Considering the nature of the exetreme imagination Festival as a means of inspiring love of storytelling, it seems fitting to consider the impact of fairytales on the imagination of children. I say ‘children’ but I must confess the enduring influence that fairytales have in my life, particularly my investigations of the connection between art and storytelling. But that in itself is the charm of fairytales; they transcend all ages, providing an entertaining tale steeped in moral code for children and a more twisted criticism of societal functions for older readers.
Take Little Red Riding Hood for instance. First recorded by the man who invented the literary genre of fairytales, Charles Perrault, his work was derived from pre-existing folk tales. His version of the tale has a bleak ending in which there is no saviour who prevents Little Red Riding Hood from becoming a Wolf’s snack. It was the Brothers Grimm who gave poor Red Riding Hood and her grandmother redemption, although it seem anomalous that these writers would write such a positive ending, given their reputation for ‘Grim’ tales. Despite the multiple versions of this tale, the message remains somewhat sinister, carrying themes of rebirth and warning children of ‘stranger danger’. So is it these basic moral principles derived from the content that allows such ominous tales to appeal to children?
The versions read to children are certainly censored to remove the darker underlying messages, so the appeal that remains must be the realm of fantasy. A wolf that speaks or a girl who sleeps for hundreds of years inspires wonder in children, opening their eyes to the possibilities of storytelling. It is not until adulthood that we have to grapple with the profounder messages of such tales. If an adoration of storytelling has been awakened through fairytales at a younger age, children can be prepared to enjoy the richer meanings of storytelling later in life, without having to enter another genre. Angela Carter comes to mind as an author who thoughtfully explores themes of feminism and magical realism through her transformed fairytales. It is authors like these who allow fairytales to follow us into our adult reading and open us to ideas of surrealism and dream logic and explore themes of class, race or gender.
There is certainly cause to celebrate the power and transcendence of fairytales for all ages, particularly during the exetreme imagination Festival. Enjoy a creative reimagining of Pinocchio by Jasmine Vardimon’s contemporary dance company from 19 to 21 October at the Exeter Northcott Theatre or attend a Literary Character event to have your children transformed into fictional characters by a caricature artist. Below is the link to book tickets for the Pinocchio performance. Now is the time to allow yourself to revisit the wonders of storytelling.