Ballads and fairy tales

As I think about Tam Lin, I’ve also been thinking about this: what’s the difference between ballad-land and the land where fairy tales take place?

It’s not a matter of brutalness–when one leaves gentler, modern retellings of fairy tales behind, and ventures into realms where Cinderella’s sisters bleed to fit into her glass shoe and Rapunzel’s prince is blinded and left to wander in the desert alone–one has lands that don’t lack for harshness, yet still somehow feel very different from those in which True Thomas and the Queen of Elfland ride knee-deep in blood, or in which a drowned girl’s bones speak truth.

Part of it may be degree of literalness–the world in which ballads takes place seems close to ours, grounded in the details we know. The villages and kingdoms in which fairy tales take place seem somehow farther away.

But I don’t think that’s all of it.

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