Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fairy Tales and Fantasy Novels

What traditional fairy tales share with modern fantasy novels, if anything, is usually the scenario of placing a normal person in a strange environment, forcing him or her to make choices that will lead to either a good outcome, or (more rarely) not. This normal person doesn’t have to be a human from our own modern world. She or he can be a cobbler or a fishwife or an inn-keeper that belongs to a kind of imaginary society (of the writer’s invention)—or a hobbit, for that matter—pulled into a place where the normal rules don’t apply, where the magic of legend and lore is fully alive, or where wits are needed to escape an unusual dilemma.

Unusual … and yet the wonder and power of a novel, as opposed to a fairy tale, is the opportunity to explore at much greater length some aspect of the human condition that we all share. (Some of the best fairy tales do something like this in a very short span.) So a reader sitting in an electrically heated or cooled house who has never hunted boar in the woods can identify with the hero on horseback facing down a prodigious creature he’s dreamed of slaying and being slain by. And part of the reason we can identify with such a hero is that most of us, at the end of the day, are (on the face of it, at least) normal, unimportant people, who find ourselves facing forces larger than ourselves. The setting of the story is part of the magic by which we can vicariously face our own large and small foes, whatever they are, and imagine how we might respond like—or unlike—the hero of the tale.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...