Warming Up to WonderLit

An interview with the Author, Michelle Tocher

Q: WonderLit intrigues me. What is it, exactly?glasses-small

Michelle: WonderLit is a method of engaging with fairy tales and mythic stories to discover what they mean to you.

When you're writing "wonderlit," you're discovering the meaning of mythic stories by using your own imagination to amplify scenes and characters.

Q: Can you give me an example?

M: Sure. Let's say I'm interested in the story of Cinderella. If I'm writing in this "wonderlit" way, I would go to a scene that interests me. Then I would write what I see when I stand in that scene. I would write with the intention of wanting to understand the unique way in which I see the situation. As I allow my imagination to visualize the story, I will be informed about the scene, and what it means to me.

I might go to the ball, for example, and check out the prince before Cinderella enters the room. In fact, I did that, and when I did, I discovered that he had a really bad migraine headache. He just couldn't stand the chatter of all these superficial, supercilious people. Right away I understood why he interested me. He was seeking depth, and I could relate to that.

Q: That's interesting. So do you guide people to do that?

M: Yes, and on the website I'm offering two different ways to do this kind of writing. The main way is through the WonderLit course. The course is divided into three parts and starts by guiding you to the story you want to explore. You can go as deeply into your story as you wish. It's designed to be taken on your own time, with the help of videos, text, and exercises. 

Q: What would be the outcome of the WonderLit course?

M: Well, you get to do a lot of writing for one thing, the kind of writing that involves really turning on your imagination. You'll be working with one story, but in the process you'll learn a lot about the universal pattern of folk and fairy tales. You'll be able to retell a story through different points of view, and, if you go deeply into the course, you'll discover the power of a fairy tale to transform the way you see or feel about certain things.

Q: What do you mean by that? What's the transforming power of a fairy tale?

M:  Well, fairy tales are covered in fairy dust, what can I say? They rub off on you. They can transform old ways of thinking and offer you whatever "medicine" you've come for.


 Q: Okay, now for sure I need an example.

M: Alright, so let's go back to the story of Cinderella. When I went into the French version of that story (the one with the fairy godmother in it), I was looking for some levity. My Dad had passed away, and I was still grieving. I went into Perrault's version because it's so over-the-top. You've got this lavish fairy godmother, and rats that turn into coachmen and so on. Basically, without really knowing it consciously, I wanted to go to a ball!

While I was exploring the story, I started a project. It just took hold of me. I started sculpting these "flower fairies" that hung in the window and turned whenever a breeze went through the room. They became quite popular, and I ended up selling them in a store down the street. I sent the proceeds to a local charity, and the whole thing was FUN. I had no idea what sort of magic the story had in store for me when I first went into it. I just wanted to lighten my load and that's what happened.

Q: Would that kind of thing happen for everyone?

M: It all depends on what you're going into the story for. The Cinderella story has different magic for different people. One woman who came to my workshops was struggling with depression and she chose the story because she was interested in the fairy godmother. She didn't have a positive attitude about that character. She didn't believe in her. She found it much easier to believe in a dark fairy godmother, more like the one she had in her own head. After she wrote out dark fairy godmother monologues, she recognized that she could believe in powers of darkness more readily than powers of light. Why? What would believable magic look like? Those were some of her questions and they were great ones. Her explorations engaged the positive, funny, optimistic, creative side of her nature. Even her dark fairy godmother writings were funny and clever, and immensely creative.

Q: That's interesting. What's the next step from here?

M: You can read a bit more about the course in the About WonderLit section on the site. Then I'd recommend that you just take the leap and try the first chapter out. It's free, and it will give you a sense of what it's like to take the course. 

Q: You also mentioned another avenue of WonderLit. 

M: Right! If you want to explore mythic writing through a variety of stories, or you just want some exposure to fairy tales, I've created something called The Story Finder. There are over 800 characters in The Story Finder so far, coming mostly from the Grimms' and the Andrew Lang collections.

Each character is telling a little piece of the story from a personal point of view. The characters might draw you into the whole tale, or you might just get inspired by the one thing the character has to say. The Story Finder is meant to open you up to fairy tales. Maybe you'll be prompted to write a poem, a journal entry, or a short story with a mythic dimension. I'm constantly adding to it and I intend to include the whole collection of Lang's coloured fairy books, which covers a wide spectrum of stories from around the world. You'll also encounter illustrations from Golden Age artists in The Story Finder. There's a lot of treasure in there!

Q: Thank you. You're obviously very inspired by this work.

M: It is endlessly fascinating what the old world of fairy tales has to show us about the world we're in right now, and the path we're on in our lives. I don't know what life would be like without fairy tales. It wouldn't have much magic, that's for sure. Or should I say, we wouldn't have eyes to see the magic that's there.

In any case, it's an ancestral gift of inestimable value. It points us to the treasure that's here, in everything we know in our hearts.