Dragons To Slay
August 7, 2019 9:21 AM   Subscribe

“It is perhaps this undercurrent of moral logic that made fairy tales such ripe fodder for British socialists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the recent collection Workers Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain, editor Michael Rosen notes that fairy tales show their politics “less overtly, often as personified social conflict.” The literary tales gathered in Rosen’s collection, by contrast, were adapted and written purposefully to “alert, reform, enlighten, provoke, and educate.” Seizing the Means of Enchantment: What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us About Class and Wealth in the Age of the Mega-Corporation (Catapult)
posted by The Whelk (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Without even reading the article, it's easy to see that The Big Bad Wolf was a corporate CEO. (and the seven dwarves were a trade union)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:39 AM on August 7


Great title, at least.
posted by praemunire at 9:43 AM on August 7


I have the audiobook of Workers' Tales (from audible no less, so I'm not sure why it hasn't self-destructed in a puff of late-capitalist irony), and there are a lovely set of readers for them. But boy, are they anvilicious. I think it's likely that when the 19th century ones were penned that the tone of them fitted better with the general Morally Improving Literature trend, but they do creak to the modern ear. Listening to them spaced out helps.

It's been a while since I read the new version of the first edition of Grimm's tales but my recollection is that the moral of most of the stories is "life is terrible, so play fatal practical jokes". There's a lot of vicious pleasure in others' misfortune (better if they deserved it, but fun still to be had even if they didn't), which could be argued to fit well with modern corporate governance.
posted by Vortisaur at 10:32 AM on August 7


I love Dragons as a metaphor for the Rentier class and their ilk. We make the gold and gems but the Dragon's are the ones who hoard it, using their ill-gotten gains solely to generate more undeserved wealth.

This article I'm definitely saving for the next time someone asks me why I boycott Disney and they just don't care about our rights to creative works. Such an evil company and their tactic of putting on a family-friendly loveable face seems so goddamn transparent but it is unbelievably effective. People turn their love for movies artists have made under their whip, but mistakenly attribute and shower that love on the company itself.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:39 AM on August 7


Not much in the article about that very interesting-sounding book, so here are links: library - publisher - Amazon (incl. Audible)
posted by shenderson at 10:41 AM on August 7


MetaFilter: a lot of vicious pleasure in others' misfortune
posted by billiebee at 10:49 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


This is hitting me at a very interesting time, as I've just started dipping back into my old copy of Women Who Run With The Wolves. So I'm totally right there for the notion of fairy tales and folk tales resonating with us in modern times, and strongly believe that the older folk tales have deep lessons for us. Not necessarily for any mystic woo reason about there being a great Cosmic Collective Unconscious as such, but rather for a practical one - most folk tales were orally transmitted, and the parts that stick in the brain of each teller are the parts that are going to get retold. Each new teller may put their own creative spin on it, but if the detail they add doesn't really resonate with their listeners, that detail doesn't survive. So it stands to reason that the bits of the story that have survived however many thousands and millions of retellings are bits that have resonated with almost everyone, and thinking about why that might be is a fascinating exercise.

And that actually brings me around to the "anvilicious" nature of such "modern-day fairy tales". I sometimes feel like they don't have the advantage of the centuries of retellings, so people who write such tales sometimes fall prey to amping the symbolism up to about 11. And that just clunks you over the head. Now, some people genuinely are okay with that and still draw something from such tales; others prefer a subtler approach. But that's probably what also happened in the earlier days of the folk tales, too, was that there were storytellers who got super-symbolic with what Cinderella's shoes Represented or whatever. But their super-obvious symbolic tells just got edited out by the re-tellers.

The insidious thing about Disney isn't just that Disney changed the stories (which in many cases he did, although for some cases this was TOTALLY understandable) - but that Disney also changed the way the stories are told. We are less likely to re-tell these stories from oral tradition now, and more likely to just show the movie. That halts the development of the story, and the collective brains of all of us don't get as much of a chance to filter the story down to find more wisdom in it as a result.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:38 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


[...] most folk tales were orally transmitted, and the parts that stick in the brain of each teller are the parts that are going to get retold. Each new teller may put their own creative spin on it, but if the detail they add doesn't really resonate with their listeners, that detail doesn't survive.

I think that's a very good observation. And maybe that partly explains why fairy tales with modern morals often don't work for me either. Because the morals aren't really the core appeal, aren't they? It's something much more primal than that. What sticks to the brain is that part that triggers the fear and the longing, the moral is more like one of the flourishes added by the teller, often quite an afterthough (to justify the gruesome fate visited upon a character, for instance. Folk tales are like Tarantino movies in that way). It might even change from one retelling to another.

One of my favourite tales is The Frog Prince- the version, where the princess smashes the frog against the wall, and that violent outburst, not the kiss he wanted, is what makes him human again. When I heard it the first time as a kid, I just left me completely adrift. I expected stories to have a moral, and I expected the moral of this story to be "You have to keep your word" (in other versions, where she gives in to his guilt-tripping and does actually kiss him, it clearly is). But here she doesn't; she breaks her promise, she gets violent, and she's rewarded for it. The frog turns into a beautiful prince, and still wants to marry her. Nowdays I see a beautiful moral about the value of healthy boundaries and not giving in to blackmail, but as a kid I was just baffled. But a proper fairy tale doesn't need you to get the moral to stick in your mind.

Morals are something you add to the fairy tales as you see fit, but starting with the moral and then constructing the fairy tale around it just seems ass-backwards to me.
posted by sohalt at 1:54 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


How does Tommy Douglas' "Mouseland" hold up?
posted by sneebler at 4:28 PM on August 7


EmpressCallipygosM less likely to re-tell these stories from oral tradition now, and more likely to just show the movie

This reminds me of the scene from The Postman where Costner's character is doing Shakespear and Star Wars* with his donkey (contrasting the army booing down a violent film in favour of The Sound of Music).

*or am I thinking of another post apoc movie where this happens?
posted by porpoise at 4:42 PM on August 7


porpoise- Reign of Fire has a Star Wars retelling.
posted by freethefeet at 9:39 PM on August 7


And maybe that partly explains why fairy tales with modern morals often don't work for me either. Because the morals aren't really the core appeal, aren't they? It's something much more primal than that.

Yeah, that's kind of what I was thinking, that the stuff that resonates with us and has come down to us is stuff that speaks to who we are at a deep inner level. The "morals" and "messages" aren't necessarily detailed - rather, they're speaking to the baseline-human-needs and collective-human-experience level stuff in some way. For instance:

One of my favourite tales is The Frog Prince- the version, where the princess smashes the frog against the wall, and that violent outburst, not the kiss he wanted, is what makes him human again. When I heard it the first time as a kid, I just left me completely adrift. I expected stories to have a moral, and I expected the moral of this story to be "You have to keep your word" (in other versions, where she gives in to his guilt-tripping and does actually kiss him, it clearly is). But here she doesn't; she breaks her promise, she gets violent, and she's rewarded for it. The frog turns into a beautiful prince, and still wants to marry her. Nowdays I see a beautiful moral about the value of healthy boundaries and not giving in to blackmail, but as a kid I was just baffled.

I heard a theory that the story of The Frog Prince is actually a way to help kids get their heads around sex. Because - let's face it, sex as a thing to do is really kind of weird, and you do some weird stuff (or at least stuff that would be considered weird if you were to do them to someone not in the act of sex). The first time you see another person's genitals is sort of weirdly fraught, because there's been such a taboo about modesty in your whole life up to that point and now suddenly - wait, you're supposed to touch another person's junk? And then do what with it now? So, that theory goes, the Frog Prince is a way of saying "listen, we know it seems weird and freaky, but trust us, just go with it."

How you have sex is detail. Maybe you kiss the frog, maybe you stand up and assert yourself when the frog tries to get you to do something you don't want to do. But everyone goes through a point where they have to make up their minds about how they are going to incorporate sexuality into their own lives, and part of that making-up-your-mind involves getting your head around how it's kind of weird.

Morals are something you add to the fairy tales as you see fit, but starting with the moral and then constructing the fairy tale around it just seems ass-backwards to me.

The morals already are in the old fairy tales. They're just not spelled out. But your core self is probably picking something up from the symbolism way deep down on a subliminal level. And the "morals" are about things like "coping with the fact that people die" and "coping with living in a society" and "coping with having to leave childhood behind" as opposed to more specific "morals" like "go to church every week" or something more specific.

Also, using the existing tales as a basis can let contemporary re-tellers embellish things. In Women who Run With The Wolves, the author tells the story of La Llorona, but then adds that she heard a version from a ten-year-old kid who was growing up near a polluted river. In the original story, La Llorona is a young poor woman who gets knocked up by a nobleman who keeps promising he'll marry her one day, but then he abandons her. She kills her kids out of grief and then kills herself, but when she gets to heaven she is told she has to go back to earth and find her kids to bring them with her first.

The kid living near the river added the detail that "La Llorona was drinking from the river because that was all the water she had, and her babies got deformed because of the pollution. And the reason she can't find the bodies of her babies still is because the river's still too dirty."

The core story is the same, but each re-teller has the chance to add a little something that speaks to people right now. Not everyone lives near a polluted river and not everyone would retell it that way. But for the people who do, that's really gonna resonate in the here and now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


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