Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dark Tales

Sunday night we watched Coraline with the beasties. They have seen it several times--once at the theater with H (I was working on the bloody thesis), and than multiple times once we received it from Netflix. But they were more than willing to watch it again with me. I was excited as we had started reading the book, and I was curious to see how they did the movie. It was brilliant. Gloriously dark but with joy at the end. Coraline was a perfect heroine--resourceful and brave but quite human. She was the kind of heroine I want for my daughters, strong and resilient, saving the day. But even more than this lesson was the unflinching darkness of the movie, a darkness found in the book.

Gaiman is one of my favorite writers for this reason. His children books are deliciously scary. They capture the fantasies and fears of childhood that one rarely finds in contemporary children's literature. The Disneification of fairy tales is a sad thing. I remember reading the Blue Fairy book when I was ten, and being utterly horrified, fascinated, and excited by the dark tales in those pages. I can still see the cover in my mind, and how I devoured those stories, going through all the colors and then starting back with the Blue book. But the fairy tale books I find for my children are too often devoid of the darkness that fueled my nightmares and fantasies.

Gaiman doesn't shy away from those tales. He captures those feelings we have as children. Those dark scary feelings that lurk in our minds, that we hardly dare give voice to. And he also turns those longings we have into something nightmarish but seductive. How many children haven't wished for other mothers who cooked their favorite foods all the time, gave them whatever they desired? How many of us haven't wished we could trade our fathers in for anything other than another father? What Gaiman does with those fantasies is really just brilliant. He shapes them into something that is as beautiful as it is terrifying. And to me that just seems like what the world is like when you're a child. New, lovely, seductive but also filled with dangers, fears and unknowns.

Good fairy tales remind us that the world is beautiful and dangerous. That darkness lurks around every corner, and that sometimes what we need to survive is a bit of luck, pluck, and cleverness. Not a bad lesson over all.

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