Monday, June 9, 2014

Fairytale Salad

E.T. was always one of those films that the adults had unanimously decided kids really ought to like; that kids were supposed to like, and therefore they did like. But E.T. for us kids, while being immanently watchable (our favourite part was the bicycle getaway towards the end), was never what the adults thought it was for us. We never regarded the story as meat, but salad.

The same held for "the Force" mumbo jumbo in the Star Wars films; it was salad, albeit slathered with thousand island dressing (which I used to love but now hate). Though the backstories as hinted by Kenobi and later unfolded was meat. What took our interest and fascination was the Sand People, the light saber, the Millennium Falcon, the hologram chessboard, the Rancor Monster, Greedo (who did not engage in the fairytale salad of shooting first), Jabba the Hut, Boba Fett, Yoda's swamp and his stone other words, we wanted meat.

In other words, we loved The Goonies. Is it coincidental that The Goonies found great favour with kids while adults generally disliked the film?

The Indiana Jones films were totally meat, never salad. The supernatural aspects (or in the case of the second film, the uh, preternatural aspects?) of the films were never salad. I still remember getting the terrible willies from that early scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana is approached in the lecture hall by the men about the Lost Ark, and he pulls out the book with the illustration of the tribe of Israel carrying the Ark. No effects, eerie music, all evoked: it was totally meat.

Notice I'm not including the "fourth" "installment" of "Indiana Jones and Skull Something or Other". Fairytale salad.

Perhaps you are starting to get a clue as to what is meant by "fairytale salad".

I recall Tim Jones of Old World Swine blog remarking how when he was a kid it was the same deal with Where the Wild Things Are: the book was something the adults had decided kids really ought to love and that's precisely how the book came across to him. Fairytale salad.

I don't remember being read Hans Christian Anderson stories as a kid. I do remember when browsing through them, looking at the pictures, the particular aura, the particular scent that the books gave off: fairytale salad.

But we were always suckers for such things as Hansel and Gretel. That was meat. That was faerie. Aesop's fables (whatever renditions we read at that time) and other stories such as Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby were meat enough to not be considered fairytale salad.

People like to say that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is redneck white trash. But the fact is, when the movie first came out - this is after the toys and the animated t.v. series - it was so totally meat. It held our fascination because it was so stunningly earthy. One can laugh, but the movie still holds up - for what it is.

Anyways, to carry this further, I thought I would include some meaty cultural twins. Here's a pair: Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings.

Both were published in the same year: 1954. Both have titles referring to the evil one. In the case of Tolkien, to Sauron, the servant of Melkor. In the case of Golding, the title is the literal English for "Beelzebub". Both books went on to become best-sellers, and both went on to become hugely popular albeit in different ways. The Lord of the Rings became the best-selling book behind the Bible and, well, we all know how huge it is; and Lord of the Flies, while a best-seller, became entrenched as required reading for Grade 11 English classes the world over (or other grades, give or take). Both involve a chubby or portly "sidekick" who is regarded as insignificant (and in the case of Piggy, downright mocked and derided) but who turns out to be either the hero or, in the case of Piggy, the one who ought to be listened to. It goes without saying, both authors were English (British). Interestingly, Lord of the Flies is allegorical, boldly so, yet not at all in the same vein as Lewis. There is something much more archetypical, or evocative, about Golding's very imagistic allegory. It's more like the images develop an allegorical sense on their own. But still very different from The Lord of the Rings.

Golding and Tolkien, as far as I know, were not acquaintances. How does one account for this cultural phenomenon, these cultural twins?

Anyhow, here's a quote from a letter that J.R.R Tolkien wrote, Letter 328:

"A few years ago I was visited in Oxford by a man whose name I have now forgotten (though I believe he was well-known). He had been much struck by the curious way in which many old pictures seemed to him to have been designed to illustrate The Lord of the Rings long before its time. He brought one or two reproductions. I think he wanted at first simply to discover whether my imagination had fed on pictures, as it clearly had been by certain kinds of literature and languages. When it became obvious that, unless I was a liar, I had never seen the pictures before and was not well acquainted with pictorial Art, he fell silent. I became aware that he was looking fixedly at me. Suddenly he said: 'Of course you don't suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?'

Pure Gandalf! I was too well acquainted with G. to expose myself rashly or to ask what he meant. I think I said: 'No, I don't suppose so any longer.' I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff any one up who considers the imperfections of 'chosen instruments', and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose."

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