I love wandering through bookstores, and anymore it is one of my forms of relaxation. So, while I don't have children, I am perfectly happy to wander the whole of Barnes & Noble, including the children's section. Of late I have been intrigued by how folk and fairy tales, and myths, have been forming the base of children's and young adult novels, and that is not counting adult books too. And, of course, there are now a whole plethora of movies. Though, I often wonder how the sheer amount of re-workings may dilute the culture's knowledge of the stories behind the books and movies.
One of the other reasons for my exploration in the children's section is that occasionally they put collections of folk tales, and fairy tales, there. And I have had some luck in my finds. This time, as I was looking through the section, I was pleased to see that the store had stocked up on young adult collections of Greek, Norse, and Egyptian myths. Hopefully this means that young readers want to learn more about the sources of their favorite series.
In many ways that is the wonder of young minds - they are inquisitive. And if something catches their interest then they want to know more! I can vaguely remember those days, which is what stimulated my interest in folklore. I remember the power and eeriness of Christina Rossetti's "The Goblin Market," and I had access to a sampling of Irish folk tales, with their hints of the Fair Folk. From these my quest was launched, and led me to becoming a storyteller.
At least I am hoping the presence of those young adult collections of myths indicate inquisitive interest in the original stories. Though, truth be told, I suspect that the younger audience stands a greater chance of knowing those myths than adults.
For many adults who watch the fairy tale based T. V. shows and movies, or read the romances and fantasy novels derived from both folk and fairy tales, there is often little realization that the roots are old. That the roots go beyond Disney, or modern scriptwriters. That folk tales are often derived from folk beliefs, that myths are from ancient religions, and even the fairy tales are woven from our cultural history.
"Does it matter?" I know a few who have asked that question.
On the surface, does it really matter that a young woman thought that Shakespeare wrote for television? And that some first graders were terrified of leprechauns because of a horror film?
Granted it might make a few shake their heads. But really - was that young woman's misconception going to change how well she made a living? Or did it matter that little ones were afraid of a make-believe character (even if they probably shouldn't be watching horror films that young)?
Maybe not in the run of every day life.
Yet when stories, or anything else, lose their roots they weaken. Are really lost.
Way too many people, during the hectic days of early adulthood, have no use for the old. Be it family stories, history, or myth. Yet, as they mature some part of them yearns for those roots - and far too often the roots have withered to a shadow of what they were. Maybe it has always been that way - that I don't know.
So I will accept those glimmers of hope that there are inquisitive minds out there that will nourish the roots for years to come.
This coming Saturday, June 22nd, will be the Feline Home Forever Ranch's Open House (http://www.felineranch.org), and in honor that I am doing a Feline-oriented blog.
While getting ready for a show I have been reading John Richard Stephen's book, The King of the Cats, and Other Feline Fairy Tales. The book has proved fascinating in that the editor has not only collected a lovely range of stories, from all over the world and centuries, but has compiled many of them in such a way as to show variations of a tale.
An example of this is the oft-told tale, "Dick Whittington and his Cat," which is an English rags-to-riches folktale. The basic story is how a poor cook's servant, Dick Whittington, has only his cat to call his own, and is given a chance by the master of the house to sell something on the master's merchant ship. And since poor Dick's only possession is the cat he allows himself to be talked into giving over the puss.
The merchant ship ends up the port of a unknown land, which is over run by rodents, and the cat becomes the heroine of the day. So much so that the ship's captain is able to sell the cat for amazing price.
So young Whittington grows rich, marries, the merchant's daughter, and later goes on to become the Lord Mayor of London - three times.
The editor found the version he used in Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book, entitled, "The History of Whittington." The story is attached to a Richard Whittinton (1358- 1423), who was the Lord Mayor of London three times, but was of a well-off family.
Other versions told in the book are: "The Origin of Venice" (c. 1256), German; "The Genoese Merchant" (15th century), Italy; "The Island of Kais" (1299), Persia; "The Honesty Penny", Norway; "The Cottager and His Cat," Iceland.
I have to admit I found "The Genoese Merchant" ironically amusing. It is a story within a story, with a priest trying to teach a friend about supply and demand. At one point the priest tells the story of the cat helping a king, but his tale ends with another merchant going to the same land to try his luck. He goes with valuable presents for the (now mouse-free) king. The King is well-pleased with the presents, and gives to his new friend the most valuable thing in the kingdom - one of the new kittens.
The editor also does much the same type of treatment for "Puss in Boots," and offers a selection of lesser known cat fairy tales.
Mr. Stephens ends the section with a possible theory as to the popularity of the theme - of a land that doesn't know cats. He mentions that until 1500 B.C., when the Greeks stole a few dozen cat, that the Egyptian's had made it illegal to export the sacred cat. In Europe, before the arrival of the cat, pest control was done by skunks and weasels.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.