Monthly Archives: June 2013

Rationalizing after the fact

It has been pointed out to me that, in general, the characters in my stories have no names. I always figured that this was because I’m lousy at finding good names for my characters, and since they’re mostly archetypes anyway, they don’t need names.

Then I picked up a copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment, which analyzes fairy tales, and their roles in children’s lives.

He says (on page 40 in the 1976 hardback copy by Knopf)

Quote:

The fairy tale, by contrast (with myths), makes clear that it tells about everyman, people very much like us… If names appear, it is quite clear that these are not proper names but general or descriptive ones….Even when the hero is given a name, as in the Jack stories, or in “Hansel and Gretel,” the use of very common names makes them generic terms, standing for any boy or girl.

This is further stressed by the fact that in fairy tales nobody else has a name; the parents of the main figures in fairy tales remain nameless…. Fairies and witches, giants and godmothers remain equally unnamed, thus facilitating projections and identifications.

Projection in fairy tales is important, so that the child can see themself as the Jack who cleverly outwits the giant, or as the brave princess facing down a dangerous dragon, or as any other role in the fairy tale. Fairy tales teach us that dragons can be overcome (or taught lessons themselves, as in The Grumpy Dragon), that the weak and seemingly powerless (the child) can overcome obstacles or the powerful or those in authority over them.

There are other genres, such as religious morality plays like Pilgrim’s Progress, where characters have descriptive names, such as Piliable, Faithful, Mr. Legality & Mr. Worldly Wiseman. In these cases, the reader is required to identify with specific virtuous characters. In fairy tales, the names tend to be neutral, or at most descriptive, like Beauty and the Beast, or Prince Charming. Fairy tales may teach a lesson, but it’s much more discrete than Pilgrim’s Progress is (which in my opinion hits you over the head, and points to the moral written in 108 pt type with flashing lights around it), and the moral may be ambiguous. The characters in fairy tales invite you to identify with them (and this identification may be gender-neutral, as in the youngest son who identifies with Cinderella, in a “you may be mean to me now, but you’ll get yours someday” kind of thing.)

So having unnamed characters are not only a standard fairy tale trope, but it has valuable psychological effects.

Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The importance of fairy tales

“We learn from the characters in stories, even as adults. They help us because we connect to our own lives, dreams, anxieties, and consider what we would do in their shoes. Fairy tales help children learn how to navigate life. “(Bruno Bettelheim. Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.)

Fairy tales stretch the imagination, encourage creativity in small children. They foster a sense of wonder, and, in many cases, a sense of optimism that difficulties can be overcome. Childhood is a time of transitions, and fairy tales can help provide a road map for navigating those transitions.  In fairy tales, the weak can become strong, the powerless gain power, frequently through cleverness rather than feats of arms.

G. K. Chesterton said “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” In my book, Dragons and Dreams, I show that not all dragons need to be killed, but that some can be negotiated with. Dragons are only scary when they’re part of the unknown. When we face the unknown, a dragon can become not an enemy to be overcome, but can become a protector. In fairy tales, evil can be turned to good. In my story “A Princess for Tea” (part of the Dragons and Dreams collection), the bold princess learns that a dragon can become a friend, with a little bit of understanding.

The theme of monsters as protectors is also brought out in my short story Heart of Rock. In that story, the gargoyles become not only something to be overcome, but ultimately can be enlisted as guides and protectors of a human kingdom, at the price of only a little kindness.

Many fairy tales focus on the quest. In the story “The Three Precious Things,” another story in Dragons and Dreams, we see that, when you quest for one thing, you might find something else of even greater value.

For me, one of the best things about fostering a love of fairy tales in children is that they can become a gateway to a love of stories in general. Andrew Lang’s colorful fairy books can lead to an appreciation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Stories don’t have to teach a moral, but can be appreciated simply because they’re fun. Whole genres, like mysteries and romance, are basically optimistic in their outlook. Justice can prevail, even if through non-typical ways. There can be a happily ever after ending, even after heartbreak. Mankind, through striving, can find the stars.

Welcome to Wyrm Tales Press!

Hi, and welcome to Wyrm Tales Press, Dragons and Dreams edition.

I’m Becca Price, and I write fairy tales. I live with my husband, two children, and three cats on ten acres of weeds, swamp, and trees in southeastern Michigan.  Most of the fairy tales in Dragons and Dreams were stories I told my own children when they were of an age to appreciate fairy tales, but I’m not stopping there.

I’m currently reading The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim. In this book, Bettelheim analyzes the structure and content of fairy tales, and why he feels they’re so important to the emotional growth of children.

Me, I’m not so scholarly. In future posts, I’ll be riffing off some of his work, and giving my own spin to it, just like I give my own spin to the genre of fairy tales. I love fairy tales for their beauty, their emotional resonance, and because they can be a gateway into the wider world of fantasy and literature.