I hear so much crap about how fairy tales are bad, sexist and unrealistic. How myths and legends are horrible, and place unrealistic expectations on us.
Thing is, we all live our own fairy tales, our own myths, our own legends. The only choice we really have is whether we are the heroes or villains of our stories.
The thing is there are so many of these stories, from many sources. Every culture has them, not just European, not just the Grimms. And one of the things I had access to growing up was some of those other stories from other cultures. I could recognize that each of those cultures all had stories, and that they all have things to teach us. I could see that there is wisdom everywhere, if we just look for it.
And it’s not just our past that has stories, even our current story writers can teach us to make better choices in our lives.
Yes, there are things we learn from those stories that aren’t necessarily good. But, the reality is, it’s not the story that is the problem but our perception and understanding of the story that is the problem.
It’s one of the reasons I’ve loved the storyline of In the Woods (it doesn’t matter if you watch the more recent movie or the theater production). Interestingly enough, I was introduced to it as a discussion of ethics.
The stories are familiar to those of European descent – Jack the Giant Killer, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood – with a twist that ties them all together. But, the stories don’t end at …and they lived happily ever after. No, it goes on to discuss the consequences of the choices of those “heroes.”
Listen to the songs, really try to understand the points that they make – even the princes, as arrogant and selfish as they are, make points. In fact, one of the princes has a line that says a lot about the choices of individuals who don’t really care about others or the consequences of their choices: “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
Then, start reading some of the stories of other cultures. Many of European descent may have read Aesop’s Fables when they were young. Do you know, there are similar stories from Native American myths – some of which are even MORE clear about the consequences of your choices. The cultures of Africa (AND the cultures created by the slaves in the “New World” – bringing in the religions of Santeria, Condomble and Voudoun) have many more stories that also speak on how to live better lives, and how to make better choices. The Hindus have fascinating stories. The various Polynesian and Indonesian cultures (including Hawaiian aboriginal stories), as do the Maori and the multitude of Aboriginal cultures in Australia. The Asians and Russians have more as well.
But they each have similar themes. And not all of them are just about “work hard and good things will come to you.” Even in European tales, it’s not about the quiet, meek person who never takes a risk or a chance. In many of the stories, the “good” person must take an active part in their story. The girl with gold and jewels falling from her lips not only had to be a responsible housekeeper for Mother Hulda, she also had to actively treat others with compassion and respect. The range of stories about the “fool” requires that he (no matter whether he is a prince or a peasant) is compassionate not only to the elderly, or those of a lower class, but also to animals and others along his path – because it is only with their help that he succeeds.
I won’t ever stop being fascinated by these stories. And even re-reading (or re-watching movie versions) of these stories can often teach me something new.
And that, to me, is the reason for living. To learn. To expand my knowledge and grow in wisdom. It’s not the end of my journey that is important, but the choices I make along the way.