Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Thin, Weak Thinker

I don't particularly like fairy tales, and I can't remember ever having liked them. This apparently makes me anathema to Tom Lynn from Fire and Hemlock, but I can't help it. They don't seem interesting to me. They don't involve interesting characterization or plot or themes. I'm perfectly happy with some stories that don't fit the typical character-driven templates (Borges or even Hitherby probably qualify in this respect), but fairy tales never seem to offer interesting or thought-provoking themes to make up for it. What's more, if you know one fairy tale, you know them all. It's no wonder someone just made a template of all the different fairy tales; the differences between them really are that minor, that you can just mix and match a countable number of elements, and BOOM, you'll have a fairy tale.

On the other hand, I do really like, and can't remember ever having not liked, mythology. I suppose the difference between fairy tales and mythology is that, even if mythology also has elements of redundancy, even if mythology also doesn't tend to have the deepest characterization, it's epic. And I like epic. Stories on a large scale, with myriad characters in complicated relationships that you have to keep track of, where the redundancy almost manages to substitute for characterization because it's the same characters involved each time - that always appeals to me, whether it's a fantasy epic, a mythological saga, or, heck, even the history of the Roman or British royal houses.

I was thinking about how I tend to like stories based on fairy tales, even if I don't like the tales themselves, but the more I think about this the more I wonder if it's true. I am a huge fan of intertextuality - I like all sorts of stories that refer to each other, again, because they make the story more complicated, they grant it hidden meanings - actually, I suppose I like intertextuality for the same reason I like epic, or even sitcoms - they're all storytelling forms which involve the possibility that is kind of pointless or even unnoticeable on first glance becomes meaningful and even fascinating once you know all the context - but I wouldn't say that fairy tales as referent are a particularly important focus for my interest. It's more mythology, I think, that I really appreciate the references to - it's the mythological scale that always seems to hit me when I encounter it in a story, and make the story seem more numinous. All of the children's books that hit me that way as a child - I think of DWJ, of course, but also of Susan Cooper - are drawing on myths and legends, epic cycles. Perhaps "Tam Lin" counts as a fairy tale - it's closer to that than to an epic, anyway - but even Fire and Hemlock is secretly referring to the Odyssey and even T. S. Eliot as well, plus I think the stories of actual fairies/elves are broader than simply "Tam Lin" and add additional resonance that bring them closer to the mythological level.

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