Last week the Supreme Court of the US ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment. They basically came to this conclusion because they compared video games to other forms of storytelling – such as oral traditions, (comic) books, film, and TV – and found that what is depicted in games is not that different from what we see, read, or hear in the other media (read the entire ruling here). They also pointed out that humanity has a long tradition of telling itself stories of violence, citing some fairytales as evidence.
A few days later there was this opinion piece in the New York Times by a medical student, describing how fairytales helped her come to terms with some of the strange cases and encounters she had to deal with in hospitals. From one of the Grimms’ versions of Cinderella (in which the two step-sisters have their eyes picked out by doves during Cinderella’s wedding) to Bluebeard’s chamber full of dead wives, fairytales describe weird and disturbing goings-on and try to analyze them without the help of Freud and other more modern theories. They are one of the basic mirrors our species holds up to itself in an attempt to understand and warn.
Today I found this excellent summary and analysis of the various Bluebeard versions by Terri Windling. It also describes how over time the depiction of the characters and the moral of the story changed. How a story of pluck and courage turned into a story about obedience. Go read it. And then you’ll understand why my first reaction to Charles Perrault’s morals of the story was “this sounds like he wrote something he heard about and didn’t quite understand what was going on and so tried to tack something on to the end.” A similar sentiment to the one Susan Sto-Helit has when she reads the fairytale of the clock-maker in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time.
I would also like to point you in the direction of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, simply because as a child I delighted in this irreverent re-telling of some of the best-known fairytales.
Go read all of that. And then go to the Gutenberg Project and read some fairytales. After all, they are some of the oldest stories we’ve been telling ourselves over and over again (Warning: some are pretty gruesome). And you might even want to try out a video game, the new narrative medium of choice for some.