Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adam Gidwitz: Defending Fairy Tales

A Tale Dark and Grimm 

Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm and In a Glass Grimmly, is making the media rounds. The first book was a bonding reading book during one of my niece's short visits last year. The new one will most likely be part of our holidays this year. We read aloud and then she finished when she couldn't wait for us to finish it together.

Neither of Gidwitz's appearances should be missed by readers here. I can only share excerpts.

First, Gidwitz discusses his experiences and thoughts about filtering Grimms to children at the Wall Street Journal blog at In Defense of Real Fairy Tales:

While adults wring their hands over whether children should be exposed to the real Grimm, young people themselves have no such ambivalence. In my visits to schools I have witnessed the introduction of Grimm tales to thousands of children—elementary students in urban London, middle schoolers in rural Texas, high school students in suburban Baltimore—and the reaction is always the same: enthusiasm that borders on ecstasy.

Which is, I admit, a little strange. Grimm fairy tales are 200 years old. They do not feature guns or robots, they do not involve cliques or internet slang, they do not mention LeBron James or the WWE. They are not televised or computerized. They are the most primitive form of entertainment still in existence. How do they bewitch an auditorium full of tweens and adolescents? Why, contrary to adults’ expectations and apprehensions, are fairy tales so perfectly appropriate for these children?

Second, there is an interview with Monica Edinger with Huffington Post at Spooky, Spooky Fairy Tales:

Since you are a sort of fairy tale nerd (as am I) what is your take on my impression that for the general public fairies and fairy tales continue to have an image problem. Seems to me that for all the urban fantasy out there (in books, movies, and television shows), many still associate fairy tales with sparkly teeny tiny women flitting about with wings, pink, and Disney. Would you agree? Disagree?

I agree. And most of these adaptations don't really help the cause at all. Most of the current adaptations of Grimm fairy tales take details from the original tales and use them as a jumping off point to tell their own story and to do their own thing. They toss the form and the style of the fairy tale out the window. I think this is a great waste. Fairy tales have endured not only because of the stories they tell but also because of how they tell them. Fairy tales are told simply, matter-of-factly; they are brief; they deal with the deepest of emotions--pain, humiliation, betrayal, lostness (if you will)--without any hyperbole or drama. The Grimm fairy tales in crystalize our most essential emotions. These modern adaptations, for the most part, have nothing to do with our deepest human emotions. They miss the point of fairy tales altogether.

Another criticism fairy tales get is that they are violent yet you seem to have embraced that idea and run with it. Why?

The real fairy tales are indeed quite violent. But the violence is not gratuitous. On the contrary, it is essential to fairy tales' task. One of fairy tales' methods of speaking to the readers' deepest emotions is a technique I like to call "tears into blood." There is a wonderful Grimm tale called "The Seven Ravens," in which a father loves his one little daughter so much more than his seven boys that he wishes they would turn into birds and fly away--which they promptly do. When the little girl discovers that her brothers' disappearance is due to her father loving her more than he loved the boys, she runs away from home to find them. She is given a chicken bone by the stars (yep, you read that right), and told that it will open the Crystal Mountain where the boys are trapped. The little girl journeys to the mountain but, upon arriving, realizes that she has lost the chicken bone. At this moment, any real child's feelings of guilt would be extraordinary. Not only was it indirectly her fault that her brothers were turned into birds, but in losing the chicken bone she has lost the ability to save them.

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