We go to the myths not so much for what they can mean as for our own meaning. Who am I? Why am I here? How can I live in accordance with reality? The myths never have a single meaning, once and for all finished. They have something greater; they have meaning itself … they have meaning for me, for you and for everyone else.
What the Bee Knows
Welcome to WonderLit Fairy Tales!
WonderLit gives you a way to reflect on your life by exploring a fairy tale.
Have you ever related to a character in a fairy tale? The situations in fairy tales are familiar to us all. We know what it’s like to be lost in a forest, or spellbound by a charismatic person, or left out in the cold. People have been finding themselves in fairy tales for thousands of years, and the stories give us a shining thread to follow when we’re going through a dark passage.
In the WonderLit Fairy Tale courses, you will shed light on a fairy tale with the power of your own imagination. Guided by creative writing exercises, you’ll step into the world of the story you’ve chosen to explore. By using your imagination to look around, you’ll find that your own life experience is being reflected in the mirror of the story.
WonderLit is for any adult who is interested in creative writing, storytelling, and the symbolic language of myth. The chapters have been carefully prepared with exercises, video guidance, and the author’s own examples. They are designed to bring you through a fairy tale, step-by-step, at your own pace. First you will get an overview of the story and a good sense of why you relate to it. Then, if you wish, you can move into an ever-deepening engagement with the story that can lead to some spell-breaking epiphanies.
The WonderLit Courses
The Story Tour
Take your first step into a fairy tale through a five-chapter orientation to a story that fascinates you. With the help of videos and exercises, you’ll begin by receiving guidance to find a fairy tale.
Once you have your story, we’ll step into a vital scene to see it through your eyes and explore your personal connections. After that, we’ll begin to tour the story. You’ll map its changing terrain, experience some of the energies and voices of the characters, and finally, consider how an extended engagement with the story might be helpful to you.
The first chapter is FREE! Try it out to get a feel for how the WonderLit Fairy Tales course works, and for help to find the story you’d like to explore.
The Otherworld Journey
Follow in the footsteps of your protagonist and retell the story from your character’s point of view. The Otherworld Journey is for those who have done The Story Tour and want to deepen their experience.
We’ll look at the narrative that governs the status quo in your story and see how your protagonist makes the departure. What does your protagonist meet beyond the borders of the home state? You’ll vicariously experience your character’s breakdowns, breakthroughs, and the ultimate return to wholeness.
As you move through the story, you will have all kinds of insights (one writer called them “lightbulb moments”) as you come to see how the liberation in the story translates to your own.
What is the WonderLit Method?
WonderLit has been very carefully thought out and is based on material that the author has been developing in workshops for over three decades. The method is built on three premises.
To know a fairy tale is to experience it for yourself.
The WonderLit approach is greatly inspired by P.L. Travers’ insight that we go to the myths for our own meaning. We’re not trying to find out what fairy tales mean in any absolute sense. What is important is what the story means to you. When you find something in a story that has personal meaning, it will also likely have universal resonance.
Let’s say you’re drawn to Hansel and Gretel, and in particular, to the scene of Hansel in the forest making his breadcrumb trail. You wonder why you’re there, and then you realize that you know something about breadcrumb trails. You’ve made them in your own life, and your personal story will shed light on the universal meaning of a breadcrumb trail.
Respect the lines of the story, and then go between them.
Folk tales and fairy tales have been told and retold for generations, and as they’ve moved through different times and cultures, their essential patterns have remained intact.
The WonderLit approach is to respect those patterns while using our imaginations to look between the lines. So, for example, if you’ve set out to explore Hansel and Gretel, you will be advised not to change the story but to look closely at what’s going on in a particular moment of the story. Hang out in the forest. Listen to the conversation between the brother and sister. That’s how the story will inform you.
Fairy tales often come with bits and pieces that are unsightly and sometimes downright offensive. You might not like the witch who lures the children with candy, but if you’re willing to accept her, warts and all, then you might get some surprising and important insights.
The story is a country that you can explore with your imagination.
In Picturing the Rose, Marica Lane wrote that fairy tales “happen, quite literally, in the country of the mind and the heart.”
In WonderLit Fairy Tales, we’re seeing the story as an imaginative space that you can move around in. Every fairy tale has an atmosphere and takes us to a place that is peopled with all kinds of characters with many divergent perspectives.
Looking at a story as a country will encourage you to breathe into it and stretch your poetic imagination. You can embody different points of view. Everyone has a voice: the trees in the forest, the moon in the sky, the water in the stream. We’re in a multi-faceted world that invites us to step outside our narrow, human-centric story.
Sound like fun? It is!
How to Take the WonderLit Courses
Find A Special Journal
Reserve a journal or special file for your WonderLit work because you’ll be doing lots of creative writing and reflecting. You’ll also be encouraged to draw, even if you don’t think you can!
Set Aside Time
Set aside a regular time just for you to do your WonderLit work. Take time to do the exercises. There’s no rush. Once or twice a week for one hour is a good pace.
Invite A Friend to Join
Consider doing the WonderLit courses with another person or sharing your work with a trusted friend. It’s really fun to share the exercises and they can lead to some lively, meaningful exchanges. (Note that if you feel at all vulnerable about doing this self-reflective work, make sure you have the support of a trusted friend or counsellor.)
About the Illustrations
The course banners and opening pages have been illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong, an award-winning Canadian book illustrator. Her images are inspired by John Bauer, whose illustrations are featured throughout the WonderLit site. Click on the opening pages to see Shelagh’s images in a lightbox. The pictures in the “toggle boxes” have been drawn by Michelle Tocher and are meant to encourage everyone to draw as part of the process.
– Jen Berghage, Veteran Instructional Designer, Penn State World Campus, Artist, Writer, and Beadweaver
I am completely in love with the concept of Wonderlit. I think you created magic with this site to help so many out there who are struggling for an outlet to channel what they are going through. This is a great thing. It certainly is helping me a great deal. After the beautiful influence I had from your words, the inspiration I felt every time you guided me with a fairy tale and the other stories on your blog, I have decided to write my own fairy tale collection for my final dissertation next year.
– Hariny V, Madurai, India
First let me say, WonderLit is brilliant!! Really Michelle, it is truly a huge gift you are bringing forward by creating this process, It’s all so clear and so much fun!! I chose the story of “Vasilisa the Beautiful” and her encounter with Baba Yaga. I’ve been writing reams and reams of words and sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes when I’m stuck with one of your prompting questions, I’ll go outside and just start talking my way through it. Actually it’s more in a singing/chanting style. I did a very intense one the other day when I became the skull that burned up the stepsisters and stepmother. Wow!!! Did that skull ever go for it!
– Wendalyn Bartley, Composer
I met Michelle when I was coming out of a year-long struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety, and was looking for something that would help me make sense of my experience. I signed up for WonderLit and it was so healing. Throughout the course, I worked with The Handless Maiden, a German fairy tale told by the Brothers Grimm. Like many fairy tales, the story provides compelling insight into aspects of the unconscious, and is particularly relevant as a story of initiation through loss. Putting myself in the shoes of the young woman who wandered the woods for seven years, I discovered that my transition to motherhood was also an initiation, and that I had lost a part of myself too. Through active imagination, creative prompts and visualizations, the story came alive in me, and I discovered parts of myself that had been buried for years, and a well of resilience that could see me through this major stage in life. Michelle’s work is magical, offering access to lost rooms of mythic wisdom, where you can discover yourself there.
– Kristen Roderick, Ceremonialist, Rites of Passage Guide & Fiber Artist www.spiritmoving.org
I was surprised to find almost all parts of myself in my story (The Handless Maiden), and I came to respect all the parts equally. The sweet maiden, victim of youth; the bumbling father, tired, old and penniless; the scheming devil, powerful, dark, necessary, yearning to win the only elusive prize he cannot attain; the heroic soldier, invincible, suddenly lost in the woods, near death, humbled; his mother, the wisest of them all—but like the rest, vulnerable….. I grabbed hold of each of those roles at various times throughout (and well, after) the course, wrestled with them, judged them, and ultimately, embraced them. The magic of the work/fun is the opportunity to give voice and expression to one’s roles, to “out” them safely—disguised as characters in a play where the outcome is known, all in a safe and warm environment.
– Andy Frank, Broadcaster
I love the way Michelle approaches stories. It’s very open and compassionate. She lets you discover your own relationship to the fairy tale. She doesn’t have her own definite point of view or agenda so she really opens up the story for you. You can go in different directions. You can be the mirror, the hair of Rapunzel … you can create characters that aren’t necessarily even right there in the story. When I am working with people in a writing workshop or a counselling session, I sometimes relate their problems to these stories to help them see that it’s not just their own particular problem but there is a mythic, metaphorical element that they can relate to.
– Ellen S. Jaffe, Poet and Psychotherapist, author of Writing Your Way: Creating a Personal Journal, Skinny-Dipping with the Muse (poetry) and other books.
Through Michelle’s courses, I learned how to enter into a story, discover the characters, and let the story unfold. The process was magical and brought me back to my childhood love for fairy tales. Since then I’ve attended every class and workshop of Michelle’s that I could. I’ve explored characters such as the Thirteenth Wise Woman, Cinderella, and the Fairy Godmother. Michelle’s work brings light to dark places, and magic to illuminate our everyday lives.
– Katie Curtin, Life Coach and Founder of “The Creativity Cafe”
Michelle is doing what no one else is doing, using active imagination to make fairy tales and myths truly relevant in the 21st century. She’s an amazing teacher and guide.
– Annie Jacobsen, Jungian psychotherapist and author of the novel Watermelon Syrup (2007)
A fairy tale provides us with a rich landscape to explore, and Michelle Tocher is a very sensitive and highly skilled guide. She helped us use our imaginations to enter that world, befriend its people, and, with gratitude, take our leave, blessed with deeper self-awareness, compassion and hope.
– Jean Sheppard, teacher and writer