Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Once upon a time.......

Last week's whimsical post about Snow White's 7 dwarfs set me thinking more seriously about fairy tales in general. Many scholars and authors have attempted to research the origins and reasons for survival of such tales. They have come to a variety of conclusions. The obvious, and relatively recent sources: works of writers such as Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm are easy enough to establish, but it wasn't from the imagination of those authors that the core of these tales emerged. They added embroidery to the bare bones of older stories. They made the tales more palatable to their audience - buyers of their books. In some cases their stories as originally presented, to adult readers, were more violent and sexually explicit than the diluted and familiar form provided for children. But the core tales, the seeds - where did they come from? Again, theories - only theories, in much the same way that the origins of astrological doctrine are theories only.

Max Muller (a Sun Sagittarian by the way) said"The gods of ancient mythology were changed into the demi-gods and heroes of ancient poetry, and these demi-gods again became, at a later age, the principal characters of our nursery tales."

One of four theories presented at Sacred Texts.com is explained below, and reminds us how all important were the Sun, Moon and stars to early man. How could these not have figured in their stories?
II. Fairy tales are myths of Sun, Dawn, Thunder, Rain, etc.
This is sometimes called the Sun-Myth Theory or the Aryan Theory, and it is the one advocated by Max Muller and by Grimm.
The fairy tales were primitive man's experience with nature in days when he could not distinguish between nature and his own personality, when there was no supernatural because everything was endowed with a personal life. They were the poetic fancies of light and dark, cloud and rain, day and night; and underneath them were the same fanciful meanings. These became changed by time, circumstances in different countries, and the fancy of the tellers, so that they became sunny and many-colored in the South, sterner and wilder in the North, and more home-like in the Middle and West. To the Bushmen the wind was a bird, and to the Egyptian fire was a living beast. Even The Song of Six-Pence has been explained as a nature-myth, the pie being the earth and sky, the birds the twenty-four hours, the king the sun, the queen the moon, and the opening of the pie, daybreak.

Every word or phrase became a new story as soon as the first meaning of the original name was lost. Andrew Lang tells how Kephalos the sun loved Prokris the dew, and slew her by his arrows. Then when the first meaning of the names for sun, dew, and rays was lost, Kephalos, a shepherd, loved Prokris, a nymph, and we have a second tale which, by a folk-etymology, became the Story of Apollo, the Wolf. Tales were told of the sun under his frog name; later people forgot that frog meant "sun," and the result was the popular tale, A Frog, He Would A-Wooing Go.

Our most familiar fairytales have a constant theme, well described by G.K. Chesterton in an essay in his book, All Things Considered. This theme could well be the reason that fairy stories have survived. In common with religions, they aim teach us something.

If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other - the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must be back when the clock strikes twelve. The king may invite fairies to the christening, but he must invite all the fairies or frightful results will follow. Bluebeard's wife may open all doors but one. A promise is broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. A girl may be the bride of the God of Love himself if she never tries to see him; she sees him, and he vanishes away. A girl is given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth.

This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore - the idea that all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative. Now, it is obvious that there are many philosophical and religious ideas akin to or symbolised by this; but it is not with them I wish to deal here. It is surely obvious that all ethics ought to be taught to this fairy-tale tune; that, if one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided.

It's a fascinating study, and one that can drag us back, and back, and back.....then abruptly thrust us forward again into the present, realising the timelessness of situations and the lessons within them.

"The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in."
~W. H. Auden (Poet)

"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale"
(Hans Christian Andersen.)


Shawn Carson said...

liz greene is one of my favorite authors and she employs the amplification of myth and fairy tales, in a jungian sort of way, to express the psychological implications of these stories. she owns the centre for psychological astrology in london. i think you would enjoy her ideas too.

Twilight said...

Shawn ~~~ I've read some of Liz Greene's writing. I agree that she's one of the better astrology authors. I hesitate to get too far into the astrology/myth thing though, because that's not what I think astrology is all about, at the root of it - though it has picked that association up along the way. :-) (My theory!)