a select few of the most prestigious schools, picked the one she thought seemed most impressive, and applied early.

Of course, Ellie was accepted. Her parents were pleased but remained reserved as ever. Her classmates rejoiced on her behalf, just as she celebrated when they received their own letters of acceptance. Ellie finished high school as valedictorian of her class, but there was little fanfare. Her parents had expected this of her, and she suspected that they had merely listened politely to the graduation speech she’d given about her fond high school memories and the importance of treating others with kindness.

As summer came to a close, Ellie prepared to go off to college. While she trusted that she was ready for this, she couldn’t help but feel nervous. She was leaving behind everything she had ever known to go off on this adventure. But, when she arrived, Ellie knew she had made the right choice. Here was a collection of red brick castles adorned with ivy, perfect for all the princes and princesses just like Ellie who would someday rule their respective worlds. And it was not exaggerating to consider her classmates royalty – some were children of celebrities and politicians, others celebrities or accomplished academics on their own merits.

Yet, it was not all Ellie had thought it would be. As she encountered her new classmates, she discovered their unique rituals and methods of communication. She was alarmed to realize that those she met switched from polite disinterest to warm friendship upon discovering what her parents did, and further concerned to learn that her acquaintances immediately judged her based on her field of study and her other friends. She also realized that her classmates simply used her when they wanted her help, or else ignored her altogether. There was no friendly cooperation; academics were a cutthroat competition. Was there no one here who cared to form a genuine friendship instead of a networking connection? Why didn’t anyone care for kindness?

Though Ellie was very bright, these were problems that she could not solve. All the while, as weeks passed, Ellie grew less and less happy with her choice. Her opinions of her classmates had not changed since she arrived, and she now spent her time actively avoiding them and the falseness that their interactions entailed. And yet, Ellie could not help but wonder if this meant that something was wrong with her. After all, she was a princess among her people and this was her castle. Surely this was where she belonged, and surely it was what her parents expected of her. What other option did she have?

One day, it all became too much for Ellie. Although she had worked ceaselessly in pursuit of a way to make herself fit into the mold that had been chosen for her, Ellie was beginning to realize that she simply did not fit comfortably in it. Ellie was at a complete loss for what to do – all her ideas had been used up and try as she might, she could not think of any more. At last, Ellie broke down sobbing. She didn’t mean to cry, but she just couldn’t help it.

Then, through Ellie’s tears, she sensed a flash of light and a nearby voice. Ellie startled and looked around in disbelief. “You’re … “ she said uselessly. The fairy godmother nodded.

“I’m your fairy godmother,” the fairy confirmed. “Here to help rid you of your woes. Come now, let’s start by drying the eyes … we have important work to do here and we haven’t got all day.”

Too shocked to even consider disobeying, Ellie did as she was told. She had so many questions that she couldn’t figure out which to ask first, but the fairy godmother seemed keen to get down to business.

“My dear Ellie, you have been struggling bravely, but there is no need to carry on with this. In your heart, you know what is right. There is more to life than prestige and success. Your parents may not realize it, but you do, and you know that your place is not here. You have a great gift of kindness and you simply cannot stifle it – but this is not the place to express it. You will not find others here who share your visions of a community where people support one another.”

Ellie listened to the truth spoken by the fairy godmother, though she did not want to hear it. Just when she thought she had stomached it all, she opened her mouth to ask further questions of the fairy godmother, only to be cut off.

“Ellie, you must listen carefully. My time here is almost up. Be kind, follow your heart, and only then will you find true happiness.”

The fairy godmother vanished, leaving a distressed Ellie in her wake. Ellie had so many unanswered questions – even though the fairy godmother had visited, Ellie still did not know how to solve her problems.

Or did she? Moments later, Ellie realized that a letter had been left behind. Curious, she read it immediately and discovered that it was an acceptance to a college she’d hardly ever heard of before. Surely, her parents would not approve of such a switch, but Ellie knew after a moment that it was the right choice for her. She did not need to be surrounded by royalty or to live in a castle. All she needed was kindness. She would find a way to convince her parents, and in that moment Ellie realized all would be well. Soon, she would be living happily ever after. The End.

Weekly Training Journal #4

If you woke up in a fairy tale, which one would you want it to be? Why?

This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions that I’ve ever tried to answer – there are so many different aspects that make up a fairy tale world! I cannot possibly decide with certainty on just one fairy tale, not when so many fairy tales have so much to offer. So many tales are completely charming – or entirely intriguing – in their own ways. This question is complex too in that there are so many angles to consider it from: does waking up in a fairy tale involve being at the tale’s center, or simply in its world? I will begin by considering primarily the universe in which the fairy tale exists.

Regardless, I am going to have to go with Rapunzel – ideally the version of the story told in Disney’s Tangled. Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll confess right now that I’m a huge fan of Tangled. I adore the characters and the storyline, but more than that, the world itself is absolutely captivating. There’s a beautiful forest, and the town with the king and queen’s palace seems like just the right size – not too big, not too small. Not to mention that the flags and banners in the town are the most perfect shade of purple ever. Ever.

But there’s so much more than just the movie’s scenery. For much of the movie, Rapunzel looks very different from others around her – she is not mocked for this. Further, even the “thugs” in the Snuggly Duckling turn out to be endearing, and they even help Rapunzel as she seeks her dreams. And, at Rapunzel’s urging, the townsfolk all start to dance. While I’m sure that these are all Disneyfied aspects of the fairytale, they’re also aspects of the world’s culture that I really like and think I would enjoy.

The world of Tangled seems perfectly storybook: quaint, friendly, and beautiful to look at. But more than that, I’m also partial to Rapunzel’s storyline. I definitely prefer her in Disney as opposed to in older versions of the tale – she takes such an active role in Tangled, but isn’t able to do so in the more classic versions. Still, I relate well to her in any version – she does not have the easiest life when it comes to fairytale heroines, but I feel I understand many of her struggles and problems better than I do those of other characters, which is yet another reason I’d love to live in Rapunzel’s world.

Weekly Training Journal #3

How is gender handled/represented in fairy tales?

In many fairy tales, the heroine is not so much a heroine as a damsel in distress who must be rescued by a hero. The stereotypical fairy tale princess is known mostly for being beautiful and needing assistance. To her credit, she is often kind and gentle, but any redeeming qualities she has generally do not make up for the fact that her purpose in the story is usually to look pretty, be helpless, and find true love.

Meanwhile, the fairy tale hero is usually responsible for saving the princess, a task which often involves danger, bravery, and heroics. The stereotypical fairy tale hero is more likely to have goals and aspirations that are not marriage-related, but this is not always the case. Consider the prince in Cinderella – often, his primary aim is to find a wife, but of course this can vary in different versions of the story.

Steeped in history and tradition, fairy tales tend to inherit historical perspectives on gender. This explains why fairy tale princesses tend to have such an emphasis on finding a husband, and why the action roles are often left to the princes. Fairy tales’ historical roots can also be blamed for their adherence to cisgender norms and their focus on heterosexual relationships. In this sense, fairy tales are outdated – they do not represent today’s society, in which women do more than get married and diversity of gender and sexuality are increasingly accepted.

That said, and although there are some modern fairy tales that are beginning to treat these topics in a more modern light, the attitudes reflected in stereotypical fairy tales have not yet faded entirely from our society. The perspectives that the fairy tales espouse are still (unfortunately) present in society, which is why they have not yet faded completely from fairy tales. Discrimination and acts of hatred still occur against those who break the norms that traditional fairy tales establish.

While it’s true that many women nowadays have more than finding love on their minds, I would argue that society still expects them to fulfill the traditional role too often. Before coming to Plymouth as a transfer student, I attended a college that is generally considered rather prestigious. Among the girls I encountered there, it was alarmingly common to hear comments about family members who had told them to “find a man” in college. These are girls who had gotten into an extremely competitive college on their own merits – they were remarkably intelligent, talented, and hard-working. Their relatives did not expect them to start famous businesses or one day run for president, but to find a husband. There are still many parents and grandparents out there who expect their daughters and granddaughters to go off to college not necessarily to get an education, but to find someone to marry. For real.