I got hooked on some Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde recently. A literate writer adept at wordplay, his narrative twinkles when he gives knowing nods to classic literature. These action-packed novels are engaging and intelligent. Curious about the author and his other work, I checked out his fun website.
On his overview page, my eyes were immediately drawn to “Nursery Crimes,” a detective series based on children’s nursery rhymes and stories: the first book investigates Humpty Dumpty’s suicide, the second probes the death of Goldilocks. Given my professional focus on quirky renditions of traditional folklore, I eagerly read on.
In describing that series, Fforde says that the books “manage to blend absurdity with satire, and have fun at the very tired genre from which they hail.”
And therein lies the rub.
Fforde is not the only one to accuse the classic folklore canon of being ‘tired.’ However, if it is so tired, why do these stories and rhymes inspire artists of all kinds? Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty and all the others are recycled again and again in visual, literary, and other forms of media. They are retold, updated, fractured, extended, quoted, and reworked to the delight of millions. Movies (Shrek, Tangled), television (Once Upon a Time, Grimm),musicals (Into the Woods), books (several by Gregory Maguire and Jasper Fforde, for instance), video games (World of Warcraft, Overlord: Dark Legends) are but a drop in the bucket of examples of narrative media that continue to embrace this “tired” material.
The old stories are like veins of ore, and people perpetually dig beneath the surface to see what else they can find. Every new adaptation uncovers nuance and humor and unexpected themes in stories we all thought we knew. Those who create and recreate these pieces are mining for gold, for there really is gold them thar tales. Then, they carefully polish the gold they dig up and find new areas of luster.
So how do we tell The Three Bears? Let me count the ways. Goldilocks might get sleepy and nap in the story, but her story and other classic tales are surely not tired… how can they be when they are so chock full of inspiration?
More on this topic in future posts!
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