A Monster Calls: Fairytale or Truth

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A Monster Calls cover was a little misleading. It wasn’t the typical fantasy or horror I had expected to read. Instead, it was an unexpected fairytale, that was also not a fairytale. An original for its time, I wanted to explore its elements of folklore.

Many say that fairytales use groups of three. Three objects, events, characters. I attended an SCBWI conference in Birmingham this past fall. Bruce Coville, the keynote speaker, said that wasn’t exactly true.  He claimed there was groups of four: three things and a twist. Like three bears and goldilocks or three pigs and a wolf. In A Monster Calls, the monster comes to Connor. He promises to tell 3 stories and then Connor must tell his own.

In true fairytale fashion, there are lessons to each of the Monster Yew’s stories. The values of action over thoughts are highlighted. But they are also atypical. Usually in fairy tales there are clear good and evil characters. In the monster’s stories, there is an evil witch worth saving and a prince that is both a murder and a savior (witches/royalty/monsters/mentors are all motifs of fairy tales). I appreciated the contradictions in the Monster’s stories’ characters. It made it feel less far, far away and more here and now. It felt true.  Even the actual characters not within the fables, like the main character and his grandma contradicted themselves.

In typical folklore, human truths are revealed. These truths are consistent throughout time. We all wish to end our own pain and isolation. We punish ourselves for the painful truths we know and also the comforting lies we tell. Humans are complicated, not all good, not all bad. So, it isn’t who the character is on the inside that determines the bad or the good. It is their actions. Other human truths include that time is ticking away and that we must face ourselves to heal. Recurring patterns (another element of fairy tales) such as clocks and yew tree’s healing properties reiterate these truths.

A Monster Calls was set in the past with supernatural elements. Special beginning words symbolized that it has happened before and it will happen again: “The monster showed up at midnight. As they do.” There was even a happily ever after ending (I won’t ruin). It was uncommon, yet it was full of hope and love.

Inspired by folklore, A Monster Calls is an original tale that puts a spin on the plot structure, style and motifs common in fairy tales. There is truth amongst the make believe. It’s a beautiful story and it has found a permanent place on my bookshelf. Share with me the original or spins on fairy tales that you have read.

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