Sunday, January 20, 2019

More on old stories

My recent blog post about reading old stories reminded me of an earlier book by Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, reviewed here by Thomas Howard. In the review Howard summarizes four of the "ten ways" and then Esolen's responses. One paragraph relevant to the theme:
The old, unedited fairy tales and folk tales, which opened out onto a totally unregulated domain, patently dangerous for a child’s emotional health, simply won’t do. We can’t have the wolf gobbling up granny, or Cinderella’s sisters having their eyes pecked out by helpful little birds. All too gruesome—the modern theory being that the child must never be asked to cope with the gruesome. I must confess that I myself might wish to tax Esolen on this point—amiably, to be sure. But his point is that those old tales, at times gruesome, roused a child’s imagination. They saw life in all of its peremptory starkness. They never applauded the gruesome. Furthermore, the figures that showed up in those stories were patently good or evil. Esolen remarks here, “It has been a great victory for the crushers of imagination to label such figures ‘stereotypes,’ and add a sneer to it, as if people who used them in their stories were not very imaginative.” Current educational theories, with the moral vision that suffuses them, suppose that at all costs everything must be nuanced. Since there are no eternal fixities anyway, we can never presume to judge people—whether thieves or cruel stepmothers. Esolen’s rejoinder here is that in the realm of faerie we do, in fact, come up against intransigent figures—or better, archetypes: orcs, Dark Riders, dragons, wicked stepmothers. That’s what the genre is about. It is in other genres of literature—serious drama, or post-eighteenth-century prose fiction, say—that we undertake the nuanced psychological scrutiny of human behavior.

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