Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Radio: NPR's On Being with Maria Tatar

While I often post about radio interviews with fairy tale experts, few of them come close to this NPR interview with Maria Tatar. In the NPR series, On Being, which explores the big questions in human life, Tatar explores the world of fairy tales with Krista Tippet, an excellent and incredibly knowledgeable interviewer. They discuss the origins of fairy tales, the structure of fairy tales, fairy tales in popular culture, and fairy tales and children, all topics we have heard before, but they bring an immediacy and relatability to the discussion, bringing everything back to the big ideas we explore in our lives. (Click Here to Listen)

They discuss the idea of "Once Upon a Time," and how that phrase gives us permission to explore, to do things you would be afraid to do, to question things you wouldn't normally question because you are in a new and theoretical place.

They explore the "operatic beauty and monstrous terror" and the promise of "Happily Ever After" that combine to create fairy tales. The "Happy Ever After" is important, because it promises that there will be a way out. This, Tatar says, is why we can read them to children. No matter how dark it gets, there will be a happy ending.

Maria expounds upon her idea that fairy tales are not sacred texts. They are part of the "great cauldron of story." There is no original version, and each generation and culture changes the tale to speak to what they value and fear.

She states that there are no morals to fairy tales. The morality is highly ambiguous. However, there is wisdom to be gained from the tales. They discuss big ideas: sexuality and innocence, poverty and wealth, action and inaction, etc. She laughs that, in our modern cultures, we adapt the fairy tales so that we befriend the monsters, rather than defeating them. Fairy tales allow us to explore our values and ideas in a safe place.

She reflects on the fact that fairy tale themes are everywhere, in reality TV, Sex and the City as well as the fairy tale themed tv shows. Fairy Tale tropes are so entrenched in our culture, so primal, that they pop up in almost all of our stories. She feels that, in this time of great transition, we need the ancient wisdom of old stories to guide us, make us feel rooted.

She also discusses the very personal power of fairy tales to help you face your inner and outer demons. They are full of mysteries and puzzles that fascinate our brain that we use to help us figure out the world.

She tells of how she asks her students what books from childhood they brought to college. Most of the students don't remember the exact plot of the stories very well, but they always have a nugget of story that they cling to, something they strongly related to, a talisman they carry with them into this new place.

Finally, they talk about children, and how the liminal moment of bed time is a perfect meeting of generations, where those carring the nostalgia of fairy tales meet those who are hearing them for the first time. It is a co-storytelling, a time for asking questions and exploring what ifs, and what the story means for the world, and if it means anything at all.

It is an excellent interview, well-crafted and personal, bringing out the intimate and human nature of fairy tales.

And it ends with a clip from Game of Thrones, which is a mark of excellence in my book.

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