27 November 2010
Day 245: The Tales of Beedle the Bard
I really appreciate that Rowling added this little bit to the Harry Potter world. Fairy tales are so very, very important to a culture, and you can definitely see what the values of the wizarding world are through this short collection. Even looking at our "own" cultures fairy tales, you can see where the values lie. I put "own" in quotations marks because... they are over two hundred years old. Although they were originally published as written works in 1812 (Grimm), they were likely handed down orally for several generations beforehand. Needless to say society has changed a little more than these stories have.
What? Disney versions? Disney doesn't make fairy tales. Disney makes fantasies. I say this because in most cases, the princess is not responsible for her own rescue in any way. This has changed a little bit in recent years, but it still means relying on another person for happiness, usually a prince of some sort. Meanwhile fairy tales often have "unhappy" endings for the protagonist or at the very least involve some sort of sacrifice they have to make to get what they want. And bad things happen, things like having to cut out your own tongue for your love, only to find that he's in love with someone else and you have to make the decision to kill both of them or turn into seafoam. Bad things. Not having a seawitch borrow your voice and then pose as a land-dweller, nope, that ability to speak is gone forever.
It makes the stories more potent and the sacrifice more real. Instead, we are replacing it with these lighthearted versions where as long as you "believe" or show "enough love", you will get the guy, with the help of your male friends who sometimes literally have the brains of fish, crabs, and birds... Thanks Disney, for that vote of confidence in the power of female intellect. But the old tales have their problems too. Obviously they are still extremely misogynist, some more than others.
So what are our current fairy tales? What literature or stories are we going to be passing down to the next generation to endure as an indicator of what our values are? Internet memes? That's depressing, but they do tend to be topical. For example I've seen a lot of memes about the TSA "security" bullshit. I would say that the TSA has done an excellent job of making itself into a villian of the ages. But no, those are too fleeting.
I would be willing to say that Harry Potter is our modern fairy tale. I think enough people have grown up with them or been affected by them as adults that they will have a lasting presence in our culture. They certainly express many of our modern day concerns: need for security; the desire to protect children for as long as possible regardless of whether it's possible; general growing up and living daily life; class/race concerns; etc. And also our modern day morals...or at least ideals: sacrifice for the greater good (Snape!); helping friends; showing kindness even when it's hard; and many others that I can't think of right at this moment because it's been two years(?) since I finished the last book of the series.
I'm going to say it, I am not a "fan" of the Harry Potter series. I liked them, and I think they are a worthy addition to literature. But I find it hard to be fanatical about much of anything...because being fanatical kind of makes you do crazy things and I'm unfortunately just a little too grounded to be that obsessed about anything. I would definitely be okay having Harry Potter represent us to future generations. Are there other series or books that you think would be good fairy tale replacements?
I liked this rather succinct review from The Book Nest.