Friday, August 11, 2006

G K Chesterton and the Wisdom of Fairy Tales

I loved reading fairy tales as a small child and it was with great pleasure when many years later I read that my favourite author and thinker, G. K. Chesterton, had had very much affection for them too and believed them a source of great wisdom:

"According to elfin ethics all virtue is in an ‘if.’ The note of the fairy utterance always is, ‘You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word "cow"’; or ‘You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden."

Chesterton believed that all people were specially shaped to experience the joy of being alive, but that happiness was ultimately something that had to be accomplished. It is conditional on our capacity to experience it - a capacity that can be naturally trained like any other.

Fairy tales teach us to feel wonder for ordinary things - rivers running with wine remind us of the marvel of rivers running with water, talking flowers reflect the beauty of all flowers and golden apples are as wonderful for being apples as for being made of gold.

In the end, the test of all happiness is gratitude - an appreciation of the little, everyday things that make up the fabric of each human life.


memorymike1 said...

Fairy tales can be invented for the purpose of transmitting information across cultures and through time. I have developed a system of pattern recognition in some ways similar to how you use your mind. I make up stories to "hold the patterns" in mind. These stories, told over decades, in a pre TV world would evolve into a fanciful tale. The more magic and mystery that we weave into the stories, the more unique they become. This makes them more memorable.

Anonymous said...

Fairy tales are, rather, an attempt to capture childhood. They are multi-layered in that they also embody some of our deepest fears and still dominate popular storytelling.

With all due respect I think Chesterton's definition (at least the one quoted here) is far too vague. It can as easily be applied to myth and that's what I think he is confusing it with.

Merc said...

Hi,丹尼尔, or Dan;
I read your story from a Chinese blog. ( Is that true that you could not feel other people's feeling? Is that true that you desperately looking for friends but you don't know how when you were a kid? How about right now? Since you already have so many people around you, do you still feel that way? I think I understand your feeling; it must be very very painful...I can be your friends even though my English sucks and I am not very good at math. But I know it must be very painful inside of if you want to, I'd love to be your friend. Hopefully I can talk with you in Chinese one day! ( I heard you are so good at learning languages)

Anonymous said...

Hello. I am very interested in intelligence and human skills. I am very into biology and such.

I saw the documentary about you and I was very interested, if that is the word, in your skill and your person. Are there any ways of contacting you? I know I have just about nothing to offer you back, other from talking to you, but I would be pleased just to speak with you and try getting explained whatever is going on in your brain, though you might have experinced that several times.

By the way, I am from Denmark and I am 18 years old.

Good luck in future with everything, even if you don't answer me :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Daniel, from Kaz
I read abut you in the Sunday Times, your book is now on my list to get.

I like to see the ordinary, it helps with my depression. I love to walk in nature, to see the trees, the leaves, the birds, clouds, absolutely everything. I love insects. It gives me a new world, which I know most people don't even notice, just like the Elves.

Anonymous said...

If you like fairy tales, check out Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes in which he puts a twist on common fairy tales.

It's really kewl :)

You can look them up on Wikipedia too.

Jimbo said...

That's an interesting point from memorymike1, I had not thought of that before. Although it is a commonly known fact that music was developed as an aid to remember important tales so that the knowledge from each tribe of people could be passed from generation to generation.

Maybe fairy tales are a way of singing without the need for a melody? Their rich outlandinsh description provides such a vivid interpretation that the message conveyed does not leave the mind easily.

Anonymous said...

For Daniel,

Last night, I heard your interview on BBC (I'm in Seattle). I thought your insight about the lack of thought in the world was very interesting. You said there is a "cease fire" on thought and that people are not using their abilities to think. I agree....but it sounded so important and perceptive coming from you.

I am an athiest and I wonder how you feel Christianity can be justified. ???? I don't get it. I think religion tends to stop thought. It seems to me that religion is normally a system of social control. It is based on myth and the desire to provide a sense of security.