This piece about a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2015 raises a couple of interesting questions about fairy tales. First of all, can we still call it a fairy tale if it is authored? Traditional fairy tales, of course, have a more collective, informal origin. Can a single psyche give rise to something that has the depth and resonance of a fairy tale?
I think the answer is yes. The clearest example of this is the work of Hans Christian Andersen. While his early fairy tales were re-tellings of traditional stories, he later wrote bold and original stories that accessed the same psychic depths as the authorless tales. Andersen’s stories have clearly entered the canon, and belong beside the collections of Grimm, Straparola, Perrault, and others.
For me, one test of the universality of a story is whether it becomes an important image for individuals. In my consulting room, I have heard many references to Dorothy and her companions in Oz. Clearly, Frank Baum’s story is one that conveys some important psychic truths. Other 20th century stories that have entered the collective deeply would include The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. I am sure there are other worthy candidates as well.
The panel at Comikaze dealt with women characters in modern day “fairy tales.” In some real sense, I think the issue of gender in fairy tales is a false dichotomy. If every character in a tale is an aspect of one psyche, we are acknowledging that the evil queen is not “other,” but that we all have this potential inside us, just as we all have the male hero, the female heroine, or the evil sorcerer within.
Panel member and author Francesca Lia Block mentions Jung’s theories specifically.
“Block explained the significance of Carl Jung’s theory on dreams, saying, “everything in your dream is part of you.” Applying that to the process of creating characters, she believes that the characters are also a part of the writer. Block said that she teaches her students to develop characters by taking a personal character trait and fleshing it out with a name and their physical description to start. “It’s the best moment when the character starts talking themselves.””
When “characters start talking,” we know that we are in touch with an aspect of our own unconscious. That our creative offspring can find their own voice and speak to us confirms Jung’s assertions that our complexes have their own autonomous existence. Our unconscious is peopled with every manner of monster and human, of every possible gender.