Over the last few days I’ve been reading endless numbers of fairytales — in effect all of the fairy “color” books. Not on purpose, precisely, except insofar as I downloaded a compilation of them from Amazon and at this time they’re a useful thing to read.
You see, I’m trying to finish two books before the end of the month, which means I can’t afford to get captured by a story and end up sitting and reading all day. the (mostly Andrew Lang-compiled) fairytales are very short, about three pages tops, which means if I get captured it’s no time at all to get to the end of them, but they’re involving enough to keep me reading. Well, most of them.
One of the things it is doing is replenishing my imagination. It’s amazing, when you only remember the core fairytales, and those often disneyfied, how you forget some of the unbelievably difficult trials that the characters in the original fairytales are put through.
The other thing it is doing is reminding me of the “structure” of western (which most of these are. The others often “taste funny” depending on how westernized they have been or not) story telling reminding me of things like “when it’s almost won, often turning back for good and sufficient reason will almost cause the loss of the whole expedition, and lead to a more epic battle than ever.
There is something about these fairytales, particularly the older ones, that seems to tie in to the place we dream from. And like dreams thy often have the strangest contradictions. I’m struck, for instance, by the weirdness oft repeated in stories that a fox that doesn’t have the strength to take its own tail off a trap can command several other foxes to build her savior a whole palace in a day, or to chase cattle out of the tall grass, or whatever.
It’s also funny how often people change personalities completely, which is another thing that seems to come directly out of dreams, good or not. For instance, after a great battle, you throw your bridle over a troll and it becomes a beautiful horse (or princess) who is grateful you rescued him/her. But also it’s amazing how often the beautiful woman the main character, or the character’s father marries turns out to be a horrible person who will try to kill the whole family.
That has the feel of dreams, where people often change face in the middle of a conversation and you realize that all the time you were having this involved conversation it was with a long dead relative, a cat, or the cow on a field next door.
Russian stories are harsher and there is more strife within families themselves. Japanese stories often feel like elaborate allegories I’m not equipped to understand; Arab stories involve an untold number of acts of treason, often by the women in the family, German stories often revolve around food and it is astonishing how often the dim witted fellow or the idiot succeeds due to being an idiot.
There is a slightly different flavor to each. But they all taste of the place humans go in their dreams, a place in which the collective thought of mankind was formed and forged.
Some of them I remember from when I was very young, when the stores kept, in the place now reserved for candy “cockroach books.” These were little chapbooks about the size of a palm that reprinted mostly moral tales or fairytales. I wasn’t very fond of the moral tales — not that I objected to the moral, or at least not often but — because they were annoyingly preachy and reiterated the moral loudly and in virtue signaling tones. I never had much patience for that… BUT if there were fairytales for sale I almost always whined till mom bought me one. (Mom was also much more likely to buy me that than a candy bar or even cough drops.) Thus I have read MOST of those fairy tales at one time or another. (My favorite remains the one where the princess refuses to marry until the father in despair gives her to a drunken soldier.)
As I said, it is wakening some thing in me I thought was long dead, and which is probably dormant, a place where stories form unbidden, a place where magic can happen.
I’m not absolutely sure where it will take me, but I will do my best — promise — not to fall into the inconsistencies where a carp cannot possibly jump back into the water alone but can manage to commandeer enough fish to deviate a stream for its former benefactor.