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Registered User
(1/3/06 3:20 pm)
Help please! Looking for fairy tales with ecological themes
Hi all :)

I'm a doing a thesis on the ecological messages present in fairy tales, myths and children's literature. I'm working on the assumption that as suggested by freud, jung, bettelheim and many other psychoanalysts, fairy tales are an important tool for teaching children about socialisation, survival etc. I will be looking at fairy tales and children's stories (along with other mediums through which children learn about the world) and trying to see whether there is a connection between the messages therein, and the prevailing attitude of carelesness when it comes to the world's current ecological crisis. I think that because these stories are intended as a way to instruct children about morals etc, they might make for an interesting study of how we relate to the environment.
I'm basically looking for any fairy tale that has an obvious ecological message, whether it promotes good or bad behavior - for example, the goldilocks story could be said to teach children that its ok to be ruthless aggressors, taking whatever they want from nature (the bears), whereas the "3 little pigs tale" teaches children about long term thinking.
Pls contribute your ideas, I'd love to have your input :D

Registered User
(1/4/06 9:00 am)
Re: Help please! Looking for fairy tales with ecological the
Ecology (as a science) came about well after many of these tales were written, so such an interpretation would be reading in something that wasn't there. The typical messages of fairy tales deal more with social interactions and moral behavior.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(1/4/06 11:57 am)
creation myth?
I remember coming across something that seemed unusually clearly an ecological thing. It was a summary of a tale from Ukraine? Some former USSR country? I'm not sure whether it was a summary of a maarchen or the last stages of a creation myth. I seem to remember it in connection with Philip Pullman....

Usually, rather than the biological interdependence, 'web of life', sort of thing we're conscious of, the message seems to be about respect and compassion for individual animals one meets: the hero turns his horse aside so it doesn't trample an anthill, for example. And then the grateful animals turn up in unexpected places and have skills to offer when the hero needs them.

I think it was "The Queen Bee" where the hero was not only kind to the animals himself, but actively stopped his brothers from mistreating them (or destroying their nests for sport).

At one time there were theories that because of the respect shown to animals (and seeing animals as having intelligence equal to men's and all speaking a common language), these tales might have originated in Hindu or Buddhist countries. I think that origin is no longer accepted, but the stories cited (both European and Asian) might be worth looking at.

Certainly there is plenty of environmentalist ethic in Lewis and Tolkien, and they were drawing on old faerie sources. Kipling had fairies 'flytting' because they didn't like the pollution.; nor of course 'cold iron'. I expect there are similar themes in William Morris and others.

aka Greensleeves
Registered User
(1/4/06 12:55 pm)
Re: creation myth?
How are we defining "ecology?" Fairy tales certainly betray an attitude toward the enviroment--often that The Woods are dangerous and scary. This is largely metaphorical, but it also reflects a recurring fear of Europeans going back centuries. Wilderness is infinite, dark, dangerous; and it's safest for everybody if we conquer it, name it, rein it in, chop it down, kill the wolves, etc.

"Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel and Gretel" are perfect models of this, but I think almost any tale where going out into the world and facing dangers outside the safe circle of home and village (vs domestic-centered tales like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Rumpelstiltskin") centers prominently will take you there.

Edited by: aka Greensleeves at: 1/4/06 12:58 pm
Unregistered User
(1/4/06 9:07 pm)
I don't know whether this is more anthropological than you're looking for, but my first thought was Keith Basso's book, Wisdom Sits in Places, about Western Apache narratives. Stories are tied to specific points on the landscape, and the Apache community Basso researches maps local geography with narratives. There's a reaccurring theme of knowing the stories/land in order to be right and moral people. Basso talks about "stalking with stories," as his particpants describe using stories of place to put others in their place. Older people complain of young people who have moved to the city, forgotten the stories/land, and lost their moral roots, because "the land looks after people." I don't think it's too much of a stretch to understand ecology as reverence for nature, and there's no shortage of folktales about that... though I might be thinking more of stories from America and Oceania than traditional European fairy tales.
... afterthought, wasn't someone on the board talking about pagan themes in Cinderella, sacred tree-mothers and so forth?

Registered User
(1/6/06 11:34 am)
Disney's pocohontas...whilst not really and truely a Ferngully.
There was a song we used to sing I do not know what its origins are...possibly of native american origin...
'Long ago when the world was new
the grass swayed green and the skies were blue
And the fishes swam in the silver stream
And the world spun round in a timeless dream
And the rainbow warrior
Smiled to see That the earth was *something*
And its people free

Drum Drum beat the drum and the rainbow warrior he will come.'

It continues along the lines of the white man came with guns and killed all the men and the animals and the world succumbs to pollution and industrialisation and the rainbow warrior becomes more and more unhappy until he doesn't come anymore.

Registered User
(1/6/06 1:16 pm)
Re: Help please! Looking for fairy tales with ecological the
The Strange Tale of the Princes of the Lost City

Unregistered User
(1/8/06 10:03 am)
John Ruskin King of the Golden River
Ruskin's anti-industrialist, pro-worker perspective is obvious in this lovely tale of restoring the land/river and harmonious relationship between the land and those who work the land.

Unregistered User
(1/8/06 7:27 pm)
I don't know if you're only looking for traditional fairy tales, but Sheri Tepper's book, "Beauty", weaves together several fairy tales with a strong ecological theme.

Registered User
(1/10/06 6:51 am)
Thanks all
Hey, thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. :)

I've still got to run my idea past my prof, I'll be back later in the year looking for more indepth info on specific faerie tales.

Some people seemed confused about what exactly I'm doing, and whether or not fairy tales have any relevance to ecological criticism. My brief is to analyze any literature from an ecocritical perspective (that means looking at how the environment impacts on the literature, and how the story impacts upon people's perceptions of the environment). Many of you may be aware of Freud's indepth analysis of faerie tales- if you're not, you should find them,he discusses the various sexual and social lessons we learn from these stories, its fascinating. So I thought that the same could be done from an ecocritical veiwpoint- if faerietales teach people sexual, social, moral, psychological lessons etc, then ecological lessons (about where mankind stands in relation to the environment) must also be present. The suggestion that faerie tales cannot be analyzed from this perspective because ecology is a relatively new science, seems absurd to me- ecology has been around forever, it is simply our understanding of our place in the natural world. Psychology is also a relatively new science in comparison, to say, Greek mythology, but no one would deny that greek myths hold many valid psychological insights. So I'm not suggesting that the authors of faerie tales told them with the intention of putting across an ecological message (although some did, such as the Native American stories suggested above), but rather these messages are present because ecological awareness is an implicit part of human nature.

If anyone thinks of anything else I'd love your suggestions. ;)

Unregistered User
(2/6/06 11:02 pm)
the same trouble
hi there!
i m from India and i m also working on fairy tales. could u share some of ur ideas with me?

Registered User
(2/7/06 8:09 pm)
Re: Help please! Looking for fairy tales with ecological the

A while back, Brian Froud worked on a project with four authors in which each of them went through some of his illustrations, picked out their favorites, and used them as the basis of a faerie story. The agreed-upon theme of the stories was that of the danger humanity poses to the environment. The series was titled "Brian Froud's Faerielands" and the books were as follows:

The Wild Wood - Charles de Lint (1994)
Something Rich and Strange - Patricia McKillip (1994)
The Wood Wife - Terri Windling (1996)
Hannah's Garden - Midori Snyder (2002)

They aren't retellings of traditional fairy tales, as far as I know, so I hope you can still use them. Something Rich and Strange is fresh in my mind, so I can tell you that the theme is exactly one of how carelessness is negatively impacting the environment; in this book, at least, the message is explicit. In the others, it's a bit more veiled.

Hope that helps!

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