Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Final Installment of Only in a Fairy Tale

Only in a Fairy Tale:

Discerning the Form through the Art of Illustration

Part 5

“Physicalization of Emotion”

In part 4 it was put forth that fairy tales are filled with violence and brutality.  But why the violence and physical pain?  What is the point? Is it bad for children to be exposed to this?  Bruno Bettelheim once said that “Since ancient times, the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious.”  Thus, many have agreed with Bettelheim that fairy tales are ripe with desires and dreams and are a world where psychological traumas take center stage.  But what does this have to do with violence, especially since our psychology is so internal rather than external?

Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm, explains this perplexity with the phrase “turning tears into blood”.  In The Seven Ravens illustration, Rackham gives viewers the exact moment where the sister has almost made it to her brothers, but she has come face to face with a locked door to which she has lost the key.  Her solution is not to go back or to ask for help, she literally cuts off her finger and this magically serves as a key to open the door.  Thus, all the love she holds for her brothers, her fears and hopes coalesce in this painful sacrifice to save her brothers.  Gidwitz thus claims that scenes like this take place because, “forests are where our fears turn into wolves, our desires into candy houses…where the emotional problems we face…are physicalized, externalized, and ultimately conquered. Where tears are transformed into blood.” Thus, fairy tales and their illustrations, take all of these unknown, confusing, uncomfortable and abstract feelings and transform them into terms children know all to well, physical pain.  And they slowly realize that if cuts and bruises eventually heal, then perhaps their emotional trauma will one day heal too.

To see more of Adam's thoughts on fairy tales check out his post here and his website:

Hope you enjoyed this five part series on fairy tales!!

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