Fairy-Tale Files: The Flies

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


Unlikely to star in a fairy tale anytime soon, flies nonetheless play a role in the Grimm Brothers’ “The Brave Little Tailor.” A breakfast annoyance, seven flies are felled by the meek clothier with a single swat, his personalized belt which reads “seven in one blow” leading to a series of adventures in the garment-maker’s favor. Who’d have thought that snuffing an insect some 125,000 species strong would result in giant murdering, unicorn capturing, and kingdom brokering, yet our tailor triumphs, one precarious situation (a wife who wants him dead, assassins amassed) after the next.

Michael Dickman’s poem “Killing Flies” recounts a fly-disrupted dinner, their intrusion “in toxic green tuxedos,” their corpses “like black sequins/ stitching up/ the kitchen floor.” Other anti-fliers include Charles Bukowski: “it is as if they were/ loose chunks of soul/ left out of somewhere,” and Alice Oswald: “they drop from their winter quarters in the curtains and sizzle as they fall/ feeling like old cigarette butts called back to life.” Rounding out this catalogue is Isaac Asimov’s “Flies,” featuring an animal behaviorist whom the titular pests mistake for Beelzebub, proving revulsion is a two-way street.

Spawned from a George Langelaan story that appeared in Playboy (nudging Hugh Hefner one degree closer to cinema ghoul-of-all-trades Vincent Price), The Fly is a technicolor cautionary of matter transporters gone wrong. Doomed Andre spends half his screen time under a blue hood—a shade darker than the Cobra Commander’s, sans eyeholes—though all palpi are off once devoted spouse Helene lifts the larval veil. Hours later, she euthanizes Andre via hydraulic press (twice), his head last seen on a fly’s bewebbed body, a/k/a the “Help me! Help me!” scene, a must for any horror purist.