Tale As Old As Time

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale. Favorite Disney movie, favorite Robin McKinley fairy tale retelling, favorite original tale … basically, I’m a fan. So you can imagine that I was beside myself excited when Disney announced their live-action remake of my favorite fairy tale. And yesterday, I finally got to see it.

It’s been a while since I wrote about fairy tales, so many of you probably don’t know that I’m not just a fan of Disney. I love the original tales as well. In many cases, I like them more than the lighter, tamer, happier versions. It’s hard to believe there was a time when it was considered normal to read children bedtime stories where stepsisters hack their own toes off, children throw witches in ovens, and princes fall from towers into thorns that blind them.

They weren’t just creepy stories for kids, though. Fairy tales represent a rich folkloric tradition passed along and refined by both male and female storytellers. And plenty of research has gone into documenting these stories’ histories, discussing their role in society, and cataloging the different styles. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is 425C in the Aarne–Thompson classification system. It’s one of a surprisingly large number of animal groom fairy tales and most likely has it’s roots in the story of Cupid and Psyche.Tale As Old As Time: Thoughts on the origins, meaning, and newest adaptation of my favorite fairy tale | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Fairy tales have always generated discussion and debate. This time around, people are talking about bestiality and wondering why this “tale as old as time” has endured for so long with such twisted ideas at its roots. But if we equate the Beast with an animal we miss the point of the tale. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim believed the “animal groom” stories were “intended to reassure virginal brides about sex” (i.e. he seems scary, but once you get to know him he’s not so bad).

Beauty and the Beast goes deeper than most tales of this sub-type, though. What we know as Beauty and the Beast was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. In this earliest version, as in subsequent versions, the Beast has to prove himself worth loving. Continue reading

Empathic Feeling

I realized Tuesday night when I was reading Fire by Kristin Cashore and crying into the bath water that I wasn’t crying because I felt sad a character had died. I was crying because someone in the book felt sad that this character had died. Once I thought about it, I realized that at least half of the times when fiction moves me to tears, it is in empathy with the characters rather than my own feelings being affected. In other words, I’m crying because the character is crying, not because of what moved the character to tears. Sometimes it is both (Ender’s Game, for example).

This feeling other people’s feelings (fictional and real) is something I didn’t have much of a grasp on until I discovered my Myers-Briggs type and started reading what other INFJs wrote about being overwhelmed with the emotions of others. Adding high sensitivity to the mix only heightens this (here is a wonderful article about Elaine Aaron’s research on the Highly Sensitive Person).

A Range of Empathy

The extent to which INFJs report feeling other people’s emotions range from an awareness of how others are reacting, to not being able to remember the last time you experienced a feeling that belonged only to you. “You feel it, I feel it,” an anonymous INFJ wrote. I may not be quite ready to claim my feeling of and for others reaches that extent, but I share her decision to try and avoid encountering strong negative emotions (e.g. a news story about child molestation, a film where a family is torn apart, real-life conflict) because of how overwhelming it is — emotionally as well as physically in terms of headaches and stomach pain.

Managing Feelings

In INFJ Coach’s series of blog posts on “10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life,” part two is “Manage Those Pesky Emotions.” Her article is mainly about dealing with our own emotions when they surface, but the comments point out that this is only part of the problem. One commenter named Jennie wrote that she asks herself,

“Is this my emotion that I’m feeling, or is it someone else’s emotion?’ Many of us INFJs are emotional sponges for the emotions that other people are feeling. Our NF gives us a very high degree of empathy, but sometimes taking on other people’s emotions can be too much to handle.

The other side to this is what INFJ writer Cheryl Florus points out in Personality Junkie’s INFJ Strategies for Dealing with Emotions: Part I. Because an INFJ’s feeling is extroverted, we often have an easier time understanding the emotions of other people than our own emotions (for more on function stacks, see this post). We feel emotions strongly, but need to make an effort to learn how to experience and express them in a way that doesn’t seem overwhelming or uncontrolled. Often, writing down or talking about our emotions is a way to get them outside us so we can look at them more objectively (I keep a journal and talk to my closest family members). Sometimes, until I’ve done this, I’m not exactly sure what it is I’m feeling, let alone how it should be expressed and dealt with.

What about you? Are you an INFJ with experience feeling other people’s feelings (or a non-INFJ who does the same thing, because I’d love to hear from you)? Or are you someone who has never had this happen and thinks we’re crazy?

It’s NaNoWriMo Time!

National Novel Writing Month is well underway, and I am happy to report I have not yet fallen behind. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a single month (which requires 1,667 words per day). I completed NaNoWriMo in 2011 while taking a full class load, working part time, and writing my undergraduate research thesis, so this year can’t be any harder, right?

This year, I very cleverly decided to begin NaNoWriMo by going to a church lock-in over the weekend. I frantically wrote 3,400 words on Friday, and wrote another 1,383 on the drive home before my laptop battery died (and another 1,100 before I went to bed). I was surprised how much I could write after only 3 hours of sleep (maybe 4 if you count the nap in the car).  I’m not going back to re-read for quality until after November is done, but the quantity part I was able to manage.

If you’re interested in the story I’m writing, you can look me up on the NaNo website under the name ‘linnon.am.meleth.vin’, or check out my writing blog under the pseudonym Maris McKay, where I’ve been writing about outlining my NaNo novel and drawing maps for the new fantasy world.

So Much Cooler Inside

Like many introverts (and a goodly number of extroverts, if some of my friends are any indication), I have an active imagination and “a rich inner life.” I’m daydreaming most of the time, even when it’s not readily apparent. I do let my musings out sometimes, here on this blog and over on my Pinterest boards, for example. The fact that I’m more comfortable expressing myself this way than in person reminds me of Brad Paisley’s song “Online,” except I’m telling the truth online and often masking my real self when I meet people in person. (Watch the music video if you haven’t yet — William Shatner is in it.)

This image by Gene Mollica makes me wonder how many fantastic things people hide behind their masks.

But even my online persona isn’t as “cool” as the me that stays inside my head. She joins the fellowship of the ring, travels with The Doctor, serves as an exopsychologist on the starship Enterprise, rules the world with Peter the Hegemon (if you don’t get this reference, you’re not reading enough Orson Scott Card), moves to a lake-side yurt to write books, marries Prince Charming, and adopts a couple of kids (just not all at the same time).

I spend a large (unreasonable?) amount of time thinking, daydreaming, and imagining. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me — why don’t I spend more time making my real life interesting instead of constructing fantasies? As a fiction writer, I can call some of it research and story plotting, but I wouldn’t have to be in the stories myself if that were entirely the case. And I can only think of two such daydreams which have become full-fledged stories that can stand on their own.

Partly because I spend so much time in my head, I often wonder what people think of me in real life. For someone who picks up on other people’s emotions intuitively, you’d think this would be easy. But I get so nervous when I think I’m under scrutiny that it’s hard to get past my own emotions enough to pick up on what other people think (unless their emotions are negative, in which case it’s time to flee the room). And then it’s easier to hide out in my head than spend time with “real” people, and the whole cycle begins all over again.

Well, I’m off to write a post for a different blog while talking over the direction of a novel with a couple of my characters (in my head of course — I’m sure my family would start worrying if such conversations were carried on out-loud).

Fairy Tales

I love fairy tales. When I was little, my exposure to fairy tales was mostly through Disney films (my favorite is Beauty and the Beast, just in case anyone is wondering). I started seriously reading fairy tales just a few years ago, when my favorite English professor loaned me a collection of Celtic Fairy Tales. Since then, I’ve read all the Brothers Grimm tales, many of Andersen’s fairy tales, more Celtic folklore, and collections of French fairy tales including Perrault’s writings.

I’ve been reading some of C.S. Lewis’s essays collected in the book “Of Other Worlds.” I’ve enjoyed reading his fiction (Narnia and the Space Trilogy), as well as Mere Christianity, so it was nice to get insight into his mind and writing process. For the blogt I wrote to post on my writing website tomorrow (yes, I write under a pen name), I turned to one of these essays for inspiration. I liked writing it so much, that I decided to post it here as well.

C.S. Lewis on Children’s Writings

By tracking down a quote on Pinterest, I came across C.S. Lewis’s essay “On Three Ways of Writing For Children” (full text online here). Though I don’t write specifically for children, I like to think that my fantasy novels would appeal to (and be appropriate for) some young people. After all, I can’t be the only child who was reading Jules Verne by age 10 and searching for other stories of the fantastic.

The essay becomes most interesting to me when Lewis addresses the question of what kinds of stories are worth reading as children. Since he wrote children’s fantasy — not because he set out to write for children, but “because a children’s story is [sometimes] the best art-form for something you have to say” — he spends much of the essay defending fairy tales.

If I have allowed the fantastic type of children’s story to run away with this discussion, that is because it is the kind I know and love best, not because I wish to condemn any other. But the patrons of the other kinds very frequently want to condemn it. About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defence, as reading for children.

Just as when Lewis was writing (in 1952), modern parents have been banning classic fairy tales. Hansel and Gretle and Little Red Riding Hood are not read because they are “too scary,” but there are other reasons as well. More than 50% of parents wouldn’t “read their kids Cinderella because the heroine spends her days doing housework. Many felt that this theme of female domesticity didn’t send a good message.” The politically incorrect word “dwarves” disqualifies Snow White from polite society. Rapunzel’s kidnapping and imprisonment is “too dark” a theme (actually, it is darker than they think– in the Grimms version she’s not actually kidnapped. Her father gives her to a witch to save his own life).

Whether or not to read fairy tales (and which ones to read) to children is a choice that will vary from parent to parent and also depends on the child. There are plenty of fairy tales I wouldn’t read to a very young or sensitive child (like The Little Mermaid, where she is in agony the entire time she has legs and dies at the end). But on the whole, I tend to agree with Lewis when he said,

Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. …

It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.

As a child who was deeply afraid of things that go bump in the night, I can wholeheartedly support Lewis’s claim that a “bright champion in armour” is a far better comforter than the police. And if my mind had not been filled with fairy tales, fantasy, and knights in shining armor I would never have dreamed up Jamen and Karielle or Bryant and Aelis (who now live in my in-progress and finished novels) or invented Ves’endlara.

Which fairy tales would you read, or not read to children? As an adult, do you enjoy reading fairy tales?