Tuesday, November 19, 2013

what I'm reading: lessons from fairy tales

Do you love stories? Do you love fairy tales?

The Little Mermaid. The Snow Queen. The Princess and the Goblin. Narnia. The Hobbit. These are some of the stories that shaped my childhood. They formed my sensibilities and filled my dreams. They still do.

In chapter 4 of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes about fairy tales, what they taught him as a child, and how much better and deeper and more lasting these truths are than the harsh doctrines of modern philosophy.

I'd love to quote so much of this chapter. Perhaps I will, in weeks to come. But for today, here's just one bit that made me smile and say, "Yes".
We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough.

A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.

This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

We have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is.

Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself.

We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are.

All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.

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