Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves in the World
A College Seminar Course at Bryn Mawr College

Forum 2 - Thoughts About Fairy Tales

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  fairy tales - quick reactions?
Date:  2001-09-13 09:05:23
Message Id:  93

Friedrich Schiller wrote

Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.

What do you think of fairy tales? of the "truth that is taught by life", as it has been for the last days? Off the top of your head, in a few sentences/phrases ... for you and others to mull over.

There is an new forum, 11 September 2001 which you might want to read, contribute to. Any time you're inclined.

Name:  Liz
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Fairy tales and truths
Date:  2001-09-13 11:07:13
Message Id:  116
I don't particularly agree that fairy tales or "truth" taught by life either have a really deep meaning. Fairy tales taught when we are young perhaps influence our views of right and wrong, but for me they were mostly entertainment. They instilled in me the wish to have a giant gingerbread house that I could eat and play in and not get eaten by a witch in. And frankly, "truths taught by life" bug me. Is there ever really any truth that is taugh, and unchanging? I prefer to have day-by-day realities as opposed to life-long truths.
Name:  jen
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:10:57
Message Id:  117
Fairy tales hold a lot of truth to them in terms of our tendancy to see life in terms of black and white. In fairy tales, there is always a victorious, victimized good person and an evil person who must be destroyed, usually in some violent grotesque fashion, in order to restore the peace through the kingdom. In the last few days, I fairy tale has unfolded in the news. There are definite good people and bad people, very black and white story lines, and very little detail work in between the lines. It will be interesting to see how this one ends, hopefully with happily ever after, but fairy tales have a tendancy to border violent retaliation.
Name:  Sarah friedman
Subject:  the weirdness of fairy tales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:11:04
Message Id:  118
As a child I had no use for fairy tales. The characters in them were unrealistic in that each one wore one mask and always followed a predictable pattern cut for that character. Often the same characters were found in different stories. I particularly disliked cinderella. She was too good. The stories were too simplistic. When I read this class description, I figured that there must be something valueble and interesting about fairy tales that I had missed when I was younger. I guesse I haven't given them much thought until I read the three class assignments. I am interested in seeing what other people have to say about their relevence, maybe about their usefullness as indicators of human values.
Name:  emily
Date:  2001-09-13 11:11:32
Message Id:  119
I think i must have been reading the wrong fairy tales. I find the stories enjoyable, but have yet to find a fairy tale that encompasses more than I have learned in my life thus far. The stories are attractive, in that they are filled with pure justice and subtle perfection, but are also filled with abundant stereotypes. The lessons learned appear too black and white, with no room for possibilities. No one person is completely evil or perfectly innocent, as they appear in fairy tales. I enjoy the tales, but they appear too perfectly manifested to compare to real life, and what you can draw from experience.
Name:  Cathy B
Subject:  Fairy tale truths
Date:  2001-09-13 11:11:47
Message Id:  120
Fairy Tales teach us paradigms. They give us ideals and patterned stories. If you spend time with little girls who watch a lot of Disney movies, you see reflected in their behavior the modes of action that Disney heroine express. I think they can give us something to start with, so to speak, but they're not truer than the things we learn by actually living.
Name:  Chelsea Phillips
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:12:17
Message Id:  121
Fairy tales have always been a source of intense interest for me. I am fascinated by the similarities in all tales world-wide: their uses, their morals, even their characters. The differences are as wide and varied as the cultures of the world. Emphasis is focused on different human characteristics: beauty and courage in European tales, strength in American tales, wisdom and intelligence in Slavic tales, tales of how things came to be and cautionary tales from Afica- and as many more as you can think of. I think they are our best possible learning devices, especially when we are small.
Name:  Laura
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Fairy tales and the real world
Date:  2001-09-13 11:12:57
Message Id:  122
Once upon a time, stories were more important than they are now. There used to be very strong oral traditions in many civilizations, before there was tv and internet and all the modern technology. People used to tell stories all the time, and their stories had a purpose: to teach a lesson (or more). I think that fairy tales and mythologies were at the heart of these stories of older times. They tell about heroes and heroines who never give up in the face of impossible tasks. They do make mistakes, as well, though - they are not entirely perfect. It is always much nicer to learn a lesson from a story than from the real world because in a story it is not you that gets hurt but rather a fictional character whose actions will not affect your world but the charater's own world. Don't we wish that all life's lessons could be so easily learned? Don't we wish that September 11 were only the worst part of a fairy tale, that our hero(ine) will come forth to save the day, and lead us to a happily-ever-after? And as we recover from this shock, we learn that this is one of the hardest things about stories: no matter how eloquent their lessons are, they can never prepare us for the shock of reality. So it is important to say that while stories are wonderful, we also need to draw experiences and lessons from our own world and not the worlds of fairies and magic and happily-ever-afters.
Name:  Kate Rorer
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:13:36
Message Id:  123
Fairy Tales captivate almost all children. They are important because they inspire the imagination, which is someting people often use to help cope with the reality of the world and allows people to escape their daily lives. Most adults don't realize this, but most people do have active imaginations, we just don't recognize it. Every time we dream, or make up a story in our head we are using our imagination. It allows us to release our emotions in a constructive way, even if we don't know that we are doing it.
Name:  Flori
Subject:  fairytales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:14:08
Message Id:  124
I've always loved fairytales. When I was young, I loved to have them read to me or watch movies, particullarly Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Then during the day, I would play and make believe that I was the princess that wins the prince. I never thought a lot about them. They didn't have too much meaning besides the obvious. But they were a way for me to let my imagination fly.
Now they mean something different. They are a link to my childhood. They remind me of what I used to think about and dream about.
Now, after having grown up and been given a taste of reality, I know that I cannot continue thinking the way I used to about life. I notice that my favorite stories were always the ones with the happy ending. But I have to accept that life is not always similar to a fairytale with all those "and they lived happily ever after"'s.
Name:  Amanda Glendinning
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-13 11:14:53
Message Id:  125
Growing up I have always believed that fairy tales were part of life. Most people have their own version of the stories told in childhood. Each story has a character who grows up living a storybook life while also encountering problems. In the end, the stories end with "Happily Ever After." Whether or not, the very end of a person's life does end with those three words, most people have a part of their lives during which a period ends happily. I for one grew up in a fairy tale environment. My grandfather is Mr. Clean, my mother was a professional ballerina, and Paul Newman helped me when my car broke down. It's funny how things always happened as if it were a fairy tale. Despite problems, things always seemed to end up well. Fairy tales recount parts of life.
Name:  Helena
Subject:  Fairy Tales vs Reality
Date:  2001-09-13 11:16:21
Message Id:  126
Truth taught by life.. now that's an interesting point to mull over.

Fairy tales throughout my childhood consisted of Disney-ish approaches to tales that usually told of beautiful women or men who overcome all dangers and destroy the 'Bad Guys' so they can live happily ever after. I, as a big fan of Disney's 'The Little Mermaid', was ecstatic when my father went to Denmark and actually /saw/ the mermaid's rock in Gibraltar. When he brought me the original Hans Christian Anderson version of it, I was only too willing to put it on the television immediately and watch, horrified, as the Little Mermaid turned into foam and -didn't- marry her prince charming.

That was a turning point in my life. I read the orignal story and found that not all fairy tales are indeed as sugary as they are made out to be. And when I read stories where the sweet heroine dies tragically, I found that perhaps seeing the world as Black & White isn't what was needed -- Gray was.

With all that's happened on Tuesday, I feel that loss of innocence once again. We have to learn from our lives as the characters in fairy tales do. We have to grow from our experiences and not let them drag us to some abyss of depression, despite the pain it causes us to do so. I think that this has allowed me to review, once again, my life and experiences, and has caused another turning point. Not only must I see my life, but I must also see the world as a Whole, and the different people as a single community - which should have been what I was to see since the beginning.
Name:  Emma
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-14 13:42:26
Message Id:  146
For me fairy tales, like all stories, are about making sense of and bringing order to our world according to the values and needs of a specific culture over time. This is why stories are told and re-told and why elements are constant or why they change. As in the example provided on the website, these stories can change depending on who is telling them, as when (aristocratic?) French women began using the fairy-tale form to express their view of the world, their grievances, their values. Or, for that matter, as when Anne Sexton takes on the fairy tale in a re-telling based on the contemporary, feminist consciousness of her cultural landscape. And isn't Robert Bly a cultural representative of all those males who have been at a loss about how to define their role in the wake of that feminism?

I think the 'told and re-told' fairy tales we've read represent a sort of continuity, an on-going cultural dialogue. Maybe their 'deeper meaning' comes from that sense of continuity? From those aspects of the stories we, as a culture, agree remains relevant, agree to hold on to???

Name:  Lisa Harrison
Subject:  Thoughts on Fairy Tales
Date:  2001-09-14 14:42:06
Message Id:  149
I've never been much of a fan of fairy tales. Perhaps that's because I was raised on the "Disney" versions where the characters, while beautifully colored, are relatively 1-dimensional and therefore boring and predictable.

When first introduced, the villains in these (Disney) versions are often depicted larger (and louder) than life, and are quite frightening. By the end of the story, however, these "monsters" are deflated and reduced to slapstick clowns, or otherwise neutralized. Justice is seldom part of the plot.

Grimm's tales, on the other hand, are brutally frank and justice is usually harsh and swift -- if uneven.

In Grimm's version, when Cinderella's step-sisters cut their heels off, the only feeling one has is whatever the reader is experiencing, because these characters exhibit no physical response to such an act. When the step-mother and step-father are cruel and unkind to Cinderella, the reader may feel their coldness, but again the character Cinderella doesn't notice.

In the end of the story, the birds pluck out the sisters' eyes. Is this an act of loyalty on the part of nature to Cinderella? Revenge? Or does Cinderella have a dark side and these birds are acting on her subconscious wishes? It disturbs me that the parents aren't held to the same authority. The father had denied his daughter's very existence to the prince, and the step-mother treated her harshly. Where was justice?

Name:  Carol
Subject:  fairy tales
Date:  2001-09-14 16:33:59
Message Id:  151
I think that fairy tales can present us with a way to confront our violent or "bad" feelings and help us work through them in our imaginations--to process our thoughts on violence, good, and evil without ever having to act on hatred and violence.

When we write our own fairy tales, we can acknowledge our feelings about events and other people who played important roles in our lives, we can have them do very bad things, much worse than what actually happened--the the wicked mother, the father who is stuck in his "red" period as Robert Bly describes--and we can come away saying "yes some bad things happened to me but now I've worked through those feelings by greatly exaggerating them so that I could feel the real truth about those feelings I had as a child, but now I've been rescued and can move forward". (Wow, Anne, that's not my usual edited-down-to-the-bare-bones sentence!)

In our stories, we can punish those who mistreated us. We can't do that in our real lives because violence just begets more violence.

I'm looking forward to re-writing my story as a fairy tale this weekend.

Best to all,


Name:  meg devereux
Date:  2001-09-15 16:28:06
Message Id:  160
The fairy tales read to me in childhood were never as much fun as Beatrix Potter or the mother goose rhymes or the left over books from the 1930's belonging to my much older siblings about talking ponies who belonged to real children or stories like Ping. Even though these were fantastic and unreal they had more appeal than princesses and princes. Maybe they had more character development than the one-dimensional fairy tales. I didn't know the details of the fairy tales' protagonists' feelings so I didn't identify with them or want to emulate them. They didn't actually make me feel anything. I liked feeling things even if it was sadness for pussy in the well or tom Kitten being punished by his mother or Ping being left behind. For horror I preferred the truly horrific Slovenly Peter books, books that were eventfully banned for children. Now however I am having fun turning the villains of my childhood into fairy tale witches and the heroes into fairy godparents. Maybe this is related to becoming a student at the opposite end of life to most BMC students. . I m doing things in a topsy-turvy way. The truth that I think I have learned from life is that feelings are true, no matter what others think you should or do feel. And in fairy tales we are told feelings but we are not shown them and that makes empathy with the characters rather a chore for me. I certainly don't think villains are always all bad or that heroes are anywhere near all good. In fact most of us are a complex mixture of good and not so good motives and actions with the rare amongst us truly good as Mother Theresa or truly evil as the perpetuator of Tuesday's atrocities. Although we all have the capacity to slide in either direction which fairy tales don't allow us to consider. Well what a ramble. Apologies for such a meandering answer. It must be I'm getting used to my new magic wand - the computer. Ha!

Name:  Robin Landry
Subject:  fairy tales
Date:  2001-09-15 17:46:24
Message Id:  162
I think the very one-dimensional nature of fairy tale characters may be part of their strength. The characters are blanks because they don't really stand for an individual person. If they were more like the characters we see in modern novels and stories, then they might lose the dreamlike symbolism, the stark contrasts of light and shadow that have made them endure so long.
As for the truths of fairy tales - well, maybe if we're exposed to these stories often enough from a young enough age, they color the way we see the world. That way, they become true because we see the world in the context of the stories we grew up with. The relationship between truth and fairy tales might set up a sort of echo effect. The stories come out of the teller's experience of the world, and they color the hearer's experience of the world so that when the hearer grows up to be the teller, the world actually has become more like the fairy tale... umm, I'm starting to confuse myself, so if this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry - you're not alone. :)
Name:  Louise
Subject:  fairy tales
Date:  2001-09-16 13:48:18
Message Id:  164
As a child, I didn't read or have read to me, too many fairy tales, but I did watch Disney. Now looking back on it, it was a wonderful adventure into the land of make believe. "When you wish upon a star..."

I loved the feeling of imagining what each of the characters were feeling as they walked through scary situations, but also having the sense that I was safe and removed from any real danger. That is why; I think it is so hard for me, to accept what happened to our country this past Tuesday. The word "safe" keeps jumping out at me. I am still pondering over it... What it really means??

As a child, Disney gave me a false sense of security, about bad things happening to people. The terrorist attack on NY has shaken that childish way of thinking. For me this terrible event --was a reality check, and it seemed to tie into our class assignment...surprise, surprise... more self-discovery.

Name:  Zoe Anspacher
Date:  2001-09-16 18:31:41
Message Id:  167

Fairry Tails

Puffer's butt has a fairry tail.
His fairry tail tells me
wiggle, waggle, sprinkle, tou-tou,
It'll all be o.k., my love.
When the darkness
takes the tower down.
Come see my wiggle tale.
Ferry away on my softie nose.
Wiggle, waggle, sprinkle, tou-tou,
My fairry tail is here for you.

For you, fare you, fair-y, foo;
It's all o. k. if I love you.
Even death cannot scare you,
When you see my tale in you.
The tale's inside
It comes to you
Wiggle, waggle, sprinkle, tou-tou.

Before the boom
Before the crash
The tale is fast
It gets to you.
The tale my love
will come to you.
So fast it moves, so fast
It flies
Across the space,
Before the angry
Hits your face.

Behind your eyes
It comforts you
Beatle, Battle, Buggle, Boo;
My furry tale will comfort you.

Beating tail, beating tale,
Will come for you.

The news
the news.

The sound
Not the words.

Hear the Big
See the Small.
The sounding words,
The sounding worlds,
the tickle In,
the Trickling.

Grab the Reel,
Grab the Real.
Take the Feel
from the Real.

Take the Sound,
Make it drowned.

What is lost?
What is cost?
Can you tell
the news of hell?

Name:  Stephanie J
Date:  2001-09-17 17:59:19
Message Id:  188
I am still waiting for my prince charming.
Name:  Eveline A. Stang
Subject:  Fairy Tales and Truth
Date:  2001-09-17 23:00:49
Message Id:  195
I am by no means an expert on Schiller having just recently gleaned some information about his life through an encyclopaedic source. However, from what I can gather about the oppressive times in which he lived (dukes in the 1700's on a whim still had the power to imprison a law-abiding citizen), this was a man who despite the inequities he saw around him was inspired to write the "Ode to Joy" which Beethoven later set to his 9th Symphony.

Since freedom of speech was not welcomed in Schiller's day (or even sometimes these days, particularly under suppressive regimes), and it could be dangerous to speak openly about a politically or socially sensitive issue, the fairy tale was a very useful medium to get one's point across without offending those in power. While being truthful in real life may not have been socially acceptable, the fairy tale could disguise "truths" or "reality" by using symbolism which did not always have an obvious interpretation. Thus, it could safely explore a wide range of taboo subjects - from politics to sexuality to psychology.

As a child, up until the age of about ten, Grimm's Book of Fairy Tales enchanted me. At that age, I didn't seem to take much notice of the violence inherent in many of the stories. My child's imagination was captivated with the magic of far away places, impossible feats such as climbing glass mountains, and the beautiful, virtuous or mysterious characters that peopled these stories. I wasn't mature enough to understand all of the symbolism and shades of gray. Even so, these fairy tales left an undeniable influence: moral lessons such as being good, compassionate, and true especially under trying circumstances, instilled in me a life-long love for "higher values" (perhaps for lack of any religious training during my early years!).

Getting back to Schiller, I find it inspiring that although affected by the social injustices of his time, he remained an idealist and could write with utter conviction that "alle menschen werden bruder" (all men will become brothers) - which, despite the tragedy of the past week, and even though it could take many generations, may yet be realized one day.

Name:  gail decoux
Subject:  Schiller's quote
Date:  2001-09-18 00:08:07
Message Id:  200
As i read, and re-read, and read again the quote by Schiller, I'm trying to understand what he means by finding "deeper meaning" in fairy tales. maybe I'm over-analyzing this somewhat simple quote, but I keep trying to figure his meaning. I tend to lump fairy tales in the same category as parables, and morality plays etc. Short, simple stories meant to teach a lesson about good/evil, right/wrong. They have an oral tradition, and in that sense, their telling reveals something about the teller and the culture and times from which the stories emanate. For example, when fairy tales were first told by women, women were the main characters, more active, clever etc. When fairy tales began to be written down by men(the Bros. Grimm, Pourrault), they made the male roles more heroic. Is this what Schiller means by deeper meaning?
To me, it seems that just living our day to day lives in this world provides more opportunity for examining the deeper meaning of life-
Name:  Marie-Laure
Subject:  Fairy tales
Date:  2001-09-18 08:56:05
Message Id:  202
In the process of connecting a life of learning to myths and stories of the wild archetype, it seems to me that fairy tales can act as an essential nutrient for the human spirit . This nourishment is needed to brake off the rationalized mind and mechanism developed over time. When aging one learns and develops a mental disposition to find plausible but mostly untrue reason for situation that had appeared dubious in the outer world. where as in fairy tales the characters unfold their life in a rather natural rhythm and they become self realized. Therefore fairy tales not only open a window to the imaginary lands but they also have meaning at a higher level. Fairy tales are the root canals that connects the outer world to the inner world.

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