Once Upon a Time…
What is it about this phrase that captivates our collective consciousness? We all love a fairy tale. Yes, guys you can admit it. We are all friends here. Is it the happily ever after ending? Surely it isn’t Prince Charming or the kiss that leads to bliss. Is it the thought of living with seven little men in the woods? No, it’s none of these, is it? We can make our own happy ending; we no longer need anyone to do it for us. As for the Big Bad Wolf, we can be the Big, Bad Cougar if we so choose, so why the enduring charm of the fairy tale? At this most magical time of the year, let’s take a moment to try and understand the mystique of the simple fairy tale. Those parables, myths, fables and legends which stay within our culture and bring meaning to us.
Why do these stories bewitch and enchant us? They are the same tales, retold and revised. From Cinderella to Snow White remixed into Beauty and the Beast and Pretty Woman. We watch cartoons, read books and comic books, watch movies, the children’s books evolve into the grown-up versions, and we still watch the movies, read the books and continue to love them. A sad, ugly little girl gets a chance to spend one night away from their usual humdrum existence. Let’s say she gets to stay out late, leaving a shoe behind, because she wants to get home before she gets caught…before the spell is broken.
Exactly what is it that resonates within us to make a story like this timeless? It is because we are that sad, ugly, scared little child. At one point in our lives, we have all been waiting for someone to notice how very special we are, behind those braces on our teeth and thick glasses. Fairy tales are our broken experiences- that is why they are classics. The stories continue to swirl and develop around us as we grow. As we break and mend, the stories do the same. They give us something to believe in, something bigger than ourselves.
Find the beauty within.
Cinderella isn’t the only tale that charms us. The non-fiction story of Anne Boleyn intrigues to this day because Anne, as a young girl who wasn’t considered beautiful, still captured the heart of a king and changed the destiny of a nation and history itself, all for love. Although the story of Anne Boleyn had a tragic ending during her lifetime, the romantic concept remains with us to this day and has made her story with Henry VIII immortal, a love that time cannot erase.
Consider how many different ways stories like The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Romeo and Juliet, Batman, Superman lure us…they all teach us lessons of right and wrong. The stories are rewoven, retold over the years. How do fairy tales stay popular for so long? We fill in the gaps with ourselves, and as our culture changes, we bring our stories with us. Each generation brings its insight, concepts and ideas into the paradigm. Thus has it ever been throughout the human experience. On a cultural level, we adapt as our society reinvents itself. Hence, the continuing popularity.
Sleeping Beauty awakens at the right moment.
Superman fights for truth and goodness.
Romeo and Juliet remind us that there is a love so bright, life itself becomes dim in comparison.
Fairy tales break the key rules of character development. With their quirks and strange nuances, the characters of fairy tales are one dimensional, when reading the traditional versions. The same could be said for many of our most retold stories. We project ourselves into the stories as a method of filling in the missing pieces. It is a process of identification…self-identification that brings the stories to life.
Could this be the attraction? When a character and a story gives us spaces, we fill them with our imaginations? With so much to explore, there’s no end to the possibilities, are there? The end results are personal and compelling.
If the ugly duckling can become a swan and the lonely child can grow up to conquer the world, anything can happen. Does the secret lie in the fact that we all want to believe in the magic of possibilities? We believe deep within ourselves that dreams can come true?
We continue to immerse ourselves in fictional, mystical realms filled with magical people and evocative fantasies, even if the story reflects a contemporary setting. Many yarns continue to enchant, no matter how often we spin them anew.
What story captures your imagination every time it is retold?