Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fairy tales and man-eating rabbits

So I’ve been reading a lot of fairy tales lately.

I know, that’s a weird way to begin anything — a blog, conversation, eulogy, anything.

But it’s true. I found some inexpensive collections of Italian and Irish fairy tales and bought them on an impulse. It might have been a cultural thing — I am partly Sicilian and Northern Irish — but I can’t remember putting that much thought into it.

Best I can recall, it went like this:

See books. Shrug. Add to stack.

People smarter than me like to talk about the morality of fairy tales. G.K. Chesterton wrote in “Orthodoxy” that, “Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense... I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon.”

Then, he expounds on how Cinderella teaches humility, Beauty and the Beast preaches that sometimes you must love something before it can become lovable and Sleeping Beauty teaches death can be softened into a sleep.

I don’t care about any of that.

Yes, I get that some fairy tales are cautionary stories. The moral of Red Riding Hood: Don’t trust strange men, especially if they have sharp teeth and excess body hair. The moral of The Frog Prince: Be nice to geeks. They will grow up to be Internet millionaires. The moral of Rumpelstiltskin: It’s OK to pawn off your work on an eccentrically named coworker.

A lot of them teach arbitrary discipline. “Find the third peacock after the waterfall and pluck a single feather.” “Why?” “Because you will find your true love.” “Why will a peacock feather help me find my true love? And why does it have to be the third peacock?” “Kid, do you want to find your true love or not?” “I guess.” “Then, take the freakin’ feather.”

But I don’t like fairy tales for their morals. In fact, I can’t think of a single story I’ve ever liked for its moral.

I’m from the Oscar Wilde school of thought. “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”

So why do I like fairy tales?

I guess I like the possibilities. I like that a dragon can be hiding in the cave. Or a giant. Or a man-eating rabbit.

I spend most of my life writing and reading about crime. After a few years, you become jaundiced. Very few things surprise me. Anger me, sure. Disappoint me, certainly. Depress me, God, yes. But I rarely get surprised.

I’d like to think my new fairy tale fixation is more than just escapism. It’s about hoping there could be something exciting in the cave, that a frog could transform into a prince or straw can be spun into gold.

I guess it never hurts to hope.

—Jason Lea,

P.S. I think the real moral of Beauty and the Beast is that attractive women should lower their standards until anthropomorphic antelope-bears look good.



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