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Fairy Tales are for Grown-Ups} ?>
“Without the dark parts it’s just some silly f—” Chronicler froze halfway through the word, eyes darting nervously to the side.
Bast grinned like a child catching a priest midcurse. “Go on,” he urged, his eyes were delighted, and hard, and terrible. “Say it.”
“Like some silly faerie story,” Chronicler finished, his voice thin and pale as paper.
Bast smiled a wide smile. “You know nothing of the Fae, if you think our stories lack their darker sides.”
Not long ago, I was reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and I stumbled upon this quote. A rush of mischievous emotion washed over me, and I caught myself cracking a wide smile. Two things dawned on me that day, which I swear I’ve known and forgotten a thousand times: 1) I was reading a fairy tale, and 2) Fairy tales are not just for children.
My favourite half-memories are from when I was a child visiting a carnival. The world was new to me then, and I was just beginning to develop an understanding of its shape and turnings. There was not yet enough room in my expanding imagination for things so alien, exotic, and joyful. Flashes of neon illuminating the dusky dark; the atmosphere of popcorn and hot dogs; the Ferris Wheel under starlight; the taste of danger and adrenaline on the roller coaster.
This was a time and a place where the barriers between the worlds of child and adult were thin. The giddy anticipation and the thrill of discovery were electric, euphoric. The English language does not seem to have a word to fully capture what it was like, although “nostalgia” comes close. It is a feeling I have long missed and can barely remember.
There is a certain genre in which this feeling is revived for me. It did for The Name of the Wind, and it caught me off guard as well when I replayed The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask on Nintendo 3DS.
Majora’s Mask is a heavy and mature title, like nothing else in its series. The Legend of Zelda games do not typically tackle such weighty matters as loneliness, despair, and death. But there is something more, something beyond the dark themes, that rekindled the flame of an old childhood feeling. Perhaps it’s the eerie echo of musical motifs, blending mountains into canyons. Or it’s the haunting familiarity of every face and place, each known and yet every one new. Or maybe it’s because this game has a literal carnival.
Whatever the reason, I love the feeling. Something inside me, which was never meant to sleep, finally awakes.
What struck me recently was how all of those things that pulled on my heart strings in Majora’s Mask lined up surprisingly closely to the classical fairy tale. Link is journeying through the mists of the Lost Woods when, subject to chance and not a little mischief, he accidentally crosses into a world of magic and mystery, at once the perfect image of his own and yet its polar opposite. Termina is a land where time runs an unusual course, smiled upon perpetually by the full moon. Sounds like a fairy tale to me.
Like many adults, I’ve long believed that fairy tales are just “children’s stories.” As though, now that I’m grown up, I no longer have use for the true magic that once lit my heart aflame. As though the electric joy of wondrous imagination had somehow become a bad thing, now that I have a job to work at, bills to pay, and other daily worries.
When I considered that some of my favourite stories as an adult could also fit the genre, I decided that my belief had to change. Other fairy tales I love include The Silmarillion, Adventure Time!, The Legend of Korra, Okami, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stranger Things, and the Feywild and Shadowfell adventures from Dungeons & Dragons. They remain some of the most powerful fictional experiences I’ve ever had.
Fairy tales exist in strange and unexpected places, and I’ve learned great truths from them. The Name of the Wind deepened my appreciation for music and storytelling. The Silmarillion moved me to see how the presence of evil can cause good people to turn on one another. Adventure Time! showed me the joy and magic of quirkiness and colour, superimposed on top of a dark background. The Ocean at the End of the Lane captured the essence of both childlike dread and wonder. I would not be the same if it were not for some of these tales.
As many geeks do, I spend much of my life with one foot in reality and another in a fictional world. I don’t see this as running away from real life, but rather deepening my appreciation for it. Some of my best memories, lessons, and experiences come from moments when the barriers between these worlds grow thin, and the characters, themes, and the magic of fiction begin to shape who I am. In a sense, my life becomes a fairy tale too.
In pursuit of the hidden truth and joy buried deep within the fairy tale, I’ve come to accept that even our world itself is but a shadow of one more true. Both of my most revered historical figures spoke this way. Socrates, as written by Plato, likened our world to a cave, in which all that we know and see are shadows, and the sunlight that casts them is a greater truth as yet unknown. Jesus, as written by his disciples, took this lesson a step further, suggesting that real truth was a kingdom which is both not yet and already here, overlapping with our mortal world just as a fairy tale does. This would explain both why the magic feels so real, and why it remains so hard to grasp.
If this is true, it means that I pine for the beauty and wonder of fairy tales because it is what I was made to do. This longing was placed in my heart to remind me that what I see and what I know is not all that there is, and that someday I will finally understand the glorious mystery.