AS Byatt on fairy tales

From Saturday’s guardian (I’m loving the digital edition, more on which another time.)

It’s a lovely read and no apologies for pulling out lots of quotes:

The interconnected world of the fairy tale:

“The best single description I know of the world of the fairy tale is that of Max Lüthi who describes it as an abstract world, full of discrete, interchangeable people, objects and incidents, all of which are isolated and are nevertheless interconnected, in a kind of web or network of two-dimensional meaning. Everything in the tales appears to happen entirely by chance – and this has the strange effect of making it appear that nothing happens by chance, that everything is fated.”

Fairy stories have rules:

“An all-important part of our response to the world of the tales is our instinctive sense that they have rules. There are things that can and can’t happen, will and won’t happen… Lüthi brilliantly compares the glittering mosaic of fairy tales to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. As a little girl I compared it in my mind to the pleasures of Ludo and Snakes and Ladders and Solitaire played with cards, in which only certain moves are possible and the restrictions are part of the pleasure. As an adult writer I think that my infant synapses grew like a maze of bramble-shoots into a grammar of narrative – part of the form of my neuronal web as linguistic grammars are – and mathematical forms.”

On Calvino, and the inifinties that can lie in finite rulespaces:

“Italo Calvino, in his lecture “Cybernetics and Ghosts”, makes the inevitable connection between storytelling and myth. He describes the storyteller of the tribe telling about the younger son getting lost in the forest: “He sees a light in the distance, he walks and walks; the fable unwinds from sentence to sentence, and where is it leading?” To a new apprehension which “suddenly appears and tears us to pieces, like the fangs of a man- eating witch. Through the forest of fairy tale the vibrancy of myth passes like a shudder of wind.” Calvino himself knew a great deal about the workings of the stopped-off, rule-constructed tale, but he also knew that it is haunted by the unmanageable, the vast and the dangerous.”

Finally, on the power of stories:

“We should beware of what stories can do to the way we put the world together. We live in a world very far from woods , castles, and gibbets. We live in a world of urban myths – alligators in sewers, grandmothers on car-roofs, and a burgeoning virtual world of gossip and storytelling, real and fantastic, on the web.”

I want to find out more about how we play with stories and why. Marina Warner’s book is something I’m going to be reading in January/February I hope.

Any other pointers?

» Guardian Review: AS Byatt: “Happy ever after”

0 comments
  1. Dave Pollard has been writing about the power of stories too:

  2. Melissa Diskin said:

    I love the stories themselves. Reading Robin McKinley’s “Beauty”, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, changed my life at 13. Her retellings have deepened and grown darker over the years. And nothing could have prepared me for Melvin Burgess’s “Bloodtide”, a post-apocalyptic rebirth of the Volsung saga.

    Melissa

  3. David Jarvis said:

    Hello Matt, can’t believe you *like* the Guardian Digital Edition. The interface sucks in every way!
    DJ

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