HAVANA TIMES — While forced to rest following an operation, I turned to reading – children’s literature in particular.
After reading the most recent edition of a selection of stories by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, I came to the conclusion that there are good reasons we live in the world that we do.
Most of the main characters in these stories succeed in their endeavors by lying, manipulating others, and exercising a kind of violence that is at times chilling. We come across fathers who abandon their children, step-mothers involved in intrigues and perverse actions, very few examples of mercy and the unspeakable mistreatment of animals.
Perrault’s fables have no shortage of violence, and what they consider a “virtue” in women borders on absolute submissiveness.
I had bought an edition of Pinocchio some time ago and was surprised at how different it was from the animated Disney film. The wooden doll is vicious even before he has been fully chiseled, and the cricket only manages to admonish him once, because he kills him with the blow of a hammer. Later, I found out Carlo Collodi hadn’t initially conceived the tale as a children’s story and that, in the original version, Pinocchio is hanged for his misdeeds. Only in later versions does the doll become transformed into a child, into a metaphor for spiritual awakening (attributed to the author’s Masonic beliefs).
Reading the Brothers Grimm, I was also grateful to Disney for its changes to Snow White, as I cannot imagine the sweet maiden passively observing how her knight in shining armor puts an end to the wicked step-mother – using a pair of pliers to fit her with red-hot iron sandals and forcing her to dance until she dies.
I also re-read The Poodle-Prince and, though I am uncertain as to whether it’s different from Laboulaye’s original, in Jose Marti’s translation, the main character gains everyone’s acceptance, not only thanks to his courage and cleverness, but also because of his sense of honor and kind-heartedness. This is absent from the recent CG animation, where the ax, the pick and the enchanted nutshell do not tell the Poodle Prince that they have been waiting for him for many years, but are rather deceived by him. This detail betrays the spirit of Jose Marti but proves true to a sad reality: in Cuba, people – and particularly the young – do not admire those who seek to make headway on the basis of truth.
No Message is Harmless
Value systems and the strategies we use to reach a goal are formed on the basis of what is passed on to us. Reacting, questioning or subverting such systems requires a long period of passive consumption of these values.
Reading these “fairy-tales”, I thought that current videogames haven’t really done anything except continue the Western tradition, imbuing it with contemporary codes. I wondered what would have become of the art world and entertainment if, rather than follow that path, we had gone down the road suggested by The Little Prince.
What impact would works conceived for children had had on entire generations had they been imbued with respect for life, the power of truth and the will, the value of compassion and the joy of understanding and sharing? What would have been the impact of works that speak of the intangible in humanity and the universe, of beings that became practical examples of freedom, of unconditional love and how aspects of different cultures ensure that is natural destiny and the right of all human beings?
There is much speculation about humanity’s latent powers, but always from a sensationalist perspective that always involves confrontation and exclusion. Premises such as a synergic ethics or the interconnectedness of human beings, animals and the cosmos are totally absent. We only get fragmented visions of reality, destined to keep the system in crisis.
The very popular Harry Potter, with its highly superficial characters (who are devoted to action and ingenuity) recycles the universe of medieval magic, adding modern “hooks”, but it is devoid of that profundity and nobleness that emanate from stories that mark us for life.
Luckily, there are notable exceptions, like Coraline, a stop-motion animation based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards. This and Miyasaki’s films Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle are allegories about the consequences of selfishness and ignorance that show us how we can evolve through will power, examples of art that can fascinate children and adults alike.
Fairy tales insinuate the spiritual reality that mystics and the religious have tried to describe through parables, pointing towards humanity’s secret longing: to transcend ignorance, temporality, physical and psychological pain, the law of gravity, death.
Neither cleverness nor materialism have solved these conflicts or enigmas. Not even technological progress has managed to make humanity happier. Competition, the aesthetic canons imposed by the media, the war against aging, the compulsion to earn money and the high indices of stress, depression and suicide are clear examples of this.
We need authors who will dare show us that profound unhappiness and speak on behalf of that inherent right to a fairy-tale world. We need for new generations to grow up without disdain for innocence.