Bruno and the Dark Fairy Tales

 

riding-hood-pd

Fairy tales were meant to be dark. Dark and sinister, full of evil stepmothers, vengeful ogres, big bad wolves and seemingly unsolvable problems. Fairy tales take us into hidden realms of the psyche, thus giving an opportunity to explore, provoke, and discover new power.

No one understood this better than 20th century child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Today I pay homage to this man, born on August 28, 1903, in Vienna, Austria.

bruno b

Having spent the greater part of his professional career involved with emotionally disturbed children, in 1976 Bettelheim published his masterpiece The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.   In this book, Bettelheim explained how fairy tales are symbolic of healthy human development. He advocated fairy tales as necessary for children to make the process of ‘growing up’ easier.  A good dark fairy tale gives the child a chance to stimulate his/her imagination and think up creative solutions to problems.

While Disney was busy sanitizing Cinderella, and while the censorship dogs fanned the flames of banned books, Bettelheim became an advocate for exploration of the scary monsters, the bloodthirsty giants, the magic mirrors.

Bettelheim himself was no stranger to the Dark Side. His life was a series of unfortunate incidences, but it was also full of unprecedented victories.

Born just after the turn of the 20th century, Bruno was the son of a wood merchant. His family was Jewish and middle class.  In his early twenties he began study at the University of Vienna but when his father became ill he quit school to take over his family’s lumber business. Dark strike number one.

As it turned out – the illness Bruno’s dad was suffering from happened to be syphilis. This reportedly brought a slow and painful death, not to mention irrevocable shame and stress upon his family. Dark strike number two.

In 1930 Bettelheim married his first wife Gina. Eventually he returned to the university, earning a Ph.D in philosophy. In 1938 he became an accredited psychiatrist and was one of the last Jews in Europe to be awarded a Doctorate degree before the Holocaust.

Enter the Nazis. In 1939 Bruno was arrested by the Gestapo. He was imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald. Dark strike number three.

bruno b buchenwald

Luckily, he was released through payment (Nazi officials not being beyond bribery.) Upon returning to a blighted Vienna, Bruno found that his wife had left him, his home and business were devastated, and he had lost virtually everything. Dark strike number four.

In 1941 he married his second wife Gertrude Weinfeld. They emigrated to the United States in 1943 and became citizens.  Bettelheim published his experiences from the concentration camps in his 1943 work:  Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations.  He eventually became a professor of psychology, teaching at the University of Chicago from 1944 until his retirement in 1973.

Bettelheim also served as director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago, a home for emotionally disturbed children. His work there was world famous.  The Uses of Enchantment became a best seller. It was awarded the U.S. Critic’s Choice Prize for criticism in 1976 and the National Book Award in the category of Contemporary Thought in 1977.

burno b quote

To be fair, it should be noted that Bettelheim was also considered controversial. He has been called “inspiring, aggressive, irascible, dismissive of fools, and capable of both great kindness and great unkindness.”

Perhaps he had to be. He was up against academia and a culture that, for the most part, does not like to examine its own flaws.

The need to sanitize fairy tales was no doubt well intended. Walt Disney himself was also no stranger to the Dark Side.  His remedy was to create likable dwarfs that whistled while they worked and a sweet as pie Cinderella that never did harm to anyone.

cinderella-vogue-9feb15-imagenet-b_426x639

Never mind that the original Cinderella sent her birds to pluck out the eyes of her stepsisters. Never mind that the stepsisters literally mutilated their own feet with knives in a effort to fit the slipper. Never mind that the dwarfs had prurient intentions toward the nubile Snow White — who might be considered a prototype for Nabokov’s Lolita.  Some things are simply not for children’s eyes and ears.

However, Bettelheim argued that an attempt to hide hard and sinister truths from children would only hinder their development, making them less able to cope as adults. (Besides that, it would cut out a good deal of the fun!) Most children are very interested in the Dark Side. It has a magnetic quality.  They love to hate the villains and identify with the heroes.

harry-potter-banned

 

As our society becomes more self conscious and politically correct, we are more in danger of sanitizing reading material. This trend could greatly damage young people.

I once read an internet review of Alice in Wonderland in which the adult reader claimed this story was ‘way too scary for children.’ Having been raised on the story myself, I was somewhat appalled. (I also thought – what if my own parents had deemed Alice ‘too scary’ for me and prohibited my reading it? Now THAT would have been truly horrific!)

I considered the so called scary parts of Alice. Tumbling down a big rabbit hole and then having no control over your own growth. Facing a queen who threatens to behead the entire world. As a kid I loved it! As an adult I love it!

alice mushroom

Bettelheim argues that this type of scary story is good for kids because it allows them a chance to face terrible circumstances in their imagination, and follow the hero to a creative solution. When faced with a real life problem, it will not be so overwhelming.

Around the time I read this assessment of scary Alice, I read another online review of Oliver Twist. The critic also deemed the story ‘way too scary for children’, this due to the fact that Bill Sykes murders his girlfriend Nancy, is haunted by her ghost and goes on to hang himself.

As a kid I loved Oliver. These horrific events did not phase me. Not one bit.

I have often wondered if we, as adults, lack coping skills and unwittingly disempower children through our own fears.

I recently had a nine year old student ask me if she could read Shakespeare. (This was her idea, not mine!) Of course I said YES!! We read through a children’s edition of Romeo and Juliet. My nine year old read the murders of Tybalt and Mercutio without batting an eyelash. The story intrigued her. She was not disturbed by it, she was INTERESTED in it. Likewise the suicides of R and J. My nine year old came away loving this romantic story, remembering the good parts, working through the bad. It would have been a mistake to deem it ‘too violent’ ‘too scary’ or simply ‘unacceptable’ for a child.

Bruno Bettelheim and Albert Einstein both knew this. Einstein, a great fan of fairy tales, often advocated for the use of them in education. Magic hits us in the quantum heart.

einstien fairy tales

If we want our children to be free thinkers, problem solvers and imaginative  individuals, we would do well to let them to explore the dark side of fairy tales.

Happy Birthday Bruno!

bruno-bettelheim-quotes-2

 

 

 

Advertisements

School’s Out!

 

alice cooper 1

Here in Chicago, kids are winding down for their last week of school. As we get ready for beaches, barbeques, rising temps and rowdiness, I could not resist this classic from the fantastic Alice Cooper!

Taking the Wayback  Machine way back to 1972 for this one — although I would argue the song is just as relevant today as it ever was.  “We got no class and we got no principles.” Puns intended.

I have always loved the Coop (maybe because his name is Alice, hehe). They share a penchant for top hats, animals and other-worldliness.

rabbit5 public domain

At any rate, turn up the volume, grab the sandals, shades and lemonade.  Get ready for a long, carefree summer, my favorite time of year 🙂

School’s Out!!

 

 

 

Mirrors

 

mirror 3

They fuse our vanity with imperfection, reflecting bone hair skin

undeciphered as we preen

fuss, adjust every eyelash every detail

and yet

fall prey to an astounding

disconnect.

 

Caught perpendicular, a grim imitation, false

replication

passed like alchemy though glass, copper, halide

and silver, a vast shattering

We are not

what we Are.

mirror 4

 

 

An Analysis of Alice

 

Alice vogue

I am a huge Lewis Carroll fan.  The Alice stories (In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) are among the best ever written. To my thinking, they are worthy of analyzing and revisiting many times over, always with something new to be discovered.

Because the original work is presented with a good deal of abstract symbolism, readers often misunderstand, or are completely baffled by the text. (Especially if they are trying to decipher it on an adult level.)  Hence, film makers tend to go ‘over the top’, often presenting the story with a lot of bells and whistles that were not included in the original story. (Tim Burton and Disney both did this.)

It is, at its core, a story about questioning authority. Carroll pokes fun at just about every Victorian institution. His attack at  child rearing, for example, is evident in the fate of the baby that turns into a pig.

Alice pig

He pokes fun at the school system, evident in the ‘reeling and writhing’ classes of the mock turtle. He makes fun of he British monarchy (‘Off with her head’ is a reference to its once frequent be-headings.)

Alice flamingo

The War of the Roses is also mocked, with the servants painting roses from white to red (representing York and Lancaster dynasties.) The court system is criticized in the Knave of Hearts’ trial. There is a message about being controlled by schedules in the rabbit’s obsession with his watch and the idea of ‘beating time’.

The Alice books show a test of one’s ability to adapt. Alice finds herself in the strangest of circumstances and tries her best to fit in. In the end she discovers the Wonderland creatures are ‘nothing but a pack of cards’ and thus no better than she herself. (Lower than she herself actually…)

As in any quest for knowledge, and as is frequently the experience of one ‘growing up’, Alice often becomes ‘too big’ for her own surroundings.

Alice house

She may be terrified at the changes within her own mind and body – frequently the experience of adolescents and young adults. And yet, as the frog footmen, the lizards and rabbits scurry about, Alice is aware of their silliness, much in the same way an enlightened being becomes aware of the triviality of the world.

Perhaps most importantly, the books teach self actualization. Alice is frustrated, but in the end she realizes her nuanced opinions have some validity. Her experience is just as important as anyone  else’s.

No wonder Wonderland became so popular!  First published in 1865, it has never been out of print. The first fans of the Alice books included Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde.  The Alice books are also reportedly the most quoted books in the English language, right up there with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

Carroll was among the first to use a dream sequence in a novel — a technique that became more popular with the work of Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. Today dream sequence in film is almost passe’. We have seen it a hundred times, and it is frequently uses as a cliffhanger, or to ‘trick’ the viewer.  But back then it was certainly innovative.

Ironically, although Carroll is frequently accused of drug use, the kinds of drugs they associate him with were not discovered until much later. For example, ‘magic mushrooms’ were discovered in 1955, and LSD was first synthesized in 1938, which I guess proves that Carroll had a brilliant imagination.

alice mushroom

So, forget Tim Burton and all other fabrications. Here I give you a movie which is actually very close in sentiment to the Real Alice!

This 1972 film, directed by William Sterling, captures the intent of Lewis Carroll. Using most of the book’s original dialogue, script writing owes credit to Carroll as well as Sterling. The talented cast includes Fiona Fullerton, Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers.

Although the film is lacking in super-duper mind blowing special effects (it was, after all, made in 1972 on a limited budget) it nonetheless does a great job of capturing Carroll’s  ideas.

Running time is about 1 hour 30 minutes. Hope you get a chance to watch it!

 

 

Rhetorics and Politics

 

 

Alice court pd

That’s a bit out of your depth, don’t you think? 

Ever hear that voice? The one that says  Oh  no.  Not you.                                                                      Not good enough not smart enough                                                                                                      who the hell                                                                                                                                                    do you think you are                                                                                                                                  that YOU                                                                                      

 should be allowed to do THAT

 

They will tell you all kinds of things. Philosophy, theosophy                                                       Nietzsche and Sartre                                                                                                                                    Kant and Descartes.                                                                                                                                   Rousseau and Plato.                                                                                                                                   constitution institution politics and rhetorics

But in the end

They are nothing

but a pack of cards.

 

alice cards 2 pd

 

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Depth

 

Alice’s Journey

 

rabbit5 public domain

The white rabbit looked at me with pink eyes, the color of clouds at dusk.  I became curiouser and curiouser as I watched him from my garden. The rabbit hopped fast, but not  fast enough to  get away from me, for I was quick on my feet.

They will tell you the rabbit pulled a watch out of his coat pocket and began to fret about the time, exclaiming “Oh my ears and whiskers, I shall be late!”  This could not be further from the truth. Everyone knows a rabbit will never carry a watch. They are timeless animals.  Nor will they wear a coat, as they have ample fur of their own.

My journey was one of impulse and instinct. For better or worse,  I followed the pink eyed creature.

White rabbit

They will tell you I slid down a rabbit hole.  This, of course is a dimensional impossibility! Have you ever SEEN a rabbit hole? Have you ever tried to get so much as one FOOT down a rabbit hole?  Oh no.  What happened was, I ran after the rabbit until we came upon a vast lavender field.   It was there that the space craft  landed.

6-lavender-ufo

The space craft was beautiful!  Cylinder shaped, dazzling as the sun at noontide, so bright I could barely look upon it.  A staircase descended from its door .  When the white  rabbit hopped up the steps, I simply followed.  I was young then, you see. I had  a habit of acting without thinking.   It did not occur to me where this journey would lead.

When I got on board  I walked down a long hallway to a room that seemed to be made  of blue sky.  A man in a top hat was hosting a tea party.  At his table were seated  the most peculiar characters;  a king and queen, a March Hare and a duchess who carried a pink flamingo beneath her arm. The man in the  hat  invited me to sit down.  I’ll admit I had a bit of trouble with the gravity at first…

alice pd 2

He poured me a cup of steaming tea,  which I drank immediately  (for I knew  it would be rude to refuse his hospitality.)  I then became sleepy and the room  began to sway.  The top hat man grew tall, his  hat protruding high out of his head.  His face contorted like a reflection in a fun house mirror. I  heard laughter. The queen’s tiara  shattered and  she screamed “Off with her head!”  I knew she could not possibly be speaking of  me, for I could barely FEEL my own head and  surely there was nothing  to cut off!

After that I remember little.  At one point I lay naked  upon an operating table. The top hat man smiled, and I imagined him as a cat with a huge grin. He said he came from Cheshire. I did not know where that was and wanted to ask him, but he simply disappeared, leaving only his grin behind.  Next thing I knew I felt a speculum being stuck inside me, cold steel against my vagina.   “The eggs, the eggs!” someone shouted. “Get her eggs!”  That was fine and well with me, for I had plenty of eggs.  I knew I would produce hundreds of thousands in my lifetime and  I could certainly spare a few for whatever was their cause.  After that I must have fallen asleep.

pelvic-exam

When I awoke I was fully clothed. The space craft spun in its orbit  and I looked out the window where a thousand stars streamed like glittering diamonds in the darkness.  The Duchess sat next to me, her pointy chin on my shoulder. She handed me her pink flamingo.  I asked where we were headed. The Duchess smiled calmly, pointed  to a marbled  sphere and assured me I would like it.

alice duchess pd

When we landed I descended the staircase, still following the rabbit.  The Duchess  however, was wrong .  I did not like this place!  Not one bit. We had apparently landed in the middle of a war zone, every man armed with weaponry. Land mines  exploded like fiery  traps, blowing  human bodies to a confetti of blood and bone. Children wailed in the streets and men hobbled, many of them missing limbs. I asked what was this horrible place, but the rabbit could only twinkle his pink eyes.

War-Public-Domain-460x368

I felt my stomach lurch and I vomited, barely missing the poor rabbit who hovered beneath me.  When I could stand it no longer the rabbit led me to another part of this world but I did not like this part either.  There I saw only  death and disease;  bodies rife with plagues and cancers and malnutrition.  I could not bear to look upon it, and the rabbit led me to yet another place. Here  were tall skyscrapers and inside, dark boardrooms where men  sprawled in leather chairs.  They drank champagne and spoke a language I did not understand but I remember their words: ‘market’ and  ‘bailout’  and ‘Wall Street’ and ‘junk bonds’.   These people were evil and when I could tolerate their presence no longer the rabbit lead me back to the space craft.

Top Hat and the Duchess welcomed me.  I wanted only to return to my home, to planet Wonderland.    Top Hat smiled.  “You have done your task well, Alice,”  he said.  “The hybrids from your eggs will be hatched  some time in the 21st century. With  the DNA of Wonderland within them, these beings will be  pure, void of greed and malice.  Your hybrids will be the only hope for that planet they call  Earth.  Without your hybrids the civilization  will surely destroy itself.”

The journey back to Wonderland  was quick. I bid Top Hat and the Duchess goodbye, kissing them on both cheeks. I then followed the rabbit off the space craft and back to my own garden.  I was glad to be home.

After that, I developed a  strange penchant for  drinking tea. My faithful rabbit never leaves my side. Recently I have heard word from the Duchess. It seems my eggs have yet to hatch.

Mia-Wasikowska-as-Alice public domain

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Journey