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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Are Fairy Tales Still Worth Telling?


Painting - by Edward Robert Hughes
You can buy this at Allposters.com
On February 26 I did an extra post for Tell a Fairy Tale Day.  That day interested many people.  There were the "usual suspects", storytellers, parents, and teachers, but it also included the blog, Imagination Soup, who wrote "8 Reasons Why Fairy Tales Are Essential to Childhood."  That article further mentioned an article by the British newspaper, The Telegraph, which warned Parents who shun fairytales miss chance to teach children morality.

In all fairness, shortly afterwards yet another article, Are Fairy Tales Out of Fashion? , in the online magazine, Slate, took a view opposing fairy tales.  The opponent of fairy tales, Libby Copeland, criticized their violence and "bad values."

Have such stories outlived their audience?  How ironic, since this year is the bicentennial of the collection of tales by the Brothers Grimm.  More about that will be mentioned soon in an extra follow-up post.

I mentioned the first two articles to my colleagues on the email list, Storytell.  The National Storytelling Network hosts those discussions.  List discussion is only open to list members, so, if you are interested, learn more and sign up here.



In my February 26th article I also mentioned the Fairy Tale Lobby, saying: 
Just as pop culture, like the Harry Potter saga, has started to accept fairy tales, some storytellers have started to stand up for the fairy tale.  Not all storytellers approve of the rejection of fairy tales.  A great place to catch storytellers at play with the concept is The Fairy Tale Lobby. Questions and characters there might even get you thinking about how fairy tales still belong in publications, conferences, festivals and the repertoire of storytellers, whether professional or amateur.  After all, the root of the word "amateur" is "love." 


Mary Grace Ketner and Megan Hicks host the Lobby.  M.G. graciously consented to let me share her reactions originally made on Storytell to those three articles, (on Imagination Soup, The Telegraph, and Slate).  She offers very practical explanations for a topic which might seem anything but practical.

She starts by discussing the Imagination Soup and Telegraph articles:
I love lists, and this is a good one!  One item I'd like to see stated a little differently is "Fairy Tales teach Lessons."  They mean "moral lessons," they explain, but it's academic-sounding.  I might say instead, "Fairy Tales impart values." 

Yesterday I was telling at a middle school.  I asked the librarian if her school had any issues with parents about ghost stories.  I said I knew sixth graders loved ghost stories and I planned to tell some, but could change if doing so would put her on a bad position.  (Of course, my ghost stories are mostly fairy tales, including Tam Lin, Mr. Fox, Pretty Maid Ibronka, and Godmother Death--a Mexican variant of Godfather Death, along with some local legends, including La Llorona, which I think of as a local ghost legend with fairy tale qualities, too!)

She said, "Oh, not at all!  Tell them!  Well, we have one parent who doesn't like witches, but..."  and kind of sloughed it off as a problem, which, if it arose, she'd be glad to take on.  Just dare her!  The stories I'd listed don't have any witches, and I didn't mention that they have a faery queen, samhain, sexual violence, the devil and probably "unacceptable" views of the nature of life and death, not to mention enchantment.

Well, it turned into a great day with satisfied kids and teachers, and both the librarian and one of the teachers asked, independently, if I would tell Mr. Fox, the goriest story of all which I'd told early in the day, to a particular class.  One described the class as "pretty tough," and the other said they "needed" that story.  Whee!  Such imaginative stories open kids up to thinking about consequences and courage, and in middle school, when they are beginning to test their family values against the values of others they see around them in the broadening world, those kinds of cautionary tales are exquisite!  Let them do some of their rebelling in their minds!

One of the greatest pleasures for me in my storytelling life is to work with adults who "get it" about fairy tales, imagination and values.  Of course, it's "Teaching Lessons!"  No question about that, just not in the pedantic, pounding sense of "teaching" and "lessons."  (Now THAT's scary!)--Mary Grace
Mary Grace later said:
I had some other thoughts on the blog post Lois sent and the Telegraph article it directed us to, but my previous post was going long and changing the subject, so I'm starting over.

My state, Texas, has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, which is usually unwanted pregnancy, so I try to do my part to prevent it by telling fairy tales.  YES!  I'm not overstating the case!  I think that is a moral issue about which fairy tales have much enlightenment to offer.  Girl listeners are, in their minds, the heroine of the story, and, as such, they experience vicariously the consequences of the heroine's behavior.  Boy listeners who may care about attracting girl listeners take the precaution as well.
  • Mr. Fox cautions young women to follow up on doubts about the unknown aspects of their potential partner's life.  They caution young men that unsavory behavior is not tolerated by society.
  • La Llorona cautions young women not to seek a partner out of a desire to escape the home/town/life in which you presently find yourself.  (Many variants, of course, and some don't particularly do this, but I don't "believe" those variants! ;-)  My version, the one I'm talking about, is at http://www.talesandlegends.net/storied-women/index.html) At the end of the tale, the man is disdained by the listener, which is all I can do without making up something that is not part of the legend, but perhaps that is enough for a boy listener to at least consider the consequences of making promises you don't intend to keep.  Or, at least, that taking any kind of responsibility for children that can't be at the core of one's life and marriage might be a hassle one doesn't have to deal with if one would just be more careful!
  • Janet (in Tam Lin) and Rapunzel have sex based on lust probably, at least without love being mentioned, but love grows from it, and they do amazing and courageous things to save the man whom they have found to be well worth sharing a life with.  (I remember my mother saying long years ago that shot-gun marriages could work out just fine if other people would just let them!)
  • Rapunzel also says, in an oblique way, that the partner you have chosen for yourself without your (surrogate) parents' consent may be the right one for you, after all!  Consider what your parents say, but push it a bit.  Find out!  Some of the most enviable marriages I know of were at first disparaged by parents.
  • Cinderella discovers that true love will seek out the one who has no pretensions; that is, you don't really have to do anything artificial, unnatural to yourself, to attract the partner who is the right one for you. (Unless being artificial is a life you think you'd like!)
  • Red Riding Hood, of course, cautions young women to beware of predators.
  • Pretty Maid Ibronka advocates facing the truth about oneself and one's mistakes of the past.
There are other good examples, I know.  Maybe one or two have popped into your mind?  Please share!--Mary Grace

She only briefly reacts to Libby Copeland's comments in Slate, but it completes this look at using fairy tales in the 21st century.

2 1/2???  The mother is reading Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel.... to her toddler???  Of course, they are too violent!  What was she thinking!!?

She might try Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, the Three Bears, and Gingerbread Man.  Use the age of the character in the story as a cue to what age of child/adult the story is really for.   Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, the youngest she mentioned, have little to offer kids who are not old enough to wander around in the woods (or neighborhood) by themselves.  
Mary Grace  
Well, M.G., I thoroughly agree.  Where preschoolers are involved, I always recommend telling stories fitting the old-fashioned term of "nursery tales."  

If you haven't a list handy, you could easily start with these classic anthologies: The Golden Goose Book, illustrated by L.Leslie Brooke; Great Children's Stories (called the Classic Volland Edition); F. Rojankovsky's Tall Book of Nursery Tales; and Veronica Hutchinson's easiest anthology, Chimney Corner Stories, which she subtitled Tales for Little Children. For more recently published collections, you should also go to your local library's online catalog and search using together the keywords, "nursery" and "tales."

In answer to the title of this post, "Are Fairy Tales Still Worth Telling?", of course they are, BUT it does require careful selection based on the age of the audience.  So many of the stories were originally for adults. . . something too many adults either don't know or don't believe. The title of the Grimm Brothers anthology is Kinder und Hausmärchen.  That translates as Children's and Household Tales and will lead to a promised follow-up to this post on the celebration of the bicentennial of its publishing.
 
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