I didn’t read fairytales till I was in high school. Not the big, illustrated, classical fairytales.
But I’d heard them before, the way they were supposed to be transmitted. (And read them, in little tiny booklets sold at checkout in the grocery store, and begged for in lieu of candy bars when I was very young.)
Okay, so grandmother’s fairy tales weren’t canonical. She made up an entire set of stories about an alternate fairy-tale village. I want to say that while not canonical, and not pertaining to really old stuff, they were in spirit the same old fairy tales. Look, I’d often have nightmares afterwards. Sometimes I refused to let her tell me stories for a week, because people died in them and horrible things happened. But then I’d come back, because they were fascinating.
On the other hand, I heard fairy tales from just about everyone else. The old ones, with crunch and blood, where the happy ending had to be fought for, and the moral, while not told to you outright, was there clear as day, ten feet tall: Don’t go into the dark woods; the old shouldn’t feed on the young; parents shouldn’t abandon children; self-centeredness kills; undeserved good opinion of yourself leads to a downfall, etc. etc. etc.
Fairytales are very old. So old, we don’t know how old they are. Like the Illiad, the Odyssey and certain parts of the Bible, they are almost for sure MUCH older than they appear and might (MIGHT) if linguistic traces can be trusted date back to well before the written language traces we’ve found.
Me? I suspect the roots of them go back further, much further, to shortly after language became complex enough to transmit them.
They have that feel, of extending back, with roots in time and the mind of men, to the time an ape developed enough symbolic thinking to go “this sound stands for a broad range of things that are like this thing.”
Their warnings, therefore, are deep-set, scary and…. well, important.
Things don’t get transmitted that deep into history, unless they’re important and they enhance survival.
So, how in the name of all that’s holy, did we end up living in a time where evil fairy tales come to life?
Look, yea, they always existed in places like Afghanistan and other lands where Islam wiped the land clean of fairy tales and substituted its own version. (Because totalitarian philosophies and religions can’t afford competition.) And I think in Russia also, after communism. You find children killed and served to their parents, and children traded away to be eaten, and animals treated with awful cruelty, and–
But we’re not like that! Right? We live in a land of plenty and ease, and are cognizant of the evil fairy tales, the deep ones, and–
Are we? Even Jordan Peterson, who has his head screwed on straight, bases his fairy tale talks on the Disney versions. The Disney versions are actually a good illustration for this.
They started out as being slightly nicer than the original, though not by much, I admit. The bones are still there for Snow White, less so for Cinderella.
But by the time we hit Little Mermaid they were actively messing with the plot to give them what they thought was a happy ending, and thereby castrating the deep meaning.
And now? Now they’ve gone off the deep end. There seems to be a deeply-laid consensus that the girl and the boy can’t get together, that the girl will have something more important to do (and the boy will be a dolt) and that in the end things like getting married, or obeying your duty to your kingdom (important if you were an hereditary ruler, and that was the system) matter less than “self-actualization” and “finding yourself.”
Which means the fairy tales have mutated from things that are actively against survival for the species, sometimes for the individual.
And which explains why we’re living in a world of evil fairy tales, where its perfectly all right to use parts of aborted babies to extend the life of the old and wealthy, it’s perfectly all right to sacrifice your children to your pursuit of “finding yourself” by ignoring them/farming them out/getting divorced to pursue a career, etc; it’s perfectly all right to convince your little boy (under puberty) that he’s a girl, because you wanted a girl; it is perfectly all right to convince yourself you’re the real princess and take her place, by demanding that you be promoted ahead of those with ability/talent, because you’re you; and self-esteem in absence of any accomplishment is promoted as a panacea.
It is progressing, as the old fairy tales warn, in the way such stories usually do: in madness, horror, death and unending darkness.
Because human nature doesn’t change. Culture shapes it, but the nature itself doesn’t change. In the end those who live only for the pursuit of transitory pleasure always find themselves alone. Those who pursue self-agrandizement turn into monsters. Those who eat children to survive will be punished with a long, horrible life and also by turning into monsters.
The warnings are there precisely because human nature doesn’t change, and what seems to be pleasurable/enticing often leads to horror for everyone concerned, including the person doing it and thinking they want it.
And things like “Marries and has children” is how the species continues. Or doesn’t. And that’s in the end very important for survival of the species and sanity for the individual.
However the warnings have been erased in our culture to “be nice.” And of course, due to mobility, and mothers working full time (ah!) and various other factors, we don’t actually have any other means of transmitting these old, old stories.
So they are dying. And society is coming unraveled, because the deep set warnings were never given. Or were perverted.
Humans are far more complex than we tend to think. At least humans as something else than apes. We are creatures of language, of transmissible knowledge, of story and of culture.
The modern era has both submerged us in a bunch of modern narrative that often portrays things that just ain’t so (a lot of it, but not all, based on Karl Grifter Marx), and cut us off from the deep, deep roots of our culture.
The results aren’t pretty.
Sure, we can relearn the lessons. But can we learn them before civilization crumbles? because stuff like “Sacrifice so the next generation will be better off” is the very foundation stone of civilization. All civilization that hopes to survive.
We don’t say things like “don’t eat children” because we think it’s not needed. And so, it leaks in, around the edges, in using abortion parts, like using children for sexual affirmation, like not giving kids what they actually need to grow and be healthy, whether by raising them vegan or by starving them of true learning.
Listen to the voice of the early, dark fairy tales.
They’re not kind, or nice. And sometimes they’re horrible to read/listen to. But they fascinate for a reason. They are the sign blinking in the night saying “drive off this ledge and you die.” They are alluring to package and transmit a very old message, hard fought and learned with difficulty by your ancestors.
Those who fail to learn them are condemned to repeat them.
And the land of evil fairy tales is hard to escape.