Image from page 18 of “East of the sun and west of the moon : old tales from the North” (1922) Authors: Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen, 1812-1885 Moe, Jørgen Engebretsen, 1813-1882 Dasent, George Webbe, Sir, 1817-1896 Nielsen, Kay Rasmus, 1886-1957
Sometime after the original publication of this blogpost, I was thrilled to be able to use it to participate in a conversation regarding audio books with Tony Huang’s Metacircle. To see some this conversation, including the Chinese translation, and track other exciting endeavors at Metacircle, go here.
Divorce, cancer, bipolar, single parenthood, failed dating relationships: All of these mishaps and more have become a part of my midlife experience. Fear for my life, feelings I do not fit into religiously conservative circles, the occasional pain of being “different,” concern for my child, an acknowledgment I may not find the next special someone, a realization my romanticism and sometimes my perfectionism rule out a “modern” relationship in which texts serve for conversation, people can be swiped away by a finger running across a digital screen, and porn has dictated that women look twenty five and behave as objects: I have been touched by all of these things and sometimes they have ruled over my ability, once sharpened by more frequent use, in letting go and forgetting troubles.
On a lonely night the other night, suffering still from a failed relationship – Was it me or was it him? Who knows. What a bother, what a pain. I will never do this again. etc. – I turned to Libri Vox, a recent discovery. I have not been one to turn to this way of imbibing my literature but I have recently discovered the beauty of having a portable narrator spin me a yarn while I lie on my bed. My narrator, I have discovered, is good for a walk with the dog, a car ride across town, the grocery store, a dish cleaning session in the kitchen, and more. If I release myself to the voice, I don’t feel as lonely. In fact, I sometimes find myself to be quite thrilled by it. Here is a volunteer, somewhere from around the world, doing their level best to put the literature of the world out there for listeners to enjoy. The experience feels personal and immediate and sometimes, just the thing.
Recently, I started listening to fairy tales, and the other night when I was suffering I began The Blue Book.
I have always been a person driven to extract meaning from texts or to gravitate toward texts whose purposes are didactic or could be construed as such, somehow, with the right manipulator, you know, someone like me. Yet in listening to what I sense are many of the “untamed” fairy tales – those who have not been given an obvious “lesson” – I am completely charmed. These speak back to someone like me with my heavy hand, my heavy pencil who is just dying to construct an analysis. They speak back to me and tell me to be quiet. They speak back to me and tell me to let them stand on their own. Though fairy tales, at the time of their development, may have used a number of conventions, to my modern ear, these stories seem to insist on their freedom from convention. Like a person who is not bound to convention, bound to explain themselves at every turn, worry about the impression they make, a fairy tale often seems to live in complete freedom.
I like to imagine that I, an ordinary woman, have something to share with the women who, over the centuries, created these stories together as, over time, they told these over fires and in the midst of chores, when they were resting. I like to imagine these stories, begun in the minds of women while they were about their repetitive labor, were told to others and the work of the storytellers’ imagination was supplemented by the imagination of her sisters when they retold the stories to others – their families, other women, their children. Over time, the inventing and sharing created stories smooth as pebbles or rough hewn but originating from the same rock.
I like to imagine these wild tales connect me to those who invented them in that though we now have more luxuries and in many ways, a different worldview, we are in search of the wild beyond the hard work and the worries, the will to survive. We seek rest and invention, re-invention and creativity and beauty. Of course this goes for men as well as women but there is a homespun quality, a stark quality that speaks of a woman’s voice in many of the tales. Some have been recast by male writers who have collected them and written them down. Some have a more embellished voice. Some have been stripped of racier elements, harsher elements. Some have an appended lesson. Some seem overly romantic versions of their grittier sisters. I sense in the realism and absurdism of the wilder tales a woman’s voice of what it means to be a woman in a man’s world and how one must resolve to be resilient, resourceful, wise, cunning, full of spirit.
I like to think I might understand, finally, something about fairy tales because on the eve of my forty eighth birthday I think I finally understand the value of wildness, individuality, a free spirit. It is in the story of Job confronting God in all of his sufferings and God providing no direct answer, no direct reason, only a catalogue of his wonders. God, an unpredictably free spirit and vast, full of love and mystery. It is like that, she said (Me, speaking to you, of God, of suffering, of that which we cannot predict or control, of the wildness of spirit embodied in the most unpredictable of tales, and at last, all of our own divergent tales and voices.) A person who is 48, 49, 60, 35, 18, 70 or whatever age who has encountered a wild wood in their experience, a menacing troll, an embittered stepmother, a greedy lover, a witch, an empty misleading temptation has encountered the tale of their lives. Most of us have encountered quite a few of these and more.
When I was a girl, my family went on “Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disney and from that time on, the memory of it was invoked to describe any particularly wild driving experience or traveling experience or anything unpredictable at all. To me, this is the essence of a fairy tale: A wild ride. We have television shows in the modern world which serve as the evening fires and narrators both but they are dim reflections of the tales of our ancestors who faced life in the teeth. When we can let go of our demand for logical sequences, we can more fully face life as it really is, ripping away the scrim that protects us from realities. When we let go of our demand for logical sequences, we can more fully enter a dream state, we can be taken, captured, enchanted, relieved for a moment of our defenses and need for control.
I felt lonely one night and so I turned to The Blue Book on Libri Vox and I allowed someone I didn’t know to tell me a story. I tried receiving it as a child and thought I did not accomplish this perfectly as my mind drifted back to my worries or I began to “not see the point.” I began to realize I wasn’t “doing it right.” There is a way to relate to that which is wild and unpredictable. It is allow yourself to be unpredictable too. Stop making so much sense. I wonder if there is freedom in that.