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Australian Fairy Tale Conference 2018: Gardens of Good and Evil

A garden always has a point―  Elizabeth Hoyt (The Raven Prince) 
The garden influences the type of fairy tales, folk tales, myths that are seeded in it.

What is the point of the garden, the bush, the landscape in folktales? With my colleagues, and friends, Christine, Phillippa we took our audience down a wonderland ‘rabbit hole’ as we explored the impact of transplanting traditional tales into new natural environments: the garden, the bush, the island. With the aid of illustrations we presented a dialogue (trialogue?) that challenged and questioned if, how and why, various natural settings have impacted on the mannerisms, behaviours and appearance of characters in retold/ adapted fairy tales and mythologies. 
·       What is an ‘authentic' fairy garden?
·       Does the oral tradition of fairy tale gardens and forests preclude all other variations?
·       How do socio-cultural factors impact on the portrayal of the natural setting?

Reilly McCarron's definition of fairy tales is a worthy starting point.
“Defining the fairy tale is as elusive a task as defining folklore. Fairy tales need not have fairies in them, though some enchantment is required. Their symbolic motifs reveal the dynamics of the human condition, and they delight children and adults alike. They are part of the cultural language. They are part of folklore, and as such are subject to transformation, even the ones with literary origins. This is the golden key which opens the creaky door to the hidden chamber. Fairy tales are folklore! They adapt to their setting and audience and modern times, they cross cultural and generational boundaries, and transform.”
Defining the ‘garden’ in fairy tales is equally  difficult… Let’s move beyond the ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ image where gardens are simply the playgrounds of princesses, fairies, mythical creatures and include any place where we can transplant the seeds of a story: forests, mountain fortresses, islands, the bush as well as traditional garden.
Our premise is that gardens are the intersection between people and nature. In fairytales, the garden creates a sense of home, even when the protagonist ventures from it. The garden is not just a location it is the environment or the context in which the action takes place. The garden is not just part of the setting it is part of the ecosystem of the story, ingredients to spark imagination, a place of refuge and a place to rejuvenate. The environment also impacts on the mannerisms, behaviours and appearance of characters traditional oral fairy tales and mythologies. 

For centuries, and longer, traditional tales have been transplated into new natural environments: the garden, the bush, the island impacting not only on the sense of good and evil within these settings but on the mannerisms, behaviours and appearance of characters. As with all stories they were appealing to new and unique readerships viewed through their own cultural lens. If as Jack Zipes suggests, “Fairy tales …have been a means to conquer the terrors of mankind through metaphor,” then these environments represent places that may be unknown to the characters and that offer situations of transformation. Gardens can be good or evil. Forests can be refuges or places of villainy. Islands can be havens, secluded or isolated. 

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