“What's wrong with fairy tales? I grew up on them. Children will have to live without them for so long. They should live by them for as long as they can."
That’s Margherita speaking. Margherita as in a character based on the wife of Giovanni Guareschi whose ‘household vignettes’ titled ‘The House that Nino Built’ he says was based on his own family.
But then again, are fairytales really children-things? Is it only the child that imagines the unimaginable, believes the unbelievable, and places absolute faith in the intangible?
The truth is that time and age trick us. We are told there’s something called ‘real’ and then there’s ‘fiction’. Children have the salve of fairytales to fill fairy-less days. Their roads have no end, and their stories begin from nowhere and take them everywhere. Rules and restrictions in narrative are for adults, not for children.
Children can walk in and out of mirrors. They can turn cloud into flying carpet, bird into chariot, birdsong into a string they can cling to with their pinkies and swing from one dreamscape to the next. They can turn the most ferocious monsters into docile playthings, and inflate a housefly into a Pterodactyle. They can relate an epic within a few minutes and they can stretch the story of a morning excursion to the point of tears.
Margherita in a sense was correct. There’s a lot to say for advocating that children should live by fairytales for as long as they can. There’s so much magic that’s so real it’s absolutely silly to abandon it all.
But Margherita was wrong, wasn’t she, when she said ‘they have to live without them (fairytales) for so long’? It’s simple. We never shed the idea of fairytales. It’s just that we don’t call them fairytales after some time. The truth is that fairies and fairytales don’t disappear when we grow up. We don’t drop them and they don’t leave us.
Adults also walk in and out of mirrors, but they don’t know it. Whereas children are comfortable turning themselves into whoever or whatever they want, adults seem determined to please the mirror. They want to fly, but they don’t realize that clouds are really flying carpets or can be turned into them. They use planes to go from place to place, but don’t see that they are using birds as flying chariots. They are swayed by music but they won’t admit that the compositions are nature-inspired. They tame the untamed but don’t call these creatures dragons.
And yes, they turn insects into ferocious creatures – just think of the Dengue mosquito. Finally for the simple reason that they’ve made a total mess of the concept of time, they want epics to be reduced to 140 characters or less and turn a morning excursion into a litany of woes. For all this, isn’t it true that we are persuaded to believe the most outrageous of lies?
For example, that benefits ‘trickle down’, that things would become better in the long run? Someone tosses us slogans carefully designed to trick, lull and dull, and we pick them up, don’t we, just like kids would rush around to pick up, say, toffees that some Santa Clause figure tossed out of a bag? Children gather dreams and weave them into amazing stories. Adults gather ambitions and plans and turn it all into money and bragging rights. Children move from fairytale to fairytale, adults get stuck in an I-my-me story to which they give different titles from time to time. Adults kid themselves, kids are kids.
Adults however can choose to keep those other, early-days-of-childhood fairytales alive. It’s not about revisiting childhood or letting memory take one along the pathways of nostalgia. It’s about re-learning old lessons or rather learning that lessons never grow old unless we let them, for if we let them then they become decrepit and die. It’s about imagining the unimaginable, believing the unbelievable and having absolute faith in the intangible.
So maybe fairytales are not necessarily children-things. Maybe they are human-things. But somewhere along the line a child is made to die and the colors and wings of a fairytale get re-coded into careers and submission to deceit and disguise. It is not that we are not allowed to live by fairytales, we just choose to do so. We are poorer for it.
“We need not be”, did someone just say?
‘Yes, I did. I am Margherita, a child if ever there was one, but at this moment taking the form of the wind in the leaves.”