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Helen Stratton was illustrating "The Robber Bridegroom" here. It's an image of human trafficking and date rape drugs. It would appear the human race has not evolved since these stories sprung forth like mushrooms from the primordial compost of human nature.

Helen Stratton was illustrating “The Robber Bridegroom” here. What could be more contemporary than an image of human trafficking and date rape drugs? It would appear the human race has not evolved since these stories sprang forth like mushrooms from the primordial compost of human nature. Maybe there’s something to that doctrine of original sin.

Simplia had just finished reading another letter responding to Skeptical in Skye, with whom she shared misgivings about depictions of brutality and depravity in fairy tales.

Sagacia tore open an envelope the mailmouse had just delivered, scanned it quickly, and said, “Well, here. Maybe you have a kindred spirit in Adam Hoffman.

Personally, I do think the “dreadfulness” of the tales can often be overplayed in the world of internet fairy tale news (if I read one more piece playing up how dark the Grimm collection is I’ll go batty.)

“Yes!” Simplia agreed. “As if there weren’t already enough gratuitous violence in this world.”

Sagacia held up a finger to forestall another tirade. “But he goes on to say…”

However, in other cases, these things are necessary in order to set the right stakes. Also, they are often … necessary to set up the plot without running headfirst into a different fairy tale trope. Let’s take the “Donkeyskin” or “Allerleiraugh” type tales. They generally start with a princess having to run away because somehow her father is convinced that he needs to marry her. The threat of incest is quite icky, but there needs to be something so bad that it’s an affront to God and decency to make her run away from her comfortable palace.

Simplia pursed her lips lopsidedly, which her friend recognized as a signal that, much as she hated to admit it, the point was valid.

“Oh look!” Sagacia exclaimed. From the stack of today’s mail she shuffled out a postcard. “It’s Jane Dorfman in response to something Barra the Bard said on the topic.”

Barra is right, Mr. Fox is a great cautionary tale. Where do young women meet young men unknown to their family these days–on the internet.

Sagacia said, “It seems as though both you and Skeptical fear these old stories might put notions in people’s heads that wouldn’t otherwise occur to them.”

Simplia nodded, and her friend continued.

“But those notions are as old as human nature. It’s by letting them play out in our imaginations that we can experience, vicariously and harmlessly, some of the consequences of acting on those notions.”

Simplia squinched one eye and said, “Huh?”

“Here. Read this paper airplane from Mary Grace Ketner.


Recently when I told this regional haunting tale at a Girl’s Summer Camp, the director told me, “Hm-m. I never thought of “La Llorona” as an anti-teen pregnancy story before.”

Funny; I always thought of it that way. Secretly. Yes, as a cautionary tale it keeps small children from going down to the river alone at night, but, more importantly to life, it warns of the risks of entering into a relationship for reasons other than love.

Evidently, Megan Hicks had been looking over Mary Grace’s shoulder, because in the margins she had scribbled:

Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote about a version of La Llorona a ten year old child of migrant workers told her. His Weeping Woman haunted irrigation ditches and mourned the babies she drowned after the hidalgo who got her pregnant rejected her for the deformities caused by his pesticides.

Simplia said, “Same bones. Different themes. Adaptable to circumstance and shifting paradigms.” She sighed and said, “All right. I concede. This ghoulishness does have a constructive side…”

When the sentence went unfinished for longer than a long beat, Sagacia leaned in and said, “But…?”

“But: What Adam Hoffman said. What Erran Sharpe said. Yes — within the private confines of one’s imagination, one can ramp the grisly factor up or down. But it seems that by the time all the kids I know are twelve years old, they’ve seen  — with their eyeballs — and heard — with their ears — some lurid movie director’s worst case scenario depicted in IMAX 3-d with Full-Tilt-Vibrational-Surround-Sound. Is the conveniently accessible gruesomeness found in fairy tales just stoking that furnace?”

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