I’ve been spending a lot of time with the classic fairy tales recently. Grimm…Anderson…Perrault…all my old loves are coming down off the bookcases to be dusted off and read with fresh eyes. This has partly to do with our current focus in school; I am introducing many of these tales to Little Guy for the first time this year. It has partly to do with some fairy-tale themed crafts I am working on to sell (wish me luck!) But the sheer amount of time I am spending reading, rereading, researching, and daydreaming about these stories has mostly to do with this: in periods of pain and transition, I tend to migrate towards the familiar and fantastic.
And as I read, I find myself discovering more than ever before about the tales and about myself. “The Frog Prince” is a sweet little moralistic story about a young girl learning to keep her promises, right? Think again. Consider the implications of a story in which a male character insists upon sleeping in a young girl’s bed, as payment for a favor; in which, when the girl gives and then tries to rescind her permission, her father angrily overrules her; in which, when she puts the frog in the corner of her bedroom and tries to keep her distance from him, the frog slithers up to her and threatens to tell her father if she does not allow him into her bed; and in which, finally, the princess uses violence as her last resort in trying to keep the frog out of her bed, hurling the frog to the opposite side of the room…upon which he promptly transforms into a prince so physically attractive as to be irresistible to her.
If this story were written today, it would be called patriarchal, rape-enabling bullshit. But it is a classic….part of our culture’s narrative soul.
On the other hand, I have been spending some lovely, enriching time with a long-time favorite…Anderson’s “Snow Queen.” I fell in love with this tale in high school; I think the combination of flowers, ice, snow, and a brilliant female hero’s journey (so unusual among the classic tales) enhanced by wise and interesting female helpers and a believable female villain was what kept me coming back to it again and again.
So I find myself, in my current state of flux and confusion, returning to it yet again…finding in its pages bits and pieces of my own journey…symbols of my fear and developing strength…and reflections of the wise and beloved women in my life.
But I suppose I have been spending the most time pondering the implications of “Rumpelstiltskin.” This is a story about making, on many levels; about transformation…straw into gold, peasant into royalty, fear into triumph, beauty into horror. And the deepest of these transformations center on the protagonist’s ability to name and identify the force that not only has made her who she is, but threatens to take away all that makes that new self worth inhabiting. It is not a simple story; not easy. It is a story about the cost of becoming. About counting that cost. About searching and sifting and putting a name to the nameless.
And, finally, about the triumph of persistence, courage, self-actualization, and love, all lumped into one. The transformation remains; the crutch upon which it leans disappears. And all is well.
Perhaps I relate so strongly to “Rumpelstiltskin” because in many ways, I am in the Queen’s place at the moment. I am searching to put names to my fears; to the forces, good and bad and in-between, that have made me the person I am today; and to the parts of myself I need to shed, and those I need to keep, in order to continue my transformation into the person I hope to be someday. I am seeking the courage to travel to the furthest places, dig in the deepest caves, and extricate all the things that have hitherto hidden dark and unnamable in their holes, coming out in their own timing and ignoring mine. I am gathering the strength to look them in the eye, and say, “This is who I am. And this is who you are.”
As simply as that.