Tag Archives: folklore

A Grimm Day

I just learned from today’s very fun and interactive Google doodle (which you should go and check out, pronto) that it is the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen, more commonly simply called Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

You inevitably know these tales: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, The Brave Little Tailor, Cinderella, The Girl Without Hands (well, Renate knows it, anyway), The Elves and the Shoemaker, Tom Thumb, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumpelstilksin, and many, many more. They were gathered by the Grimm brothers from friends and family and nannies and any source they could find. They believed that the poorer the teller, the purer the form of the story, that these stories were a living link with some sort of primeval Germanic (or Indo-European) heritage.

Some of these are known from other sources. Cinderella was first published in French before the Grimm brothers. The Girl Without Hands is known from a Latvian book of fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin is popular in Ukraine. Thus the cross-fertilisation of stories amongst the peoples of Europe. Whether these fairy tales actually represent some early, primeval stage of our culture, who can say?

Anyway, these stories have become imprinted on our consciousness. Perhaps they tell us deep things about our psyche we do not normally know. But they have influenced our storytelling and, no doubt, the invention of fantasy, especially as they were a major influence in Victorian folklorism and scrambling to discover the ‘authentic’, the old stories, the roots of our modern peoples, leading in some cases to Gothic Revival, in others to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in other times to Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market‘ or to George MacDonald’s fairy tales and The Princess and the Goblin.*

Inevitably, then, to fantasy. To Tolkien. To Lewis. Also, of course, to Tchaikovsky. Then to Disney.

The fairytales have been told and retold time and again, usually for children, usually sanitised — although they’d already been sanitised by Jacob and Wilhelm!

Anyway, go grab a selection and read a few. I’m a fan. Hopefully you will be too.

*I recently started A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James, whence comes much of this knowledge.

Q is a space fairy

I recently watched the “top 1o” episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (‘TNG’; as listed here).  Two of these episodes featured the character Q (played by John de Lancie).  Q is there at the beginning and at the end of TNG.  He is a being of great power, almost beyond limits.

He (and possibly the whole Q Continuum?) put humanity on trial for being a “dangerous, savage child-race.”  Q made the USS Enterprise-D fly all the way to the ‘Delta’ Quadrant where they encountered the Borg (the journey at full speed would take several decades; Q brought them there in a moment).  Q could make people travel through time (or seem to), create scenarios right before their very eyes that seemed very real, snatch people right off their starships — basically, mess around with how human beings interacted with what, for us, is a stable space-time continuum.

Q is also responsible for Lt. Worf’s line, “I am not a merry man!” (see it here!)

But what is Q?  I think he’s a fairy.  Trek will probably tell us that he is a highly-evolved being with powers to control things and perceptions that we, too, may some day develop.  I think, though, that he’s a fairy.  The things he does are basically magic, after all.

But not only is Q essentially a magical being, he is also capricious.  Star Trek likes to have evolved beings with, in the words of Capt. Picard in Star Trek: First Contact, “an evolved sensibility.”  Q lacks this.  But why should he mirror a more highly evolved version of human ethics and good behaviour?

Fairies don’t.

And by fairies I mean those “dancing companies of Longaevi who haunt woods, glades, and groves, and lakes and springs and brooks; whose names are Pans, Fauns . . . . Satyrs, Silvans, Nymphs . . .’*  I mean the Sidhe.  I mean elves.  I mean leprechauns.  I mean the Gentry, the Children of Dana, Puck, Auberon, kelpies, wood-sprites, brownies, the Dagda, the man with the thistle-down hair and so on.  Not “little twinkly guys” who live in your garden.  Beings of great power who can perform, often with ease, what we consider “magic”, but — if you recall Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, they don’t really get what we mean by that.

Fairies are capricious.  They do things for their own realm, for themselves, not for us.  For example, to resuscitate a young woman recently deceased, a fairy may take her pinky finger.  This finger will give her a link to the realm of the Sidhe, and she will spend her nights dancing in an endless ball, never sleeping.  Or someone accidentally stumbles into a fairy ring.  He dances, has a jolly good time, finally escapes the dance, and finds it’s 200 years later.  Poor soul.  Or they’ll turn your head into that of an ass.  For fun.

They don’t operate the way humans do.  Fairies operate by their own ethics, morals, and so forth.  They sometimes play tricks on us — “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”  They sometimes use us for their own ends.  They sometimes exact a terrible price for something that seems relatively trivial to us.  They sometimes do great, magnificent things for us for no apparently good reason or benefit to them.  They operate by their own whims.  They are, then, whimsical.

Q plays games with Capt. Picard.  He says that this enables him to see how humans act much better than confrontation, and gives insight mere observation never can.  He also, as mentioned, puts humanity on trial.  He does things to Picard to show Picard insights into his own life.  He is capricious.  He is whimsical.

Q is a fairy.  A powerful being who is not God/a god who does things to humans for his own pleasure and for reasons humans do not always perceive.  He is whimsical.  He is a space fairy.

*CS Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, 122, quoting Martianus Capella.