c. Susan Sorrell Hill
The Illustration Friday word of the week is tail.
I love a happy ending. Perhaps that is common to my fair sex, or perhaps it is simply an antidote to the Trials and Tribulations of life. I have my stash of Chick Flicks in the closet and a series of favorite novels that I read repeatedly for their comfortable reassurance that, despite the aforementioned T & T, people can triumph or at least find some version of happiness in the end. I need that reassurance regularly, and since conventional Religion doesn’t do it for me, I’ve found my solace in stories.
I’ve been wanting to write a post on the subject of Why I Love Fairy Tales for a while now. As I’ve been updating websites, writing artist statements and over and over mentioning ‘fairy tales,’ I’ve watched myself, at the same time, cringing. I think it’s because I fear that Fairy Tales are getting a bad, or at least diminished, rap these days, and I am a little wiggly about associating myself with them…as if it were somehow shameful or childish, or a death-knell for my career as a Serious Artist. But then I stop and remember, thankfully, that fairy tales have been around a lot longer than Disney, Saturday morning cartoons and the brightly-colored art on lunch pails and school notebooks.
Fairy tales, according to scholars, have been around since the beginning of humankind. They are the repository, in story form, of the wisdom of our species about Life. They are the archetypes of human behavior (to use the Jungian term), morals and consequences, hopes and dreams, and simple humor at our follies. Originally, they were meant to entertain (as the cleaned-up versions still do today), but they were also meant to instruct, and sometimes to warn about consequences. They were told to audiences of all ages, and children were raised with the grimmer versions of the predecessors of the Grimms’ fairy tales, and took it in stride. No coddling or dumbing down needed there.
Terry Windling and Ellen Datlow, in the introduction to A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales write,
“Most people think that fairy tales are stories meant for very young children, but hundred of years ago tales of magic were loved by folks of all ages. The fairy tales we know today–like “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” and all the rest–used to be darker, stranger, and more complex, until this century. Then they were turned into children’s tales, banished to the nursery (as J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings once pointed out) like furniture adults have grown tired of and no longer want. The stories were changed and simplified when they were rewritten for very young readers. And it’s these sweet and simple versions that most of us know today.”
The Jungian scholar, Marie-Louise Von Franz (An Introduction to the Psychology of Fairy Tales) states,
“Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic process. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest and most concise form.”
This is all good, and material worth giving much attention to. And, as I said at the beginning, happy endings are always a welcome quality. But why I really appreciate fairy tales is the unspoken implication that there is much more going on down here on Planet Earth, in our everyday mundane lives, than we usually are aware of. There is a Magic much greater than the Little Me (Eckhart Tolle’s term for the personal identity) can understand or manipulate. There is Mystery, we are not alone and there is Guidance, if only we will look for and be receptive to it. These age-old stories say that there will always be cause for hope, and that the Journey is worth every ounce of courage it extracts from us. For a person, such as myself, who has always felt that I am ‘down here without a map,’ this reassurance is a balm, and a career’s worth of inspiration for imagery. Fairy tales as subject matter may seem trite in this day and age, but stories about the patterns of our human journey seems like a subject worthy of my continued attention. Who cares if it might be poo-pooed in the hoity-toity Art World? Ok, I’d like to have it all, but when it comes right down to it…I need fairy tales. Fairy tales tell me, same as this Cowboy Wisdom quote,
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”
“Away” (watercolor, pen & ink)