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'Open Your Door': the Significance and Substance of Fairytales

'Open Your Door': the Significance and Substance of Fairytales

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This essay explores the reasons why we, as 21st century readers, should 'open our doors' to fairytales, from traditional fairytales, to George MacDonald, to 'Sex and the City'.
Key words: Jack Zipes, acculturation; cultural context; feminist perspectives; contamination and transformation of the fairytale; Louis Sachar 'Holes', Adeline Yen Mah 'Chinese Cinderella', 'Shrek'.
This essay explores the reasons why we, as 21st century readers, should 'open our doors' to fairytales, from traditional fairytales, to George MacDonald, to 'Sex and the City'.
Key words: Jack Zipes, acculturation; cultural context; feminist perspectives; contamination and transformation of the fairytale; Louis Sachar 'Holes', Adeline Yen Mah 'Chinese Cinderella', 'Shrek'.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
EN2006: “Once Upon A Time…” - Nineteenth CenturyChildren’s Literature.Set Essay 1Q. “The tale is there, not to hide, but to show: if it show nothingat your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in thecold.” George MacDonald. Why should we, as 21st centuryreaders “open our doors” to fairytales?‘Open Your Door’: the Significance and Substance of FairytalesTutor: Ms. Shirley O’ReganStudent: Susannah NorrisStudent No: 106018513Submission Date: November 5th 2007(Also NarrativEncounters Conference Paper Saturday 16th February 2008)
 
Once upon a time, in a land quite nearby, a girl sat reading a fairy-story, and began towonder. Throughout life, we each play the lead in our own fairytale; striving to gain akingdom, to reign supreme in our own realm, to marry the prince or win the beautiful princess, and in the end, to attain our own happily ever after. Experience teaches usthe cold reality, yet we (sometimes perhaps subconsciously) persist in the hope thatwe may someday achieve that elusive, perfectly contented happiness which seemsalmost our right. While recognising that fairytales may be read purely for themselvesand the enjoyment that people both old and young may gain from their owninterpretation, it is also worthwhile to consider the position which they maintain inmany cultures as a functional narrative, repositories of wisdom and insight. Drawingheavily on the work of Jack Zipes, and using wide-ranging examples, from Puss inBoots, to George MacDonald’s ‘Light Princess’, and Louis Sachar’s young adultnovel
 Holes
, it is hoped to demonstrate fairytales’ worth and the interest they hold asreflections of the societies that produced them. They provide valuable insight intohow our ideas about society and culture are formed, and how we are conditioned andmoulded by stories so familiar from earliest childhood. Contamination of the fairytalecontinues to develop and subvert its role as an agent of socialisation, but also,arguably, to help some anachronistic notions persist into modern times. In identifyingtheir continued influence on modern creativity, one may situate the fairytale in literarytradition; a knowledge of the fairytale is indispensable if one is to fully appreciatemany other works which have taken inspiration from them.To begin, I would like to explore some of the ideas expressed by the renownedwriter and weaver of fairytales George MacDonald in his “Fantastic Imagination”. Inthat essay, he expresses the hope that “…fairytale of [his] [would] go for a firefly thatnow flashes, now is dark, but may flash again”, for if “…Caught in a hand which does2
 
not love its kind, [a fairytale] will turn into an insignificant, ugly thing, that canneither flash nor fly.” Basically, the fairytale requires an engaged, appreciative mindif it is to illuminate, and the ideas MacDonald puts forward in relation to theinterpretation of fairytales sheds light on some possible reasons for their continuedgeneral popularity. His compelling argument as to why one should not fear one’s owninterpretation of fairytales encourages us to appreciate this capacity ‘not so much toconvey a meaning as to wake a meaning’. This notion of fluidity of meaning isattractive, drawing on the conception of reading as a collaborative act between story-creator and audience. Put simply, meaning is often reader dependent rather than writer imposed: personal experience may lend any literature a deeper resonance, or asMacDonald contends, “That may be a higher operation of your intellect than the merereading of mine out of it: your meaning may be superior to mine.” This is also perhaps reflective of the collaborative composition genesis of many fairytales, asstories moulded by the storyteller in collaboration with a demanding and andexpectant audience. This reader-dependent weighting of the worth of a fairytale isdeveloped further by Max Lüthi, who has remarked that the failure of fairytalenarrative to individualise elements such as beauty is an indication of its “…aims for universal validity and and the essence, not the particulars, of phenomena…when itwants to go further, it reaches for timeless values that are recognised worldwide.”
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Hence well-known descriptions of “fair, golden-haired” beauties, and similesconstructed around the sun, moon and precious metal, the presence of symbolic dark and dangerous enchanted forests, and so on. One might argue that fairytales are arelief in their simplicity, so that one may appreciate a story purely for the beauty of itsretelling or craftsmanship of the stroyteller rather than feeling any obligation to
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Max Luthi.
The Fairytale As Art Form and Portrait Of Man
, translated by Jon Erickson, IndianaUniversity Press, Bloomington, 1987, ps. 3-4
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