Archive for Myth and Fable

RE-ENCHANTMENT: If you Love Fairy Tales, Go Here

Visit the beauty parlor and click on the sections to learn about Rapunzel and her hair! Learn the significance of Cinderella’s cleaning the ashes, which are connected with death. And discover why fairy tale women so often get involved with beast-men!

Re-Enchantment site bannerDo you love fairy tales? Either in their own right as interesting stories, or because of their fascinating psychological aspects and history? That’s why I love them: I love exploring their manifestations of the psyche, and discovering how these stories manifest in different cultures and in different times.

Well. If you love fairy tales for any or all these reasons, you must visit this interactive site, pronto: RE-ENCHANTMENT.: An immersive journey into the hidden meanings of fairy tales.

It’s based in Australia, and is connected somehow to a TV documentary about fairy tales. But you don’t really need to know about any of that, because the site itself is so fascinating. It’s very interactive, and delves into the psyche, history, symbolism, and anything-else-you-can-name in connection with a few major fairy tales. (Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Bluebeard, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Hansel & Gretel)

I was particularly interested in the Cinderella constellation of information, because I know from my own myth & folklore studies that there are at least 365 versions of the story — one for every day of the year! And the basic story is almost always much darker than the sanitized Disney version or one that might appear in children’s books today. (The original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale books were quite true to their family name.)

The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno BettelheimIn fact, the origins of most fairy tales tend to be quite dark, and the reason is that they seem to be the means of working dark things out of our psyches so we don’t act them out in reality. And that applies to children too.

That theory was propounded by psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, who specialized in working with problem children that no other doctors could help. He wrote the most fascinating book — The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales — on the subject, and in fact, it’s referenced occasionally in the bits of the website that I’ve visited so far.

So anyway. Have a visit! I bet you’ll get as engrossed as I did.

[This production was written by Sarah Gibson, a practising Jungian Analyst and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. It was produced by award-winning screen and digital media producer Sue Maslin, of FilmArtMedia. To learn more about this production, visit the RE-ENCHANTMENT FilmArtMedia site.]

Book Review – The Lost Books of the Odyssey

In his debut book, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, computer scientist and author Zachary Mason doesn’t really present a novel in any form we’re used to. What he does, though, is produce a mythos.

Folklorists and historians say that if you go beyond what’s fairly recently been codified in North American culture as “the” Cinderella story, you will find at least 365 distinct versions throughout history. We’re familiar with the more “Disneyfied,” sweeter version, but other equally valid versions have much darker overtones and episodes. (You can see some of them in Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Into the Woods, for example.)

What does this have to do with Mason’s book? Everything! Because all myths, folk tales, fairy tales, and legends have a history, most of them coming to us from a long time ago. And the more ancient they are, the more it’s guaranteed that they will have countless other versions than those we think are the “final” story.

Tabula iliaca Musei Capitolini

The Lost Books of the Odyssey is based on that premise. We already know that even if The Odyssey was primarily composed by the blind Greek poet, Homer, almost three thousand years ago, it was added to and embellished with every telling. The epic tale was transmitted orally, probably for centuries, before it was ever written down, and even the written versions would have had vast differences between them. (We see this with other “national” epics through history. The Indian Ramayana, for example, of which I’m extremely fond, has several versions.)

In his preface, Mason talks about alternate versions of episodes from The Odyssey being found on papyrus scraps, in sculpture and frieze, and in other sources too. So every episode in his own book purports to express one of these variations.

We see different interpretations of who Odysseus himself was, what actually happened at Troy and during Odysseus’s voyage home to Ithaca, and even variations on the real identities of primary characters. (In one episode, for example, Paris, who stole the beautiful Helen from her husband and triggered the Trojan War, was actually Death in disguise, with Troy being his underworld kingdom.) In some episodes, minor characters become very important, while in others, Odysseus’s own deeds are given several different motivations and meanings.

During the reading of the first few episodes, you feel like, “Ah, here’s another variation,” and it feels interesting but not monumental. But that changes very quickly, or at least it did in my case. I began to feel a weight on my shoulders that I thought of as the “weight of history.” It was as though, metaphorically, I could feel the entire Odysseus mythos being built up, piece by piece, over years and centuries. “This,” I thought, “is exactly how it would have happened.” This book – far from a “first novel” as it is – felt old, venerated. It felt like a treasured collection of manuscripts and papyri you might have discovered in an old chest that had long been buried in an ancient tomb.

With The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Mason creates in one place the sort of collective Odyssey that could have been (and maybe was!) dispersed throughout the ancient world. I felt, reading this book, as though I had gained a new understanding of the very nature, growth, and vital significance of mythology.

If you have any interest in the Troy and Odyssey stories, or an interest in the history of myth and storytelling, I think you will love this book, as I do.

Homer's World Map

Ramayana: Divine Loophole

This is a book I really want to get. Chronicle Books has produced what looks like a wonderful illustrated version of a great Hindu epic, Ramayana: Divine Loophole, this one created and illustrated by Pixar animator and storyboard artist Sanjay Patel.

You know the two major Greek mythological epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey? They could take lessons in greatness and epic sweep from The Ramayana and the other, even more massive Hindu epic, The Mahabharata.

The Ramayana tells the tale of the Indian prince, Rama, who is exiled to the forest for 14 years with his wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshmana. Rama is one of the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu. Each time this god incarnates, he comes to earth for the purpose of saving it from some huge threat. In this case, it’s the threat of a ten-headed demon-being named Ravana, who endangers the earth through his flouting of dharma (i.e. the divinely ordained right way of doing things).

As the three exiles wander the forest, they encounter divine sages, many demon creatures, an army of monkeys, and Hanuman, the monkey god who serves Rama and can carry a mountain on his back. Eventually Ravana kidnaps Sita, forcing Rama to bring the monkey army to do final battle. After he gains the victory, and Sita proves her fidelity to Rama, the exiles return home and Rama at last gains his throne.

If you enjoyed the look and feel of the Samurai Jack animation, or the wonderful Sita Sings the Blues video by Nina Paley (which tells the Ramayana story in animated form), you may be as excited about Patel’s book as I am. I love the very stylized look of these illustrations, and of course I love the story itself.

I’ve lost count of how many different versions of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, that I have. As a graduate student, I not only TA’d an undergrad class studying this epic, but I was simultaneously taking my own grad-level class studying the same thing. I spent my whole final semester at university completely immersed in this story, and have kind of collected versions of it ever since. But I am just keening to get Patel’s book and give it pride of place.

Fables Graphic Novels

Fables2You may be interested in fairy tales in an adult context, say, if you liked Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim for example. Or you might enjoy the fun concept of mixing literary or mythical characters with the real world, as Jasper Fforde does in the Thursday Next books.

If you like those things, I’d be willing to bet good money that you’ll love a particular set of comic books. They’re called Fables, and they are written by Bill Willingham and published under the Vertigo Imprint of DC Comics. Wikipedia gives a very good summary of what the stories are about:

The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore – referring to themselves as “Fables” – who have been forced out of their Homelands by “The Adversary” who has conquered the realm. The Fables have traveled to our world and formed a clandestine community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables who are unable to blend in with human society (such as monsters and anthropomorphic animals) live at “the Farm” in upstate New York.

Fables3Doesn’t that sound great? I only have a few of the issues, that a friend sent me, and right now I can’t afford the others. But I really enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far.  I absolutely love the little twists like the way Snow White divorced Prince Charming because of his philandering ways. (But those of us who love Into the Woods could have warned her, couldn’t we?) And it’s fun having the Big Bad Wolf be a reformed character who’s now on the side of the Good Guys.

Fables2What’s especially interesting is that Willingham is drawing in fabled characters not simply from fairy tale worlds based in European traditions. For example, there’s a fair bit of interaction at some points in the story with characters from Arabian fables. (Snow White goes as an emissary to them in one story arc, and Sinbad returns the favour in another.) Mowgli shows up, from the Jungle Book.

I do plan to acquire or read all of these comics eventually. I am all over mythology, and if someone can bring fairy tale characters realistically into this world too, I am avid for that. If this is your sort of interest as well, give the first collected issue, Legends in Exile (issues 1-5) a try. You may fall in love with this conception of the world just like I did.

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