George John Pinwell, The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Water of Life

Arthur Rackham, The Water of Life

Arthur Rackham

Please, Mr. Dragon

Book Cover, Jonathan and the Dragon, Irwin Shapiro

Won't you go away?

             . . .
  Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
 And what we have been makes us what we are.

    George Eliot
  Middlemarch, Ch.70
ODQ 196 : 21

Hansel and Gretel, Carl Offterdinger

Carl Offterdinger, Hansel and Gretel

Introduction 2A — Fairy Tales

The Source of all* Storytelling

(*All,except Myth.)

  My excuse is that I was raised by grandparents from Northern England.   I can still remember snuggling close to my grandma in the big soft white bed upstairs in the house in Lachine that exists now only in memory, while she read a story from the large thick book of Fairy Tales.   Meanwhile my grandad would busy himself with this, and with that, but possibly he was listening, too.

  Parents, I think, have a much more businesslike attitude to child rearing, preferring to make clear from an early age the difference between fantasy and reality:   grandparents, bless them, realize that their duty lies in protecting grandchildren from the crass exigencies of what is perceived to be real, and in feeding them a diet of Fairy Tales for as long as the child is hungry for such nourishment.

  Fairy Tales exist to introduce us to ourselves, to acquaint us with our nature, our reality as small unique persons.  And grandparents remember what parents have chosen to forget:  that without storytelling, there is no reality.  And that all storytelling is based either upon Fairy Tale, or upon Myth, its ultimate intellectual fulfilment.

  In order to qualify as a Fairy Tale according to my highly unscientific system of definition, a story must comprise a number of inescapable elements:—

In conclusion.

 When my son was very little, his favourite book was Jonathan and the Dragon, a modern (1962) American Fairy Tale, in verse yet, by Irwin Shapiro.   Library rules allowed us to keep a book for two weeks after checkout, with the possibility of renewal for an additional two weeks unless specifically requested by someone else.  One day the unthinkable happened.   Months went by, and the book was not returned.

 After meeting his worried eyes one time too many at bedtime, I bought my son the book.   In hard cover.   Complete with dust jacket.

 There are many stories about a hero slaying the dragon.   And some stories where the dragon is outwitted.   But Jonathan chose a different way.   To the consternation of the assembled mayor and townspeople, Jonathan walked up to the dragon — who had previously been shot at with a ball from a cannon that bounced off his head, and fed a toxic soup which he gulped down with obvious enjoyment — and whispered in this uninvited guest's ear a polite request that he depart forthwith.  Naturally the dragon complied.

. . .
He stood up slowly, as a dragon must
He walked away in a cloud of dust.
Everyone shouted, Hurrah, Hurray!
For Jonathan has saved the day!

 My son was only a small boy, seemingly ready to be formed by school, church, and societal pressures.   But could it be that already he was in touch with the man he has become:— friendly, tolerant, and direct;  inventive, independent, and resourceful?

 If it's true that Fairy Tales introduce us to ourselves, and, by virtue of hearing them over and over, acquaint us with our natures, it seems obvious that having them read to us gives us the security of a stamp of approval, as if the world has produced these unique stories particularly for our edification.   Of course some Fairy Tales have been sanitized into a state of cuddly incoherence, but pain, suffering and unimaginable cruelty are the mainstays of the authentic original versions, with no correlation between deservingness and punishment, worthiness and reward.

Outside in the real world, all is frightening uncertainty.   Inside, in the safety of a story told by a truthful reader to a trusting listener, is the warmth of the unspoken consolations of the wisdom of the ages.

 Next we move on to Fairy Tale's grownup sophisticated cousin.   I refer, of course, to Myth, and stories we read for ourselves, rather than having them read to us.

[June 2007, text only
    WebPage last amended February 20th, 2013]


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