Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Basics

To start this baby off, I thought I’d do a post giving the basics of the fairy tale. I might seem silly since fairy tales are such a huge part of our culture, but I thought it would be good anyways.

picture by stuck in customs

So what exactly are fairy tales and how do they relate to folktales?
Here is a great summary:

It is difficult to define a fairytale. When created by a single author, it is called a literary fairytale. Hans Christian Anderson, Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin all borrowed from traditional folktales to write original fairy tales. Often the literary fairytale uses the same patterns as traditional folktales.
Folktales grow out of the oral tradition of storytelling. They are not the work of a single author but rather the work of many cumulative authors. Each teller makes personal changes to suit his personality and audience.

Just to complicate matters, a folktale containing fairies, elves, trolls, dwarfs, giants, and other imaginary creatures is usually called a fairytale. Fairy tales have an element of magic or enchantment. A fairytale is often a story about royalty, rather than common folk. Thus fairy tales can be considered a sub-category of folktales, but the name is often used interchangeably.
What are the aspects that make up a fairy tale?

1. Well first, there’s always some sort of crossing; that inevitable first step into the unknown in hopes of a solution to a problem. In a lot of stories this place is a forest or woods. The woods represent a place of danger (seeing as many a witches reside there), but also of protection (Snow White found refuge in the woods). Either way, the point is that the hero is taken out of his or her comfort zone and transported into a universe very different than what he or she is accustomed to.

2. Then there is the inevitable encounter with the witch (or antagonist) of the story. Sometimes this encounter takes form in a set of impossible tasks, and sometimes they don’t. The whole point is that the witch personifies negative qualities in the hero and confronting the witch becomes a way necessary for the hero to triumph.

3. Once the witch has been confronted, the witch must then be conquered. Unfortunately for the witch, this usually means she has to die. The death of the witch represents many different things, but one is that positive forces have prevailed. Another idea is that fairy tales are supposed to “cleanse” each person of their own “sinful” thoughts and the death of the witch personifies the purification of the reader. (I know that sounds crazy, but it kind of makes sense in a weird way.) It’s essentially an act of self-recognition (which I’ll get into with greater detail tomorrow).

4. Finally we have the celebration. The happy ending is the final step of the journey.

From a psychological vantage point, a happy ending signifies that positive forces in the self have gained the upper hand. Once the witch is disposed of, and the parts she embodies are vanquished, the child no longer is plagued by self-recriminations and self-doubts. The self is transformed – purified, so to speak – leaving the young reader feeling more secure and self-assured.

Do fairy tales teach children lessons?

I think it’s important for us to realize that fairy tales were not the watered down children’s stories we have today. Many fairy tales include murder, rape, incest, cannibalism, etc. Fairy tales as children’s literature didn’t come into it’s own until the nineteenth century. A lot of the well known stories evolved from folktales long before that. Even though they may have been changed over and over, it’s important to keep that in mind.

That fact also lends a bit of unlikeness to the idea that fairy tales teach kids “lessons.” I’m not saying that there are no lessons to gain from fairy tales; I just think it’s important we don’t give them too much credit. Little red riding hood isn’t about not talking to strangers. It’s about food and overeating (which I’ll talk more about later in the week). Fairy tales are more about self-realization. The message (or lesson) is about the negative qualities we all have inside us and the triumph of good over and in the end. So yeah, Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood may have a little rhyme about the danger of talking to stranger, but he also included a rhyme at the end of Cinderella that says it doesn’t matter how intelligent, hard working, or courageous you are unless you have friends in high places.

I don’t think that’s a lesson most parents want to teach their children.

I could go on and on, but I think that’s a nice general explanation of what a fairy tale is. Keep in mind that everyone has a different theory and I’m just laying down some basics.

Tomorrow I plan on posting about the "witch" in fairy tales and what she supposedly represents, as well as some art.

1 comment:

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