Into the Woods
Fairy tales appear to belong to the culture of childhood, but their origins lie in the childhood of culture – to the campsites and hearths where adults told stories to multi-generational audiences. A fairy tale’s higher truths take the form of beautiful lies, what C.S. Lewis, in conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien, called “lies breathed through silver.” For many years, Disney was our portal to these tales, but in the twenty-first century, new media and old give us everything from fairy-tale teen romance and action-adventure films to feminist re-scriptings with tricksters and warrior women. In times of transition and crisis, we seem drawn to the tried and the true, the magical and the mythical, in large part because these stories take up deep cultural contradictions and conflicts. In this Master Class we enter the woods with Little Red Riding Hood, meet the witch who welcomes Hansel and Gretel into her tasty house, and contemplate the fate of comatose Sleeping Beauties.
Maria Tatar teaches at Harvard University, where she chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology. Her many books include Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood, and she’s the editor and translator of The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, The Annotated Peter Pan, The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition and The Grimm Reader.