Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale – Intended (sometimes) for children, this type of moralizing narrative often includes talking animals and magical plants—making it essentially a subset of fable–parable. The fairy tale has a long, rich tradition, courtesy of fairy-fanatics such as the Brothers Grimm, Lafcadio Hearn, Tim Burton, and Neil Gaiman. We know the genre when we encounter it: Monstrous talking animals and witches trick children; burly peasants and ignorant orphans save the day.

My problem with the fairy tale as a genre has always been that its terms are essentially only those of the fable blown up. A successful fable (or historical–anecdotal allegory) can do its business in a paragraph or page, yet I’ve often read Russian fairy tales to my girlfriend at night only to find that they are too long by far to finish in an hour. Why does “Baba Yaga” require so many illogical gifts and tricks and monsters-defeated and chicken-huts-out-ran? Why do we need a succession of twelve random bizarre acts of violence to get the idea that the Wolf is not going to help the Woodcutter but eat him, one limb at a time?

The incantatory lists and unending quests resemble those found in myths but serve no mythic purpose; the fairy tale often exaggerates and bloats (like Tetsuo) to no ultimate end. Characters die or succeed at random, and we are left feeling brutalized, raped by hollow symbols and signifiers whose connections are neither rich nor connective. The fairy tale geographies are populated by a whole United Nations of beasts and innocents, and yet the stories set there, the stories employing these creatures do not add up to anything. The fairy tale, in toto, is the simulacrum of the myth, the myth’s dark shadow.

Where Dante finds a devil and various famous sinners and ultimately his love (his Lolita), in a fairy tale we find beans and a dumb-ass animal and a magic feather and an arbitrary goal. Go to such-and-such a land and find a wife. Check. We never learn why we wanted a wife, why we were happy with the wife, or why the random obstacles had to be overcome. No one grew. Nothing happened. The story of the fairy tale can be flattened down to a zero: Nothing happened.

Seinfeld, in this way, was a fairy tale: It served no purpose of moral (it was not a fable or parable); it pretended to describe real people such as Jerry Seinfeld via simulacra such as “Jerry Seinfeld” (implying we each create for ourselves “Wythe Marschalls” and “yous” and “your dads” and other doppelgangers of consciously-chosen identity, created by and understood via media—which was all great, psycho-societally, but not four-function mythic); its challenges and rewards were arbitrary and illusory, consisting only of jokes, pure schadenfreude. In the same way that the fairy-tale hero gets everything for nothing, the “heroes” of Seinfeld got nothing, despite having good jobs, friends, looks, wit, whatever.

For reasons of hyperbole and illogic and moral turpitude (comparable on to the gnostical turpitude that gets Nabokov’s hero in trouble in Invitation to a Beheading, a Surrealist allegory), fairy tales represent not an evolution from the fable-parable-anecdote, but a sideways step away from them. Fairy tales typically don’t ask characters to stand in for “biographical” personages; the King is usually just an archetype, “the rich guy in charge,” not a specific send-up or break-down of a “real” (apocryphal, anecdotal, historical, or biographical) king.

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