First of all, apologies for the recent blog hiatus. We’re just back from holiday and hotel wifi was like hen’s teeth. (Which raises the much more pressing question of how hens actually eat. Suck corn kernels into submission? Mash it with their heads and then swallow? No wonder they’re all so scrawny). Sorry. Moving on..
As ever, I went away armed with good intentions and acres of holiday reading. I didn’t open a single book, but I did think a little about stories and what they do.
Stories are powerful. And they’re not just for kids. Fairytales for example, were originally written for adults – many of the earliest versions are violent and sexual. In the original Sleeping Beauty, the Prince doesn’t wake her with a chaste kiss. Instead he rapes her. The ugly sisters have their eyes pecked out. The Wicked Queen is stuffed in a barrel of nails and dragged through the city till she bleeds to death. It’s not bedtime reading , but it’s more powerful than the Disney versions.
The poet Heaney puts it like this, ‘I rhyme to see myself, to set the darkness echoing’. As we weave words, we reach out into the darkness. What is this darkness? Nietzsche famously argued that it’s our fear of death and extinction. The child shouting in the cave is spitting in the face of the chaos he feels but cannot understand. We deal with such darkness, by telling stories or myths. Like fairytales, these are passed down from generation to generation and both act as ways of explaining and understanding who we are. Yet, where fairy stories use stock characters and are used to make a moral point, (‘don’t wear your red hoody in the forest’, ‘Apples are Killers’), myths deal instead with cosmic issues , characters and themes. They’re a way of making sense of chaos, formlessness and blackness.
Perhaps this sounds a little primitive or academic. But I’m not so sure. Today’s culture is as obsessed with death as the goriest tragedies – but despite advances in science and medicine, we’re less able to deal with it than ever before. Isn’t suicide sometimes a way of trying to shout into the darkness, to take control of it before it takes charge of us? Ours is the age of depression and anxiety – issues that even medicine can’t solve. Open up a copy of Vogue or Elle or Cosmo and you’ll see modern myth-makers at work – telling how to overcome aging or live lives that matter. All of us are searching for answers – it’s just a question of where we look.