In Scotland the oral telling of traditional tales is still alive in Scots, Gaelic and English, but it faces almost overwhelming competition for attention in this multi-media age. I’m sure the same is true in the rest of the UK – and is probably the case with written collections too.
The old stories are in danger of being overlooked and dismissed as remnants of archaic culture and outdated social mores. Sometimes they’re disregarded as they’re seen as not politically correct or inclusive of gender, race and class. I don’t happen to accept these accusations and I’m afraid that if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them. I think that would be real pity.
As a writer, storyteller and teacher, I find myths and fairytales to be both fascinating and useful. The conventions, structures and messages of such stories also seem to me be universal over geography and time. Thus the tales of the European Brothers Grimm, for example will often turn out to have very similar African counterparts.
Yes, there’s often a Prince who sweeps in at the end and saves some pathetic and helpless female victim. The lowly born Buttons hasn’t a hope of getting the girl in Cinderella. Hansel and Gretel could be seen as a horrific tale of child kidnap and abuse. And, there are these happy-ever-after endings.
So what do they have going for them? Well, I think they are moral, comforting and affirming. I guess the’ happy-ever-after’ aspect should be interpreted as Evil doesn’t triumph – yes, there’s lots of suffering – but love (not necessarily the married sort) and life itself win in the end.
Loyalty is tested and rewarded. Resourcefulness, self-reliance and bravery pay off – even (or especially) for disinherited and outcast females. To me the fairies are opportunities and the ogres and witches are barriers
Snow White finds a home, a job, a support network and ultimately tricks her would-be murderer.
Cinderella works hard, bides her time, seizes opportunity when it presents s itself and leaves behind an all-important contact detail when she has to make a run for it.
Sleeping Beauty wilfully puts herself in danger when she succumbs to the temptation of the spindle’s needle but those who know her won’t give up on her and she is saved.
Goldilocks is her own woman – an intrepid explorer and breaker down of barriers. She goes for what she wants, faces the dangers and quits while she’s ahead.
Gretel saves Hansel by wit and ingenuity – she doesn’t accept the role of abused victim.
Red Riding Hood recognises danger, keeps her wits about her, recognises her limitations and gets help.
The above examples all contain messages that I’d want to transmit to the young people I teach, and, indeed, to all our youngsters. Namely – the so-called nanny state won’t take care of you, the world doesn’t owe you a living and you’re a resourceful and lovable human being. Loyalty and kindness do make YOUR world a better place. So be your own north star, take responsibility and be bold.
With all of the above in mind – I decided to have a go at putting some of the fairytales that were first told to me by my beloved grandmother, into a modern context. I’ve completed five so far and I’m going to be posting them here over the next while.
In all of them, I’ve attempted to stick to the conventions and structures – hence there’s more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’, they use universally acceptable (for children and adults) forms of language and they’re designed to be read aloud.
Here’s the first one:
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,
Unplug the computer, come out of your lair.
Facebook and android, live messenger too
They’re ogres that hold you and I can’t get through.
You spend hours on gaming, sealed off by your pod
Interacting with strangers, but don’t think it odd
That you no longer speak to friends that are real
Guarded by software, was that the deal?
They want you confined, deaf, dumb and blind
They want to control you, your body and mind.
Once a long time ago, I heard you sing
And I knew that I loved you. I tried everything.
What lure did they use to get you inside,
A pact, or a payment, a trick or a bribe?
I failed to get past them, get in at your door
And your window’s too high, up on the top floor.
I so want to save you, to bring you outside
Not to own you, control you or, make you my bride
But to help you be free of the demons in there
So please, dear Rapunzel, let down your hair.