Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Transformations: How Fairy Tales Cast Their Spell

Well, the holiday weekend is over here in the states and almost all of academia is headed back to the classroom by now.  (Yes, I know a few lingering term systems have a few more weeks left.)  To get us all in the mindset of a new wave of teaching and learning, I wanted to share a link to Transformations: How Fairy Tales Cast Their Spell.  You can choose to listen to an audio version, watch a video or simply read a transcript of the event  that took place in 2007.  No, this is not new, but I haven't linked to it before so it may be new to some of you.

Here's more information about it:
Transformations: How Fairy Tales Cast Their Spell
Participants: Anne Cattaneo, Mark Lamos, Donna Jo Napoli, Roger Rahtz, Maria Tatar, Jack Zipes (moderator)

In a recent article in Time, entitled "The End of Fairy Tales?" James Poniewozik refers to Shrek and other recent fairy-tale films and writes, "This is a new world of fairy tales: parodied, ironized, meta-fictionalized, politically adjusted and pop-culture saturated. . . . What these stories are reacting against is not so much fairy tales in general as the specific, saccharine Disney kind, which sanitized the far darker originals." This may, indeed, be true, as a reaction to Disney, but the new forms are really not new. Fairy tales have been transformed in diverse ways and have been transforming themselves ever since they originated in an oral tradition. What is fascinating about the fairy tale genre is precisely its transformative quality and capacity to capture our imaginations. However, it is not clear why we are so addicted to fairy tales and why we continually return to them, change them, and use them in such innovative ways in the theater, opera, cinema, school, at home and, of course, on the Internet. Fairy tales touch our lives from birth to death. As a genre they were never developed or cultivated for children until late in their development, and adults are largely the writers and creators of fairy tales in practically every country in the world. The tales continue to speak to us and call out, it seems, for transformation. This panel will set out to discover the sources of this tradition and how it infuses and is infused by imaginative processes, including indigenous myth, religion, art, dream-life and morality.
The discussion begins with a discussion of "The Story of the Fairy Tale" by Carl Ewald which you can read on SurLaLune

And there are so many other fairy tales and works discussed from Shakespeare to Napoli's The Magic Circle and more.  (Which, really, if you haven't read The Magic Circle yet, you really, really should.  It's a short masterpiece.)

And, finally, if you're still debating whether or not to follow the link, here's an excerpt:

Napoli: I’ve been thinking about this, and I think the difference between a myth and a fairy tale and a religious story is just what kind of term we want to call it. Because I can think of myths and religious stories and fairy tales that deal with a whole range of things, all of them, and I think we call it a myth when we know that it used to be somebody’s religion and we don’t believe anybody is believing that today, or we think it would be absurd if they believed it. I think we’d call it a religion if we are trying to show at least lip service to some deference for what they might believe. And I think we call it a fairy tale if there aren’t gods in it. But they’re all the same kind of stories, I think.

Zipes: Yeah, I tend to agree. I think that most of these stories come out of very basic experiences that we’ve had in nature, in our environment, and depending on the modality in which we want to convey our experience, we tell it in one metaphorical way using certain conventions, and these conventions and motifs and narrative structures and plots have changed and developed over thousands of years, so that even when we tell fairy tales, we use other media, like film and the radio, now the Internet, and of course plays and musicals and operas. I think that why we choose or continue to come back to certain canonical tales is that they are unresolved. Even though they are resolved, they’re still unresolved.

For instance, I’ve written on Cinderella recently in which I’ve tried to understand—I’ve always looked to a sort of feminist critique talking about the passivity of Cinderella, but really what the story is about is what happens to a child when a mother dies and a non-biological mother comes and maltreats a daughter that’s not of her own making, and favors her own children. Now that’s very common today, with broken families and single parents or new parents, or sometimes there are third marriages and so on. If you do a study of recent children’s books, plays, and so on, Cinderella is probably the most popular tale in the world right now in terms of redoing it, reexamining it, exploring it. So these are deep-rooted problems that come out of our drives, our instincts, that we store in our memories and work through and keep trying to work through. Because a particular tale is so artistically well done, at a certain point it becomes sort of the focal point that we continue to pass on and disseminate and revisit to try to continue to deal with these problems. As long as the problems remain, we will continue to tell the same tales, I think.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link Heidi. It sounds like a fascinating discussion.