Being Dad to a twelve month old daughter, my days are replete with a steady diet of Disney at the moment! Not to mention my own reading preferences which tends towards the Fairytale and mythological. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a book I return to over and again. As is the rather disturbing In The Company Of Wolves based on her versions of Red Riding Hood in The Bloody Chamber which can be seen here.
One example of a Grimm fairytale which exemplifies the moral and narrative ambiguity of the genre is conveniently brief and a single paragraph long:
Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.
This is deliciously sparse: the image of the child’s arm stubbornly popping up out of the grave is undoubtedly comic: it’s almost Monty Pythonesque in its visual comedy. I have visions of the villagers surrounding the grave, whacking the arm like a game of human Whack-A-Mole! But… was the child buried alive? The paragraph doesn’t actually say he died: are we laughing at the desperate attempts of a sick child to claw its way out of its grave? And allowing a child to become ill and die because it didn’t obey its mother? It doesn’t recall sound like a Christian way for “the dear Lord” to respond. Is the recalcitrant hand a sign of divine remorse, a forgiving resurrection thwarted by human ignorance? And why does it say the mother ‘had” to go? What compelled her? Was she torn from her grieving by the villagers? However stubborn her child was, and all children are incredibly stubborn, a mother would mourn its death keenly. And keen mournfully. Is the mother a victim of or a symbol of the oppressive dictatorial (and male?) village? Is it significant that the mother reverts to violence when the others could be seen as tenderly covering the arm over? How convincing is the peace discovered in the final sentence?
So this sounds like a fabulous conference at Comic-Con that I wish could have attended.