I have been reading a new (to me) book on fairy tales, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner. I hope to do a more complete book review but I haven’t finished the book yet so it seems a little premature to pass judgment on it. I will say that it is a fairly dense book and not, despite its title, what I would call short. I suppose if one were a fairy take scholar one would read it and think how much more could be said so it may be a short history in that sense, but it is not a short book.
Not being a fairy take scholar myself, and only having a recreational interest in the subject, I find it a bit hard going at parts, but there are gems in there which intrigue me and make me think. I’d like to focus on one of those today. The author, Warner, shows that fairy tales include elements from whatever time and place they emanate from. They are stories for and about the ordinary people and ordinary life (Kindle Loc. 1234). This will seem at first glance, perhaps, quite the opposite of true since the situations and events in fairy tales tend to be so fanciful and, frankly, unrealistic. But, Warner says, “Fairy tales used to transmute the horrors by setting them once upon a time and far away, and in this way did not directly raise the spectre of a killer next door but smuggled their warnings under cover of magic storytelling” (Kindle loc. 1290). In other words, real horrors are dealt with by moving them to extraordinary settings. But they are, nonetheless, real horrors. By doing so, “the plots [or fairy tales] convey messages of resistance — a hope of escape” (Kindle Loc. 1285).
The thought I had, and the reason I bring this all up, is that fairy tale plots and themes are so very prominent in children’s literature today that one must wonder what needs there are among the young that are being met by such stories. I should say that these books are not, by Warner’s definition, fairy tales. But they do contain fairy tale elements, and often build upon well-known fairy tales. If you, like I, have scoured your library’s children’s section, and particularly the young adult section, for new things for your child to read, you have probably seen as I have that there is an awful lot out there that has to do with princesses, vampires, zombies, aliens, magicians, sorcerers, werewolves, . . . the list goes on and on. I do not inherently object to such things; I have written in that previously. But there is a point at which it just gets to be too much. And reading Warner’s book on the role of fairy tales makes me wonder if there is more going on in our society and in the lives of our tweens and teens than we have thought about.
I get e-mails daily from BookBub which gives me links to free and cheap Kindle books in categories I have selected one of which is “Teen and Young Adult.” Here are some of the blurbs from books they have offered recently:
“On her 18th birthday, Katalina Winter’s life changes forever. Alone, she must navigate a warring world, where her only chance at survival is embracing her deepest secret: She is a pureblood wolf shifter. Her status may save her life — if she uses it wisely.”
“This romantic fantasy simmers and soars: Crown Princess Angeline must rely on dangerous rogue Connor to regain control of her kingdom, but all the while opportunistic enemies scheme for the throne.” (from a series called Bloodtruth)
“From a USA Today bestselling author comes a gripping collision between love and destiny… Shane was born to hunt vampires like Maggie, but senses there’s something different about her. Will her dark secret destroy them both?”
These are just a few examples I still had in my inbox, but I think they begin to show common themes. The young protagonist has some special power or is in some way not fully human (vampire, werewolf, etc.). He or she is faced with a challenge, often has to leave their home and enter a new world. And there is often a romantic interest who is also different in some way and who pulls them away from their home and family. I know these threads are not unique or new. What’s a story without some sort of challenge to overcome after all? And kids’ books often have the child separating, or being forcefully separated, from their parents. It’s rather a necessary plot device that allows the character to grow up. I have even blogged on that before here. But I still feel the current crop of kid’s lit goes beyond what was around when I was young. Which leads me to ask, if these kids are feeling the need for escape, what are they escaping from? What are they feeling more or differently than previous generations?
I don’t have the answers to these questions except to think that as a group teens are not being given ay sort of spiritual foundation. They know there is something more, something different which is needed, they know even that there is the potential to be more than human, but they have no outlet for these feelings so they create them, or have them created for them, in books.
What do you think? I am way off base here? Has someone already completely given the answers to all these questions?