Grimm Pickings

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sometimes various cultural overlays disarray the bones of stories. For instance, in the case of the brothers Grimm (among other fairytale collectors of the past few centuries), there is strong suspicion that the informants (storytellers) of that time sometimes "purified" their stories for the religious brothers' sakes. We also suspect the famous brothers continued the tradition of old pagan symbols overlaid with Christian ones, so that an old healer in a tale became an evil witch, a spirit became an angel, an initiation veil or caul became a handkerchief, or a child named Beautiful (the customary name for a child born during Solstice festival) was renamed Schmerzenreich, Sorrowful. Sexual elements were omitted. Helping creatures and animals were changed into demons and bogeys.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
G.K. Chesterton

It's true. But I bet less fairytales are read to children these days. In the era we live in, I wonder if they would be considered unsuitable as bedtime stories - too violent, too dangerous, too treacherous, too unfitting for children? Which I could understand. Children are innocent, why give them nightmares with stories like that? And yet if fairytales are more about the dragons to slay within, then maybe it would be a pretty handy sort of a story to have in your collection.

I am rereading Women Who Run With the Wolves again. The writer describes herself as messing about in "fairytale forensics". She has travelled to different places, different countries, and heard the tales as told from the mouths of others. Some stories have been beaten about over the years, redefined, fragmented. Yet, "in each story fragment is the shape of the entire story," she says, and begins reconstructing the stories so as to get closer to their original meaning, without all the political correctness or religious correctness added on top. And this is one of the reasons why I dislike Christianism. It has taken the stories told by everyday people, stories that help, and repressed them because those things were a threat to it, in its stupid blind seeing.

So story fragments contain the shape of the entire story. I think it's the same with us. I do not think anything is lost. I think many things are submerged, and we all bump into each other like giant icebergs. But nothing, nothing is ever lost ...

There is something about the stories in this book. They are not, in and of themselves, rollicking tales with satisfying endings. If I posted some of them here you may shrug your shoulders and say, "So what?" But fairytales are closer to dreamscapes than they are to yarns. They go in subconsciously somehow, satisfyingly, showing the way forward in some instances. Fairytales uncover parts of ourselves; they help us begin to get to know ourselves better. Fairytales (the original versions, not the Walt Disney stuff so much) show us how to slay our own dragons.

Generally, I view the characters of my dreams as all being different aspects of myself. It is like learning a new language, the language of the subconscious. I have analysed several of my dreams in this way at art therapy sessions. To say that they were illuminating experiences was to not overstate the case. They have been signposts as to what is going on within myself, in the dark places where God dwells and my mind cannot readily go. It is amazing to know how deep I go. It gives me comfort.

The same situation happens with fairytales. I recognise myself in them. I realise, when reading them, how the more things change the more things stay the same when it comes to humans down through the years.


  1. I started reading "Running With Wolves" but lost it...or something...I need to find it and read it!

  2. Mr X and his siblings were not allowed to have fairytale stories in their childhood home, or even stories where the animals talked, as that was not true . . .

    no wonder i struggle so much with my in-laws!

    and if what religious people have done to fairytales rankles you, lets not go into what they have done to the bible stories

  3. A long time ago, when my ex (a Hamburger) and I were going together, I visited him in Germany. To help me improve my German, we read German versions of fairytales together. They were really brutal, blood-thirsty stories! Uppity children got their comeuppance, for sure. I commented on that and my ex assured me that in Germany bad children did indeed get ground up and made into bread. [Lest anyone think my ex an ogre, I must add that he had a playful sense of humour. He once told me that Germans had to live in trees, which they worshipped, until they learned how to read! And that German philosophers come in six-packs. You learn to take him with a large grain of Salz.] In any case, we certainly get a sanitized version of German fairytales.

  4. Barbara - it's worth a read. Especially the chapter on Bluebeard, the sabotage element of our souls. Interesating stuff. Do share, if you end up reading it again.

    Kel - ahhh, ye olde stupid Christian mindset. You know what, with Christianity in that sort of state, it deserves every criticism levelled at it, from inside and outside. I empathise with your in-lawian struggle ;) And LOL yes, what they've done with teh bible stories.

    Barbara - that's hilarious. He sounds like he had that dry German sense of humour :) I think there is such a place for the brutality of fairytales. It's weird. Overzealous parents will not let tales like this stalk their children's dreams, but probably letting them play X-Box for 3 hours. I find the times we live in slightly incomprehensible.

  5. I have always wondered about the origin of the word "fairytale". As in a tale told by a fairy? Or a tale told about a fairy? Either way it doesn't really seem to fit.

  6. I have always wondered about the origin of the word "fairytale". As in a tale told by a fairy? Or a tale told about a fairy? Either way it doesn't really seem to fit.


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