Z: Isn’t it interesting how folk tales from so many different cultures feature two young lovers with the whole world against them and their love…
H: Like Hades and Persephone!
Z: NO. Kidnapping is not how relationships work, Haneen.
H: I think Hades and Persephone’s story reminds me of Beauty and the Beast.
Z: NO. There is an element of Stockholm’s syndrome in both but that’s where it ends. I recently came across an unusual take on Romeo and Juliet. The idea was that Shakespeare was not writing about star-crossed lovers, but about family pressure inciting rebellion. He was highlighting how kids are so focused on what their parents don’t want them to do that they lose sight of whether it’s really something they themselves want…
H: That’s brilliant- i.e. their desire to do something comes from a negative reaction rather than a positive, creative impetus.
Z: And it’s very easy, apparently, to confuse that kind of rebellion for ‘love’.
H: If you take up a South-Asian folk-tale like Heer-Ranjha for example, the story shows how Heer comes from a family of landowners, while Ranjha is a lowly servant. He becomes estranged from his brothers after some inheritance dispute and wanders into another village where Heer’s father employs him as a shepherd. The entire problem that Heer’s family has with their romance is that they don’t want their daughter interacting with someone so far beneath their social stratum. What strikes me here is the common thread between issues in all these seemingly different stories, passed down the ages. Maybe this is what really immortalizes these stories. Human problems have always been around. It’s easy to pick out the differences between young people in different parts of the world today, in terms of the choices and opportunities available to them, but the similarities too are so striking. With Heer-Ranjha, they both die in the end. On the face of it, it’s a tragedy- that’s why perhaps it was so poignant to those who retold it in the first place.
H: But if we dig deeper, we see how it implies Death not as a symbol of an End but the symbol of a Beginning- it’s the only state where they can be together.
Z: So you’re saying it kind of ends on a hopeful note?
H: Yes! Notice how such characters are often said to have been seen wandering together as ghosts, inseparable. Like Anarkali, who was bricked up for falling in love with a prince…
Z: Yes I agree; maybe our discussion of whether it is rebellion or love doesn’t apply to these kinds of stories because this type of emotion has a transcendental quality about it… I think that is actually sweet- it does come up a lot in South Asian folk-tales. BUT, now that we’ve talked about folk-tales and reached out to everyone’s finer emotions, let’s talk about how some fairy tales are very, very silly.
H: Let’s talk about the Scottish Snow-White; Princess Gold-Tree. The one who had a bit of sense, or so I want to believe.
Z: Oh yes! She was the one who realized that she had better get away from the stepmother in the first place.
H: She knew enough to be suspicious of the evil looks.
Z: And lock herself away-
H: -which didn’t work.
Z: Notice how the Princes are useless in Every. Single. Fairytale.
H: Unless it’s the Cinderella Guy.
H: He ended up going up to every single woman in town with that shoe!
Z: But HOW DUMB do you have to be not to remember a girl’s face? Why do you have to rely on the fact that she might be the only girl in the entire city who wears a size, what, 4? 3?
H: In his defence-
Z: He HAS no defence. In fact, in the original Cinderella story he meets her multiple times! That is SO MUCH worse.
H: To play the devil’s advocate- he still worked harder than all the rest of them put together! Imagine how much patience would be needed to fit a glass slipper on hundreds of ladies.
Z: You know what the creepy thing is though, in the Snow White original story, the prince comes across her glass case, and his first reaction is ‘Servants! Pick that girl up! She’s gorgeous, we’re taking her home!’ I’m bringing a dead body home with me. Basically, the apple in her throat gets jolted in the process and he goes ‘Whoo! Bonus!’
H: How about Little Red Riding Hood? What does the world have against wolves?
Z: Everyone has something against wolves. I think the wolf starts it on several occasions… but yes, why isn’t it any other wild animal? Why isn’t it the fox, the trickster, or the big bad bear? Oh I think that answers the question! The wolf is a good transition point between the psychology of the fox and big intimidating physique of the bear. See, the wolf did not just attack Red Riding Hood right away when he saw her- that’s more how a bear thinks. It’s not a bear personality. It’s a mix between the fox who enjoys tricking people, and the bear’s bulk- making the wolf worrying on both counts. I think they were trying to make up a charming stranger who leaves a nagging worry in the back of your mind.
H: The idea I’m getting is, that the ‘villainy’ is not about the evil character quickly achieving his end, quickly killing off, or stealing; it’s about playing a game.
Z: In Sleeping Beauty too, the evil fairy doesn’t simply respond to not being invited to the party by enacting revenge then and there, but sets up an elaborate scheme that will lead to, literally, nineteen years of fretting! That’s just mind games, isn’t it?
H: In Rapunzel too, and Rumpelstiltskin… Using someone’s desperation to nab them of their child…
Z: There’s a lot of ‘give me your first-born’ in these stories, isn’t there? I find it interesting, because when the couple have no children it’s always ‘give me your first-born’. But if there are several, it’s always the youngest brother who manages to go and rescue his two older bothers AND save the princess AND slay the wizard or the dragon or whatever. So SURELY you should ask for their third-born. For consistency’s sake. That’s the luckier child.
H: Nobody thinks of that. Incidentally, on the subject of wolves, I don’t think we have many animals in stories. Lots in fables, but I can’t think of any other animals that play the antagonist in fairy tales. I mean in the Goldilocks story the three bears were kind of… cool with the girl trashing their house.
Z: … no they weren’t. Not at all.
H: Well they went on to be okay with it. Because she started living with them later on!
Z: No. No. I just- What have you been reading? I feel you have a very… disturbing collection of folk tales in here somewhere, where everything ends with ‘breaking into someone’s place and making yourself at home is fine because they’ll be okay with it in the end. Kidnapping’s okay because she’ll love you in the end.’ It’s probably called The Stalker’s Guide to Daily Life.
H: As long as everyone’s okay in the end, which may even be after they’re dead?
Z: They ARE going to be okay with it, you have NOTHING to worry about. ‘They boarded up their door because they REALLY want you to come in through the window’. ‘She’s screaming because she’s falling for you’.
H: Fine. I’m just saying that in the version I read they were just all hanging out. And in the end she kept visiting them, and eventually she spent so much time with them she decided to move in.
Z: And were they all okay in the end?
Z: You read weird books is all I’m saying!
H: I would like to point out that the person judging my weirdness is the one who’s been writing strange limericks about these fairy tales while we’ve been talking… which we’ll leave you dear readers with until next week.
There once was a girl called Snow-White
Who passed out from an Apple-y bite.
She learned, as you should,
Fruits are not all that good-
But alas, she was not all that bright.
Young Goldilocks was very peckish
And when it came to chairs she was wreckish
She started to snore
But fled out the door
Before she got it in the neckish.
A word on the wolf, the poor dear,
His villainy’s all that we hear.
But against the wood-cutter,
Not a word do we utter,
Or of pigs with a fine building career.