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427. Decrease (VII)

If you want to understand what CG Jung meant when he spoke about the collective unconscious then read Brothers Grimm. The fairytales the brothers collected find crevasses in the psyche; each tale has a quality that belies its simplicity—there is much more to the tale than what has been set on the page; there is always a moral, yes, but there is also a penumbra, something even deeper than the moral. There is nothing like fairytale land and never can be; no single man could write a fairytale from scratch; and no novel, no work of literature, can compare to the fairytale—even the Bible cannot match the fairytale, except for Proverbs; and Proverbs is really a fairytale too.

No single man can replicate a fairytale because each story contains within it evolutionary strength. The tales the Grimms collected had been told and retold over the centuries; perhaps for twenty centuries—perhaps for thirty, nobody really knows. With each telling—at a cottage stove, chimney wreathed in thin white smoke—new details were added; so the fairytale was produced by an iterative evolutionary process, just like our own biological natures. Additions and subtractions to and from the tales were, on occasion, evolutionary dead ends; yet the most robust stories survived, perfectly crafted to be passed on and be remembered. Unlike novels or literature—or even holy texts, such as the Koran and the Bible—what we read in fairytales is hundreds of lives impressed into the tale over the centuries.

This is what gives the fairytale its absolutely distinct life-world; as the tale begins, you immediately know that you are in fairytale land. You know you are there because you feel a hundred long-perished voices in the page; it is impossible to fake it. I recently learned that Pinocchio is not a fairytale; it was written in the 1880s by one man, although it was inspired by the fairytale tradition—again, this explains why this tale is not as deep and impactful as, say, Sleeping Beauty.

There is always a sensation that there is something more to fairytales than meets the eye; and, indeed, there are esoteric themes—the numbers thirteen and seven recur—yet this is not conscious esotericism; the depth comes from the multiple life experiences encoded into a single story, such depth is not immediately cognizable.

Fairytales also connect to nature in a way no contemporary story can do. You can go into nature and write about it or record it, but fairytales emerge from a world where—century upon century—people in Germany and Britain lived mostly among sparsely-populated forests. You, who grew up amid screens and offices, cannot return to the sensibility that has only known trees and cottages; and this is why the fairytale brings you to nature in a way no other story can do. The tales are violent: in the unsentimental original, the princess throws the frog against a wall to turn him into a prince—no gentle kiss here. Men “marry the rope-maker’s daughter”—they are hanged—and bodies are removed from coffins to be warmed in a bed, only to reanimate and strangle the sleeper.

Yet it is all very real; children are decapitated and revived when blood is smeared across their neck at the join—and this seems very credible, for some unknown reason. A princess defies the Virgin Mary and has three children carried off because she will not admit her crime; the court claims she is a child-devourer and sets out to burn her—only at her last moment does the princess relent and admit her pride, and only then are the children restored and her life spared. To consciously write such defiance would be difficult; yet that really is how difficult it is to swallow pride. “That’s just a fairytale.” Yet fairytales embody centuries of processing time, collective iterated intelligence: there is nothing more real than a fairytale—it is only Disney that is unreal; the fairytale itself is high-definition reality.


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