Essays & Articles

Tears Into Blood

Fairy tales turn tears into blood. This is why I write them. Yes, I write them because they are so funny and weird and beautiful. And because they make children clasp their hands together and stare at you so hard you think they might fall over. But I also write them because they turn tears into blood.What do I mean? Think of a difficult emotional situation. Say, you feel your father doesn’t love you enough. It doesn’t matter why—maybe he throws you around the room by your hair; maybe he’s leaving your mother. It doesn’t matter. If you wanted to depict this situation for adults, you might write a realistic story with long, pregnant pauses and veiled expressions of disappointment. It might be beautiful and powerful, like Raymond Carver’s “The Fling.” But it wouldn’t work for kids. Kids would be bored, uncomfortable, unmoved, by “The Fling.” If you wanted to write a story that expresses the experience of a father not loving his child enough, and you wanted to write it for children, maybe you’d have the father cut off his child’s head. Maybe he would even put it back on later and act as if the child shouldn’t have minded at all. This version, this fairy tale version, would communicate the same feeling of betrayal as the version for adults, the same lack of understanding, the same misplaced priorities. But children would feel those things so much more keenly. Because children understand blood, just as they understand hunger, and being left in the woods. These are physical, primal experiences that children imagine vividly. There is another reason why turning tears into blood is a powerful transformation for a child. Every child has fallen and bruised himself. Every child has felt hungry, even if only in our well-fed, American way. Every child has had a cut that has bled. And so every child knows that the bruise stops hurting, the food does eventually come, the blood clots, scabs over, heals. When a child reads about emotional pain—betrayal and loneliness and anger at parents—in terms of blood, he comes to understand that those pains too will heal, that salty tears also dry. I hope A Tale Dark and Grimm is funny and exciting. There’s no point turning tears into blood, no point in writing richly symbolic, ambitious literature, if the kids aren’t reading the pages all that is written on. I want to make kids laugh and squeal and wince as they read my book. But that isn’t why I wrote A Tale Dark and Grimm. I wrote it to express and explore the painful, complex emotions of our lives. I wrote it to help my students, my readers, myself, transform our tears into something new.

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