Saturday, October 31, 2020

"What is the value in fairy tales..."

In Touchstone, "The Fairy Tale Wars: Lewis, Chesterton, et al. Against the Frauds, Experts & Revisionists":
.... "The individual is foolish, but the species is wise," wrote Edmund Burke. And with this deft hyperbole, he threw a monkey wrench into our modern individualism, which pits the self against tradition. Modern projects to revamp, reinvent, or otherwise rewrite the great stories are, more often than not, arbitrary exercises, prompted by the fleeting opinions of individuals who have a limited grasp of the original storyteller's literary sophistication. Today's fairy tale "experts" embrace a virtually obligatory suspicion of tradition, judging it to be inherently aligned with injurious prejudices, which, they say, we have outgrown and must shed.

These experts, whether Marxist, Feminist, Freudian, Jungian, or Comparativist, tightly wrap their story specimens in a favored methodology, and suck the very life out of them in order to single out and expose class prejudices, sexual stereotypes and gender constructs, archetypes, literary allusions, or universal themes that they claim to find in the stories. Yet in this selective process, they almost always lose grip of the narrative. The truth of a story is not scattered along the way, like the pebbles Hansel dropped in order that he and Gretel might find their way back home. The truth of a story takes form through the whole of the narrative. ....

In an essay titled "Children and Literature," the renowned child psychiatrist Robert Coles has written: "The truth is that many of us (certainly in my field of child psychology) don't give enough credit to the natural, normal everyday development of narrative interest, narrative sense, narrative response, narrative competence in boys and girls." Children are always seeking out new experiences, and they find them in stories when adults do not spoil these stories by superimposing concepts or rules over the narrative.

C.S. Lewis writes in "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Best Say What's to Be Said," that fairy tales "give us experiences we have never had, and thus, instead of 'commenting on life', can add to it." Children from roughly ages three through nine exercise their imaginations so powerfully that they quite consciously and quite deliberately leave the ordinary present entirely behind and enter into new worlds of make-believe. They will often object to adult interventions in their play because they know how, in the adult world, reason rules and imagination becomes a casualty. Children live near fairyland and enter into it through play with an ease of which adults are incapable.

More to the point, children instinctively resist abstraction. They cling to the narrative, hunt it down, one might say, to the lessons that can be learned through the dramatic action. Any parent or teacher who has read to children has experienced the intensity, even ferocity, with which children insist that when we try to explain a story, we must reference, retell, even "relive" the dramatic action. In other words, they insist on exercising their imagination, which, unlike reason or the intellect, moves not to abstraction or conceptualization, but seeks out the concrete in a story, the details, and analogizes from them to find meaning. ....

In his own essay on "Fairy Tales" from 1908, G.K. Chesterton maintains that a single idea "runs from one end of [fairy tales] to the other—the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition." This truth is the bedrock of morality. It is not only "the core of nursery-tales," but "the core of ethics." The failure to do from the start what is right or what is needed is the most ancient of humanity's memories. In biblical memory, this is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. The serpent appeals not first to the reason, but to the imagination. "Imagine," it says to the first couple, "you can be gods if you eat the fruit of that tree." The idolatrous imagination triumphs in the garden, and it has been a source of much human tragedy ever since.

"The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread," Chesterton observes, the need for something to be done rightly or completely. "The king may invite fairies to the christening, but he must invite all the fairies or frightful results will follow." Then again, sometimes "all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative." The failure to make the refusal may bring about immense misfortune. Edmund, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, fails to turn down the refreshments the White Witch offers to him, even though his better instincts tell him that she must not be trusted. And this jeopardizes the entire economy of salvation upon which the hopes of all faithful Narnians rest. .... (more)
"The Fairy Tale Wars: Lewis, Chesterton, et al. Against the Frauds, Experts & Revisionists"

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