Friday, 14 February 2014


I have just finished reading "The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly, and it reminds me once again of the importance of stories - the book draws on a range of traditional fairy stories, and the appendix explores these stories more, which is worth reading through.

What I find most interesting is just how violent and unpleasant most fairy stories are. They seem to involve some or all of:

Step-mothers or parents who are wicked or evil
Witches - usually old people who live alone
Children wandering off and getting into trouble
Horrible and gruesome violence (Think of the witch being cooked alive  in Hansel and Gretal)
People not being punished for criminal activity, like breaking and entering (Think Goldilocks)

We know - and the children who we read them to know - that they are not true. They are not intended to be true. They are the myths of our culture, intended to convey cultural expectations. their messages are important, not because they are true in the sense of factually accurate presentations of babies born in events that actually happened, but because stories are the best way of passing on real truths.

Then I turn to bible stories. In reality, the tales and messages in the bible are stories, which is not to diminish them, but to enhance them. They are not all factually true in the way that we would understand it today. They are presentations of events that happened, incorporating the understanding and interpretation that the authors put on them. The stories are the truth as the writers understood it. They are ways of passing on the events and the meaning to us, so they are crucially important.

But unfortunately, so many of the bible stories that we tell, especially to the younger people, are sanitized. The violence, the blood and gore, the unpleasantness are removed, so that they are "pleasant" and appropriate for young people. But then, they lose all of their meaning.

Kids are OK with blood and violence in stories. We do them a disservice when we clean the stories out, and we make them boring, tedious stories. But they are not:

Daniel - the politicians and all of their families were killed by being eaten by lions. Gruesome and bloody.
Nativity - babies born in stables, traveling when Mary was pregnant, the killing of the innocents. Lots of blood, gore, nastiness.
Noah - we always focus on the lovely animals (probably stuffed and cuddly), and the rainbows, and ignore the hundreds of thousands of people - some innocent - were drowned. This would have included women, children, babies.

And so on - we tell lovely stories, and miss the reality. So the stories are baby stories.

That is wrong. Stories are powerful - that is why we tell them, why they persist, why storytellers are so important. By changing and destroying the stories, we lose the meaning. I believe we should tell stories a whole lot more - fairy tales, biblical stories, folk tales. Telling stories of what we experience, telling stories that our parents and grandparents have told us.

Tell your children about the animals that went in two by two if you must. But tell them the real stories, and let they understand the meaning. Stop making them pathetic.

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