Friday, February 10, 2012

Grimm Legacies 2012: “Medicine and Märchen” by Valerie Gribben

The Fairytale Trilogy: Fairytale, The Emperor's Realm, The Three Crowns Fairytale 

This recap is a little easier for me since I am familiar with Gribben's work.  She wrote a fairy tale trilogy--The Fairytale Trilogy: Fairytale, The Emperor's Realm, The Three Crowns--starting at the age of sixteen back when SurLaLune was new, too. In fact, the first book was one of the first review books I received from a publisher, if I remember correctly. I don't receive many believe it or not, especially fiction ones, so each one is always a boon to my work here on SurLaLune.

Gribben is now a doctor of medicine who will begin her residency soon. Last summer she wrote an article about how fairy tales help her cope with the real life stories and strains of her chosen profession in an opinion piece in the New York Times: Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work by Valerie Gribben. I linked to the article back when it was published.

She expanded the piece with some extra insights and telling of some tales for her presentation at Grimm Legacies. Two of the tales she explored more deeply were Godfather Death and The Old Man and His Grandson (often known as The Wooden Bowl among storytellers), both Grimms tales. The latter has a Snopes page, by the way, which is rather fascinating.

Here's an excerpt from her original piece which sums up her presentation pretty well, too, but do click through and read the entire article since it is still available to read for free.

The practice of medicine bestows the sacred privilege to ask about the unmentionable. But what happens when the door to Bluebeard’s horror chamber opens, and the bloody secrets spill onto your aseptic field of study? How do you process the pain of your patients?

I found my way back to stories. The Grimm fairy tales once seemed as if they took place in lands far, far away, but I see them now in my everyday hospital rotations. I’ve met the eternal cast of characters. I’ve taken down their histories (the abandoned prince, the barren couple) or seen their handiwork (the evil stepmother, the lecherous king).

Fairy tales are, at their core, heightened portrayals of human nature, revealing, as the glare of injury and illness does, the underbelly of mankind. Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. And the terrifying things that go bump in the night are what doctors treat at 3 a.m. in emergency rooms.

So I now find comfort in fairy tales. They remind me that happy endings are possible. With a few days of rest and proper medication, the bewildered princess left relaxed and smiling, with a set of goals and a new job in sight. The endoscopy on my cross-eyed confidante showed she was cancer-free.

And her lovely conclusion:

Healing, I’m learning, begins with kindness, and most fairy tales teach us to show kindness wherever we can, to the stooped little beggar and the highest nobleman.

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