(6/5/01 8:41:35 pm)
| the importance of stories|
I think we all agree that stories are important. Reading the discussion on Lewis and Narnia, I was struck by the strength and variety of responses. My question is: why do you all think that stories are so important to us? Further, why does the suggestion that these stories may be changed garner such strong reactions? I have my own theories on the matter, but I am very curious as to the insight of others into this subject.
(6/5/01 10:15:41 pm)
| Re: the importance of stories|
I don't want to say as much about the importance of stories although they are indescribably important to me. I think the Lewis discussion is more about characters and a specific universe. After all, one of the things I do on SurLaLune is list beloved interpretations of some classic stories--fairy tales. However, often the fairy tales are part of our culture and folklore and are not as specific about characters. They provide so much scope for the imagination.
My issue is usually when we are dealing with specific characters by recent authors, such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Margaret Mitchell, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, etc. If you want to get really general, we can even include the TV-tie in series such as for Star Trek and Star Wars. These characters were (usually) well-developed to begin with. I think as readers we often relate to the author and see the characters through our own and his/her eyes. When someone else starts to enter into the universe and write, especially without direct involvement from the creator of the universe, characters change and don't feel the same--they do things we don't envision or agree with through our own understanding of the characters, for example. And sometimes, the writing is much poorer quality, too. I think of the "Gone With the Wind" sequels in particular. We can become confused, disillusioned, disappointed, betrayed, whatever. Did we see the character in the wrong light or did this new interpretation? Of course, there isn't a wrong or right way, there is just your way and their way. But it still can rattle the teeth in your head.
Yet we usually clamor for more anyway. Then we read it despite the high chances of being disappointed. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. I haven't found a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" that I have liked, for example. Everyone always portrays Darcy much more harshly than I envision him and I get frustrated. Or they make him a shadowy figure who is not very present in Lizzie's life--not what I imagine after the flirtatious ending in P&P. On the other hand, for fun, I do enjoy Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries. Her vision of Austen is similar enough to my own to be enjoyable.
I never have this same kind of "shock" reaction when reading the wonderful interpretations of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, etc. They are beloved, but I find myself enjoying them almost as stereotypes that are either fulfilled, explored, or blown up in the interpretations.
I also don't mind books written in the same universe by a different author but focused on minor characters, for example. My visions of the characters are enhanced, not threatened.
I know it all sounds contradictory, but it is the best way I can describe it right now.
By the way, I have this same problem with series television. As writers change, the characters change and often not in ways that make sense, just ways that add more drama. That is one reason why I like the definite length series that are often produced and shown in other countries. Characters are allowed to change but they usually follow a more natural route of progression or regression. They are also not required to return to the status quo by the end of the show. Star Trek is especially notorious for this, except for perhaps in the final season. On TV, no major character ever gets married or does anything really life changing except at the beginning or the end of a series for ratings or when an actor is about to leave the show. It feels false. Yes, it keeps marketing happy and viewers less confused since the average viewer sees less than half a season, but it also makes for at least one disgruntled viewer--me!
(6/6/01 11:15:35 am)
You are apt to point out how the questions change emotionally for the reader when particular characters, the creation of particular authors, are brought into the count. I really think that this conversation is more about reading and readers than it is about the potential artistic validity of certain fictions.
I'm not going to add much here, except to point to my recent post on the Narnia/Lewis string, about reading as an act of self-creation. So new versions of stories we remember with nostalgia and innocence can feel threatening to some idea of our self, whether those new versions involve new characters, authors, plot lines or simply packaging (a new cover on Harriet the Spy struck fear in my heart!). These new texts do create anxiety and crisis, an event which is important and useful to analyze philosophically. What is the relationship between reading and self-creating, and are we in a moment of potential trouble with books' future, should we fail to inspect the relationship between readers and book with the proper seriousness? (Many believe we are, though I take a less terrorized stance.) (And, art critics have discussed these issues for decades, though differently of course.) People like Johanna Drucker who study 'the book' have written eloquently about this, in a totally accessible manner.
Sorry to repeat myself here!
(6/6/01 3:51:13 pm)
| issues of access|
Maybe it has much to do with a sense of ownership or possession. In a way, the company/group of people making the new versions or stories have outbid you and now they're able to insert the badge of their ownership (a new cover, for instance) into the breach between you and 'your' story. Hence, the fan's feelings of powerlessness, of having her access to the text seriously curtailed. It's a bit like waking up one morning to discover that a block of flats or townhouses has been magically built across the road from your house during the night. You don't, technically, own the whole street, but you still feel that a degree of infringement has taken place.
(6/12/01 8:53:59 pm)
| Re: the importance of stories|
Thanks for the responses; I find them insightful. I would agree that much of it has to do with a sense of ownership, however I would take it a step further and say that it is a question of identity as well.
Stories occupy an interesting position in human culture. The stories of any given society provide the structural framework in whic they view the world, and by extension their place in it, and by further extension self-identity.
Further, I would suggest that our particular society has grown so complex and stratified as to cause the development of personal mythologies. These bear a certain similarity to what Stanislav Grof has termed coex systems, and are composed of series of stories linked in our psyches that have particular importance.
These would be composed not only of biographical events that have specific significance to us, but also stories that we have experienced, whatever the medium. The key here is Resonance. Not every story we experience becomes part of these personal mythologies, but specifically those that strike a chord within us, resonate within us...
If I may narrow my initial question, what do you think it is about fairy tales, specifically, the stories, patterns, motifs, cycles, that strike this particular resonance?
Any replies anyone cares to make would be welcome.
(6/14/01 4:58:30 am)
| Importance of Stories|
On the importance of stories themselves, and fairy tales in particular: I have an article half-developed on the story as healing art. It sprang from an observation on many of the stories comprising "The Arabian Nights" (including, most obviously, Sherazade & the caliph), in which the act of telling stories is curative. It heals, soothes, makes reparations, changes the minds of executioners, and shows us at the same time what comes of foolish behavior. There is an undercurrent of this in fairy tales, not always obvious or in your face, but rather operating on some nearly subliminal level. The "happy ever after" ending on the surface seems improbable, and we in the time of overwhelming divorce rates and shallow relationships have long since concluded that no such thing exists; but it may speak as much to the idea of something having been fixed or healed, something that was broken having been mended. That doesn't even begin to cover characters who appeal to us, but it may have something to do with the resonance you mention. It also might just be another way of addressing the notion of that Jungian collective of archetypes, symbols and signs. It just happens to be something I'm wrestling with at the moment.
(6/14/01 6:39:08 am)
| Re: the importance of stories|
I also find stories can be prophetic, especially in dealing with the realm of fairy tale and other genres that work with more fantastic elements (ie sci-fi) b/c they are not as restricted to dealing w/common place characters and concepts of reality/normality leaving more room for speculation, imagination and the illogical. Because of this freedom, fairy tales can often tap into latent or marginalized values in present day society, and some of those values and ideas tend to surface in the future, either on a collective or individual level.
Edited by: isthmus nekoi at: 6/14/01 6:42:15 am
(6/19/01 11:13:21 am)
| Importance of stories|
I gotta chime in here before the thread goes south.
I cherish certain versions of stories the same way I cherish classical music done by a certain orchestra or soloist. In interpretations of classical music you get everything from Peking duck to Kraft dinner. Same with well known tales and anything that's gone out of copyright or the copyright is licenced.
The greatest pity is when a kid's first intro to a tale is a poor Disneyfied (Kraft dinner) version. (Not that I don't like simplified versions of things when they're well done, 'cause I do.)
I have no problem with someone taking over characters created by well-known writers, C.S. Lewis or George MacDonald, or whoever. (We'd never have movies or plays from their works otherwise.) I just object when the writer is less of an artist than the original author.
Put it this way, I can make pasta and sauce from scratch in the same amount of time as Kraft dinner. Hence, I speak with my dollars and don't buy Kraft dinner.
(6/20/01 4:49:10 pm)
| Re: Importance of stories|
I'm fairly new to this list, and a bit shy about posting. But, I'll be brave, since this is a topic I ponder a great deal. I believe stories give us a sense of our humanity. In other words, language and its uses make us human. Our histories,
our ideologies, the way we search for the past, for art, for truth, they are all grounded in stories, which are essentially metaphors, etc. You could also be extreme in this and wonder if humanity died, became extinct, would the world still exist? <smiling> Those are those Bayer aspirin thoughts.
And this can be applied to gender studies, political studies, and so forth. And about that fairy tale person. I'd be the witch in Rapunzel. But I'd like a broom too. Great discussion board. Jane Harrison
(6/21/01 11:02:07 pm)
| Re: Importance of stories|
I think Jane makes an excellent point with metaphor. It seems to me one of the keys to understanding story; it is never so much the story itself as what it means.
Consider: words have no intrinsic value in and of themselves. They are, rather, metaphors for objects, ideas, concepts. String them together in sentences and stories and the potential metaphor expands in proportion!
Gregor9, I'm really interested in hearing more about the article you're working on.