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Meet Rehannah Mian, the Notts Podcast Host Diving Into the Darker Side of Fairy Tales

8 April 22 interview: Lizzy O'Riordan
photos: Gemma Wilks

Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty. Since they first arrived, these fairy tales have endured as childhood staples, shaping our first sense of right and wrong. But how often do we hear the original stories - the more gruesome and grisly iterations that don’t make it to Disney's final cut? Inspired by this month's magic theme, we catch up with Nottingham author and presenter Rehannah Mian about her podcast Magical Storybook, and why she’s bringing traditional fairy tales back to the present day…

Whether reciting ballads by firelight, or bingeing on Netflix by screenlight, human beings have always loved stories. Regardless of if you want escapism, wisdom, or education, a good story will wrap you in its narrative, and lead you to consider all the great existential questions, often through the simplest tale. And what's a more poignant example of this than a fairytale? Uncomplicated, easy, and packed with insight- they encapsulate the core of all storytelling. Or so Rehannah Mian thought at least, when she started her project Magical Storybook - the podcast bringing traditional fairy tales to a modern audience.

With the aim of  bringing fairy tales to children, Mian set up Magical Storybook after working as a history presenter for Notts TV. “I used to work in television, so I’ve always been interested in storytelling and telling stories to make the world a better place,” Mian says. “Then I left television to work with children, and it was there I got the idea for the podcast.” Starting off as a volunteer in a scouts group, Rehannah realised that many children hadn’t heard of the traditional fairy tales. “Storytelling was a massive part of my life. I used to spend the whole weekend reading comics, or listening to stories, or making them up in the bedroom with my sister. And knowing these children didn’t have the same experiences I had - I started doing sessions in scouting where I would introduce the old traditional fairy tales.”

Rehannah was pleasantly surprised at the reaction. “I was worried because the stories are more dark than stories they might have known, but the kids loved them, and it inspired them. They were thriving on these stories.” So much so, in fact, that Rehannah was motivated to set up her own business, “running childrens parties, all based around these original fairy tales.” It was then, through a chance encounter at a business training day, that Rehannah first heard about podcasting, and, spurred on by the course facilitator, she decided to give it a go. 

I ask Rehannah why she thinks the podcast resonates with children, especially when the details of traditional fairy tales can be so gory, the polar opposite of contemporary children's media like Pixar, Disney, or Dreamworks. “I think kids do like something a bit more horror based,” she replies. “Like you say, let's face it, the original stories are not very nice. The premise is usually around child abuse of some description. Like Hansel and Gretel is about throwing your kids into the woods, Cinderella is a girl who is a slave. But I think that’s what makes them interesting, they’re all based around a character who is suffering in some way and they reflect real life. There are children going through these things: poverty, starvation, difficult relationships, and even if the specifics aren’t the same, everyone can find a character they connect with if they’re going through a hard time.”

That’s what makes them interesting, they’re all based around a character who is suffering in some way and they reflect real life

 In this respect, fairy tales help the child listener to process some difficult emotions, often ones they wouldn’t have the framework to discuss otherwise. “Also witches, wizards, murder. That’s fascinating for children! Plus they’re really well told stories.” On top of that, Rehannah tells me that the podcast has turned out to be a great educational tool. Being online, her stories have the scope to reach all the way across the globe. “I realised a lot of children around the world are using the podcast to learn literacy, because I speak clearly and slowly. So I started to transcribe the story into e-books to read along with for free. They’re learning how the words are said and look.”

Alongside bringing old stories to the present, Rehannah also began to work on a side project. “Going back to my history background, my initial love was actually the mediaeval history of Nottingham, then I became interested in European mediaeval history, and then I started making up stories about mediaeval characters. I discovered that lots of ethnic minorities (as we’d call them) were written out of history when it was whitewashed in the 1500s. I knew I wanted to write a children’s story about them.

“One of these characters was an African knight called Sir Morein who I found in the King Arthur folklore, described as the biggest and strongest and bravest of King Arthur's knights. I started writing this story called Mia and the Curse of Camelot, bringing all these forgotten characters in. It’s the story of a mixed race girl who goes back in time to visit Camelot, only to find they’ve all been cursed, and of course It’s up to her to break that curse.” Mian then uploaded each chapter to the podcast. “All of a sudden people were requesting more. Then I made it into a book after. Now I have this novel that I send out whenever anyone wants one.”

I ask for any final words on the podcast and on Mia and The Curse of Camelot. “Children's stories have such an impact, they can create resilience, they can make them feel less alone, they are powerful,” she says “That’s why it was so important to me to write this book. If you’re always reading about characters that don’t look like you, then you have slightly less connection. So we need all these stories. We need black stories, Pakistani heroes, Saudi Arabian women heroes. And they existed in history, but they were written out. How many African knights do you see that save the day? I hope it inspires people to dig more into that history. And the next time someone writes about King Arthur, maybe they will actually include him.”

You can listen to Magical Storybook on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any other podcast hosting platform

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