Radical Fairy Tales

Michael Metzger

Jonathan Pageau is old enough to start reading fairy tales again. So he recognizes how today’s fairy tales are not radical. And like C. S. Lewis, he’s trying to fix that.

Many of us are fans of C. S. Lewis, especially his Narnia series. But how many remember Lewis’ dedication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Lucy Barfield, his goddaughter?

“My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be… your affectionate Godfather,”

Lewis recognized fairy tales were originally written for adults. They were stout stuff. In the 19th century, the old fairy tales were sanitized for children. Cleaned up. Prettified. Boring. Lewis recognized how modern renderings of fairy tales are not radical, that is, from the root.

Jonathan Pageau recognizes this. He’s an artist whose beautiful wood carvings have been commissioned by churches, bishops, priests and laypeople throughout the world. And he’s old enough to start reading fairy tales again. And in so doing, he recognizes how Disney and other film companies are reinterpreting fairy tales. This includes mashing up gender or creating funny, whimsical tales (like Shrek) that are quite cynical toward the Bible stories behind the original fairy tales. Pageau’s new work is making radical fairy tales, returning older tales to their roots. His first project is Snow White and the Widow Queen.

If you’re old enough to start reading fairy tales again, I urge you to watch the first ten minutes of Jonathan and Heather Pollington, the film’s illustrator, discussing The Hidden Secrets in the Art Behind ‘Snow White and the Widow Queen. But you’ll also see in medieval church art and architecture what scholars have noted makes these churches so wondrously beautiful.

For example, Charles Taylor has described how time is a moving picture of eternity (where there is no time). Eternity is one big Now. All things occur simultaneously, which is why scripture depicts events (like what happened on the cross) as having multiple meanings simultaneously. Good stuff, but Heather shows viewers how the art and architecture of medieval churches depicts all this.

For instance, she shows artwork depicting time as a moving picture of eternity, as well as other artwork depicting events in scripture as having multiple meanings simultaneously. In other words, Heather does in pictures what I and many others do in prose. She is far more persuasive, for Lewis believed metaphors (pictures) win the day. So I urge you to watch the first ten minutes of the video. You’ll be drawn to radical fairy tales.

But I guess it depends on whether you’re old enough to start reading fairy tales again.


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