I was out walking this morning, un-characteristically strapped into my ipod, listening to an interview. I say un-characteristically because I’m typically too interested in hearing birds, or working through something in my mind to listen to other things. That, and figuring out where the ipod is, if it’s charged, and how I can keep it attached to me while walking is usually 3 things too many.
I’m trying to get better at giving myself the things that feed my mind. I run on fumes so much of the time, and I seriously need to keep myself fueled. So this morning, I queued up On Being and hit the road.
I landed on an episode about fairy tales.
In my life Before, this would have been great. But as I walked and listened this morning, I found myself getting more and more annoyed. The woman interviewed kept talking about how fairy tales tell us that good always wins, and that the heroine always defeats the monster.
This is such utter junk.
Now, she had other things to say, and I don’t at all discount her brilliance. It’s just – good does not always win. The heroine does not always defeat the monster.
Things absolutely do not always work out in the end.
It made me wonder if our need for fairy tales is not so much to show us that good always wins, but to give us some outlet to pretend that good can win. You know what I mean?
Like we have this innate need to express eventual triumph. Maybe we just want something that says a good outcome is assured, no matter how scary the first chapters seem. We want to believe in the best possible world, and in believing, maybe we can make it happen.
There’s a good history of this: the old praise poems in medieval times (and older) that sang of the greatness of the current king weren’t actually meant as a litany of what said king had already done. They were poems describing what he might do. In a sense, they were calling him into his greatness. The poets of that age presented an image, and the king was meant to live up to it. To reach for it.
Fairy tales and praise poems. Maybe they’re each about wanting something that is-not-now, and may not ever be.
Maybe they give us a voice to say what we want to happen, what we wish would happen. They’re a place for our longing.
They’re the story we want to live into, even as we know we don’t always have that choice.
These days, fairy tales and I have an uneasy relationship. Pretty strange, given that myth and story were such big parts of my professional and personal life Before.
At best, for me, fairy tales and teaching stories are ways we express our desire for things to work out alright. It’s a place to play out our potency. A place to revise the story we’ve lived so that it turns out right in the end, if only for a moment.
Sometimes I can see them that way. But sometimes, I think I know too much to even be able to enjoy a good story anymore.
How about you? Do you find yourself watching movies or reading stories with a chip on your shoulder, or a buzzing knowledge that any “happy ending” is not necessarily realistic? Am I the only one who chafes at fairy tales as metaphor for this particular experience of life? Let us know in the comments.