Friday, September 23, 2011

Fairy Tales

I just finished reading "The Ice Queen", a novel by Alice Hoffman (Back Bay: 2005) and it is obvious that it is heavily influenced by the fairy tale. The fairy tale is an important part of our literary history that began first as an oral tradition in all cultures and then later were recorded. Hoffman took the fairy tale that some may dismiss as unimportant and gave it the meaning it deserves as she applied the stories to people, the characters, in this wonderful novel.

This book deals with many issues including death, life and love. It uses fairy tales to spirit the story along as the vehicle about an Ice Queen who is like all ice queens in the fairy tales we have heard or read, if one is lucky, and then uses it to tell the story of how we are in this life to share love and meaning in a life that seems on the surface without meaning.

I heard or read somewhere that we are the product of the choices we made in our life. Sometimes in life we make choices or we think we make choices only to find out that we really did not know all of the facts and circumstances. We find that there is more order in the world than we thought. I wrote somewhere that when I took literature classes in college the professors would make fun of those who thought there were things in life that were important such as love, relationships, meaning and such things. "There is none of that." They would say at their lectures and like a good student new to college I tried to hard to incorporate this into my life; but down deep I knew this was not true to me. There is meaning in life or it seemed to be. The protagonist thought there no meaning but found also there was.

I grew up in an household where parents did not read to their children. However, I had a wonderful aunt who took kids to the library. Ah, that was a wonderful thing to do for my parents did not do that either. She lived in Grants Pass,Oregon and the library was located in the basement at that time in a three story stone building that was the city hall. The library was full of old books and as I discovered full of books that had fairy tales so that the summer when I was 10 years old I read all of them. I remember feeling a degree of shame that at my age I seemed to need to read fairy tales although I knew there was no Santa Claus and no magic. And, I didn't just read them, I devoured them.

Growing up in the family that I did, no one took an interest in me. That seems sad as I took a great interest in my own children when they were growing up; but there are advantages for I was free to do what I wanted to do. In that old library, the fairy tales were in the adult section of the library, and I freely read whatever book I wanted to read. I had to read whatever book was available although in Grants Pass European tales were the vogue then. I now read folk tales from many cultures.

Reading Hoffman's book, I noticed the echo of many of those fairy tales in her book. She used many including other countries such as Greek mythology. I think I loved fairy tales because the hero was often female although the goal of the girl was to obtain the prince which did not sound completely true to me as I had reality all around me in the form of an alcoholic father who freely bounced not only my mother but us kids around. My mother talked about him in the past when he was her prince. The man married to my aunt was also a prince but he often hit her too. I did not want that for myself. Culture was still teaching us girls that the boy/man/prince was our only hope for a happy life. I enjoyed the tales but I was confused by them as well.

Hoffman reached down into the subconscious into those fairy tales that we were all taught either consciously or subconsciously and brought them into the light in this book. That is what a good writer does. She performed this task admirably. The reader doesn't have to agree with the premise of the writer but it has to be logical. Indeed, during my trip through the book I had doubts whether or not I would agree; but I did end up on the same page as the writer. I like the way the author resolved the issues in the book nicely. The choices of the characters also mirror those we all make in life. Those were addressed very well too.

When I think of fairy tales, I also think of Princess Diana and her end in a tunnel in Paris, France. Her prince turned out to be a dud. It is good not to take fairy tales too literally. I remember reading something by Joseph Campbell who said that if you read the Bible, you should view what Jesus said as a metaphor. He was a expert on fairy tales as well. I think that is what should be done on all stories and that is to view them as metaphors. Heavens knows, maybe the stories our kids tell us should be viewed as such. Some of those stories were duds but that is another subject.

I know I grew up angry with the world. It helps to know that there are old stories, tales to help us and guide us through the trials and tribulations on what befall us. I had rough beginning but I know others had a rougher time and others had it better. It is all relative. It's like climbing the stairs and noticing that there are handrails and that we can hold on to them to make it easier when we climb up. That is what those tales are, handrails. Sometimes, we have to adjust the things we were taught to believe in as we mature to fit the world we are discovering and the process of this never stops as I am learning now.

The main protagonist says in the book: "...The way to trick death. Breathe in. Breathe out. Watch as it all rises upward, black and blue into the even bluer sky." That is going to be one of my handrails on Tuesday when I have my surgery.

No comments:

Post a Comment