Posts Tagged ‘folktales’

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Tolstoy’s Fables and Fairy Tales

October 23, 2007

I have been interested lately in fables and fairy tales for their simplicity of image and layered beauty. In contrast to Tolstoy’s grander work like War and Peace or Anna Karenina, I am intrigued by the economy and directness of his fables. Most of the writing in Fables and Fairy Tales was originally written as part of primers he created for the school he set up on his estate for neighboring peasants. The fables teach life lessons in a simple format, and although frequently didactic or dogmatic, the clear elegance of the stories shines through. Among other things these stories are peopled with talking animals, kings, hermits, and peasants. With these fables Tolstoy sought to enlighten those around him with his humanitarian dreams and goals of social justice.

Some of the fables are deceptively straightforward showing things aren’t always as they appear. Holes are frequently poked in cleverness. They teach one must do the work if one wants to earn the outcome; one can’t simply jump to the end. In Three Rolls and a Pretzel, the faults are contagiously shown in a peasant’s false clever logic.

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Timpanelli’s Sometimes the Soul

October 22, 2007

Often contemporary novels that retell fables or fairy tales don’t work. They are wedding cake frosting with sugar-clotted interiors. They don’t connect to the heart or wit of the stories; are just an attempt at the form. True fables have hardship and labor that unearths hidden lessons. The words are clean and crisp and light, something that collapses under most replicas. Gioia Timpanelli’s Sometimes the Soul is a collection of two novellas that rework the author’s Sicilian fables featuring two women seeking heartfelt independence and exploring their places in the world. In A Knot of Tears a baroness locks herself away in a manor seeking seclusion, but is interrupted by a parrot flying through her window one night. The parrot is followed by his owner, a sailor, who tells the woman and her housekeeper three stories, while thwarting the advances of two would-be suitors. The second story is a fresh retelling of the traditional Beauty and the Beast story called Rusina, Not Quite in Love. Both connect because of the generosity and depth of the writing.

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Brothers Grimm

June 8, 2007

Fairy tales have always been intriguing food for thought. I like how they meld simplicity with the strange. In certain ways fairy tales work as moral tales, but their irregular logic and imagery capture a mentality that is alive and mysterious, while often disobeying traditional rules of what is moral. For this annotation I am working with the collection of The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. I am usually drawn to any sort of fable or oral tradition story, but was struck by how this collection is extremely 19th century. Most fairy tales are reworkings of earlier stories cobbled together with elements from different time periods. With the Brothers Grimm, a strong vein of Christianity has been inserted. In certain ways it limits the tales in a similar way to how stories are sanitized to be politically correct in current times, but at the same time it works as an amazing cultural artifact of the 19th century. Where these stories most come alive is in their odd attention to detail and the fancy of their meandering narratives. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Tales of the Hasidim

April 6, 2007

One of the first things that appealed to me when reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim was the familiarity and depth of the imagery. I had heard a number of these tales before in different forms, but had never been told that they were attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and the hasidim. One example is from the Baal Shem’s early years, in which he is a teacher’s assistant. Every morning he went out and rounds up all the students and walks them to the school. They hike through the fields and forest and on their way he rejoices in the birds and animals and sings songs. Bringing all this joy and celebration into the world catches the attention of the Opponent who turns himself into a werewolf and attacks the party. All the parents were afraid to let their children go with the Baal Shem the next day, but he convinces them, and the next time they are set on by the werewolf, he strikes it between the eyes and kills it. The version I had heard before was about the Heart of Darkness and illustrated the evil eye. The main character in that version was simply a nameless rabbi who is escorting a group of children to school, and is attacked by a wild man who was born without a soul (a void inside) or the Heart of Darkness. The Heart of Darkness manifested as the evil eye that the rabbi must ward off.

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