The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 2)
by Aimee Burton - April 25th, 2010
“Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis.
You might (or might not) be surprised to learn that the beloved fairy tale was originally meant for adults as well as kidlets.
Storytellers such as Perrault had Rapunzel pregnant by her hair-climbing paramore; the story of Snow White is said to be the historical real-life story of a girl poisoned by the Queen when the poor girl caught the eye of the King. Truly delightful stuff.
My love affair with the fairy tale goes further back than my swiss-cheese memory can account for. I can’t remember the first time I read Grimms’ version of Cinderella, where her ugly stepsisters cut their heels and toes off to fit the famed glass slipper, or when I first learned that the price to pay for loving a prince is your tongue cut out and an eventual suicide (a la Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).
Eventually I graduated to that masterpiece Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but it wasn’t until Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, by Jamie Rix, that I was taught some valuable and thoroughly modern lessons in life. Thrills and chills ran down my spine at the mere thought of The Spaghetti Man, who would turn children into macaroni, penne, or even the dreaded linguine! If children’s picture books help us to identify colours and language, fairy tales further develop a burgeoning imagination and a sense of reason. At the time, I lost countless nights of sleep to that burgeoning imagination, but it did have some positive effects for my parents: I forever after gobbled my spaghetti to the last limp noodle, for fear I should hear the scrape of those uncooked spaghetti fingers dragging along the floor towards me…
As for modern fairytales that are less ‘child’s play’, more ‘adults only’:
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly, is similar in story to Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous film, Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s a truly chilling read. After reading this book I needed some serious Disney movie therapy, to stop me thinking about Little Red Riding Hood spawning werewolves after laying with the Wolf. Nice. And if you haven’t read Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red) then you are missing out on some seriously beautifully-crafted language.
To finish off - a Mr. Chesterton (poet, essayist, novelist) once said:
“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
So you’ve had a rough day at work – your boss has been an absolute dragon, and your mother-in-law can’t resist telling you (for the thirtieth time) how to raise your kids. Now imagine slaying that dragon, or watching a witch with your mother-in-law’s face dancing over red-hot coals – ouch! I don’t know about you, but when I perform that cathartic little exercise, my day feels a helluva lot brighter.
[Disclaimer: In no way am I condoning real-life violence... but gosh, when you really need it to get through a crappy day, isn't the imagination a marvellous thing?]