Look, a Blue Sky: On crossovers and team-ups in fairy tales.

8th November 2015

I have started a new blog, for when I want to write about things which interest me but about which I cannot pretend to have any expertise. The blog is called “Look, a Blue Sky”.  My interests are mainly to do with art, comics, history, and so on.

My first substantive post at Look, a Blue Sky is now up – on crossovers and team-ups in fairy tales.  Please read it and let me know what you think; I am conscious I am writing about something I am not used to writing about, so also be kind…

3 thoughts on “Look, a Blue Sky: On crossovers and team-ups in fairy tales.”

  1. Thank you for a very thought-provoking blog on a grey Sunday afternoon – here are some thoughts in response to the question you pose at the end – rather long, I’m afraid, and quite possibly somewhat incoherent – but what an interesting question you’ve posed!

    ‘Where does the idea come from they should not be?’

    The relevant factors here are, I think, temporal and symbolic – and those are intertwined. For thousands of years, social and economic and technological change were gradual enough* that metaphors and proverbs, roles and relationships remained recognisable and intelligible, rooted in the same soil generation after generation after generation. Time and collective experience are essential to the symbolic. Until relatively recently, not just Kings and Queens but peasants and beggars, farmers and fishermen, fathers and mothers and stepmothers and all inhabited their roles symbolically as well as individually. Character was formed of timeless and universal human nature, different strands in different measures, but recognisable beyond the individual. Time was long, and there was ‘nothing new under the sun’.

    Not just in fairy stories and mythology but also in Scripture, time was not at all constrained by logical consistency. For example, in the gospel of St Matthew you have Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the baby Jesus and in the gospel of St Luke, at about the same time, they’re in Jerusalem for the Presentation in the Temple and the Nunc Dimittis. In the Old Testament, you have Ishmael a boy of 13 or 14 when his half-brother Isaac is born, and a bit later, he’s a baby still at the breast when he and his mother are cast out into the wilderness to protect Isaac’s inheritance. The different versions illuminated different aspects of a long unfolding story; it has the timeless logic of dreams.

    (See also Seamus Heaney, Lightenings viii:
    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1995/heaney-poems-3-e.html )

    In religious and mythological paintings, too, you have all manner of saints and characters all standing around together though separated by centuries.

    Come the Industrial Revolution, time loses its fluidity; it is pared down from the seven stages of the religious day – (with its allusions to the span of human lives unfolding individually and collectively over generations, centuries, millennia, and its intimations of eternity) – to factory hours to railway minutes. And not long after the railway timetable, an ordinary clerk could have a clock on his mantle. Democratised and domesticated, time slips its ties to eternity.

    The growing precision of time and mechanics bound the realms of the imagination more tightly and rationally. Stories become fixed and distinct, their characters fixed within them.

    In the 18th and 19th centuries, and the first half of the 20th, it seemed that Nature could be subordinate to human reason, and the whole Universe would soon be entirely legible to us all. That didn’t last.

    Throughout these 3 centuries but especially most recently, you have an explosion of opportunities to form and fashion your own life; character gives way to personality, the collective gives way to the individual, religion withers, the past recedes, and Freud et al set us to wondering about Snow White’s Stepmother’s formative childhood experiences.

    The crossovers and team-ups in contemporary, post-1980s fairy stories might in part arise from a post-modern cast of mind that holds ‘there are no rules/anything goes’.

    But it might also be that beyond the supposedly rational, all-pervasive, relentlessly pragmatic market ideology of contemporary society, there is a resurgent longing for symbolic forms – (which require collective memory and collective meaning) – to lend some resonance and a degree of historic continuity to a world of superficially connected, self-created individuals, and lives of transient, unrelated episodes.

    Time regains its fluidity, and the broad-brush characters of collective experience are welcomed back with open arms, to mingle freely.

    *re the pace of change: see the models of agricultural implements in the Science Museum – plough, scythe, plough, scythe, plough, scythe etc etc from approx. 6000 BC to approx. 1700, then this that and the other in rapid succession and boom, the combine harvester.

  2. Fascinating stuff, and thought provoking. I don’t think you need have any worries about writing about something you’re not used to writing about.

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