Fairy tales are, I am beginning to suspect, an attempt to tame the untameable.
Something I’ve noticed as I’ve read more old fairy tales is that they follow very distinct patterns. The cast of characters changes, but the events–particularly in a collection like East of the Sun–are entirely predictable. Read four or five of these stories and you will start seeing shapes in of the mad, beautiful quests. Hopelessness, in tales like these, is not the end of a journey: instead, it is a doorway into another story. A doorway out of despair.
Daughters vanish? Wife disappear? No one can save ______? That’s all right.
In the troll’s lair is a sword that cannot be picked up. Find the draught the troll drinks: it will make you strong.
Your husband has forgotten you, and is engaged to someone else. She will take your treasure in exchange for a night by his bed, but she will drug him first. But on the third night, he will refuse to drink her wine, and when he sees you he will remember.
The stranger is a hero in disguise, and he will save you.
Your husband, or your wife, has vanished because you disobeyed an injunction. In your wandering search, be kind and ask for help of all those you meet. Eventually, they will show you the way East of the Sun, West of the Moon.