Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Losing a Fairy Tale
Until recently I believed fairy tales were hard wired into our universal unconscious. And then I was wrong.
Was my reading of Jung sloppy? Did I actually read Man and His Symbols or do I just imagine I did? What don’t I know about sibling rivalry and Oedipal conflicts? (Per Bettelheim) Are my convictions any different from my mother’s insistence that she and Dad visited Bhutan, twice, on their way home from Pakistan? (She has in fact been almost everywhere, but not Bhutan, or Antarctica, or Alaska.)
I thought if there was one movie I could safely take my mother to, it would be Cinderella, on the assumption that the plot would be easy to follow, or unnecessary to follow, because isn’t the story of the kind orphaned girl who gets her prince one of the cornerstones of the Western imagination?
How could I be so very wrong?
It’s true my mother has never watched much television or movies. The notable exception when we were children was Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges, because she was an accomplished scuba diver (those childhood vacations along the Red Sea) and every episode of Sea Hunt afforded ample opportunities for critiquing his technique, correcting the details, and then spoiling the suspense by assuring her poor deluded children that of course Mike Nelson would survive the crisis of the moment, because he had to return next week.
So it is fair to say that even before spiraling down the rabbit hole, my mother was not in the habit of watching movies or television, so she is not in the habit of granting to the small or large screen that willing suspension of disbelief most of us effortlessly cede. No, that cottage in the woods is not meant to be ‘real’. Nor is it ‘true’ that young girls, even the prettiest and kindest, can communicate with mice. I cannot explain why the stepmother is so mean; she simply is; the story relies on her meanness.
I thought we would settle into our seats, shed our winter garments, smell the aroma of popcorn, and watch a story we know so well that no amount of updating could disguise it. We would relax and delight in the slightly vulgar but very amusing polychromatic costumes of the wicked stepsisters. We would each hold our breath as Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a shimmering ball gown. We would shed a few tears for true love winning out.
But my mother did not want popcorn. We were the only people in the theater that wintry afternoon (technically Spring). Later when CSB asked about the movie, she announced with great solemnity that we were alone in the theater. That was all.
This worries me. If a fairy tale can be eradicated by the ravages of amyloid plaques, then what is sacred?
*Illustrations by Adrienne Ségur, from The Fairy Tale Book, a Deluxe Golden Book ca. 1958, and beloved by me.