The Uses Of Enchantment

200px-Three_little_pigs_1904_straw_houseThe gales are back in force. As the wind howled and the rain lashed at our window panes, tearing down the wisteria outside the kitchen door, I felt like a little pig. One of three, that is. Fortunately in a house made of brick. Had it been of straw we would have woken up exposed to the elements. I refer, of course, to the fairy tale featuring a big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew down two of the houses, built of insubstantial materials, with disastrous consequences for the piglets. The wiser, better prepared, porker survived. Other versions have the third brother rescuing his siblings. Either way, it is an entertaining fable, which has given generations of children scary delight.

Not everyone today would agree that this, like many other such tales, is a suitable story for young children. I cannot now remember whether this one featured in Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book, ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales’. ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, also featuring a frightening wolf certainly did. All children have fearful fantasies that they need to come to terms with in a safe atmosphere and environment. Bettelheim’s thesis is that folk tales featuring death, destruction, witches and injury, help children to do so. I have more than once referred to the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’, which some people, as with much of this duo’s work, consider too dark. I am, however, in agreement with Bettelheim.

Heinrich Hoffman, for me, is another matter. His ‘Struwwelpeter’, of 1845, at one time the most prolifically published children’s book in the world, is aimed at scaring infants into behaving themselves. StruwwelpeterThe cover of my 1909 copy of Routledge’s English translation illustrates what happens to Little Suck-a-Thumb. There is no possibility of redemption in these cautionary tales – just horrific punishment. Contrast this with what must be Wild Thing illustrationuniversally the most popular children’s book of today, Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ from 1963. Max, punished for ill-treating the family dog is banished to his room, indulges his fantasies, and is finally forgiven by his mother. It is one thing, although not good, for a child to wave a fork to frighten a dog, quite another for an adult to snip off thumbs.

Nasturtium leavesBy mid-afternoon everything had calmed down and I could cease my internal rambling and walk the Hordle Cliff top route in reverse. Water bubbles balanced on nasturtium leaves sparkled in the sunlight.

When we arrived at Downton at the beginning of April a flood around a manhole cover on a bend a short distance from our back drive was being pumped out. Today the lake is back. FloodThe flood warning sign has lain in the hedgerow all summer. I fished it out and leant it against a tree. Without this warning the car in the picture would have rushed through the water the driver would not have seen on the blind bend, and given me a cold shower. Pool reflecting skiesOther pools reflected the skies at regular intervals.

Broken umbrellaThe skeleton of an umbrella no longer fit for purpose lay abandoned in a bus shelter that has also seen better days.Skyscape with dog walkers

Even the dogs on the cliff path showed no interest in descending to the shingle below.

This evening’s dinner consisted of rack of pork ribs marinaded in chilli sauce, served with pilau rice and green beans, followed by ginger pudding and custard. Unless you are of a certain age you will not remember the runner beans that, by the time they reached the greengrocer’s, had tough skins with strong cords running down the sides. If you do remember, you may have helped your mother top and tail them, deftly stripping off the stringy bits. Now, the young vegetables reach the supermarkets in tender condition and you just toss them into the boiling water or the steamer. With our meal Jackie finished the Pedro Jimenez, and I began the Rawnsley Estate shiraz grenach mourvedre 2012. Incidentally, it was competition from the Australians that forced the French to name the grapes on their wine labels.

44 responses to “The Uses Of Enchantment”

  1. […] to the weather. Not so the head gardener. Jackie is usually very even tempered. Except when we have a heavy wind (or another driver is ‘up [her] bottom’ on the road). Then she wanders around the house […]

  2. My grandmother used to tell us scary stories; there was one about an old woman who ate children, crunching on their bones ‘like eating peanuts’. I remember listening to them with morbid fascination but I was never scared. 🙂

    Some great photos on this post, Derrick.

  3. This is an interesting question, Derrick. I heard all those fairy tales as a girl (although I never heard of the one with the adult chasing after the thumbsucker – that’s a little scary) and was not traumatized by them. I think you are right that children have these fearful fantasies. When I had my own children, however, I was shocked at how violent some of these stories were! Different perspecitves, right?

  4. An interesting way to spend a rainy morning, re-reading scary children’s stories! I remember a lot of them, though not all, but never heard the fright in many of them — did my mother change the stories just enough to hide the terror, or was I just too young to understand? I do remember Strewwelpeter and that macabre cover, but again not the story.

    Your flood sounds a bit scary too, but it certainly produced a wonderful reflection for a very apt capture with the camera!

  5. Such an interesting and thought provoking post, Derrick – thank you for bringing it to the interest of your newer readers, some 7 years after it’s writing.
    Life itself can be harsh and scary. Perhaps a nursery story, heard in safety, and with the opportunity for discussion and exploration, is a positive way to start to think about that fact.
    I think that a good range of children’s stories, rhymes etc are useful in reflecting reality; not just sugar coated stories written through a permanent lens tinted with pink!

  6. We had runner beans every other night and I well remember stringing them. You could even buy a little gadget for the purpose. I hadn’t realised it was age. I simply thought gardeners had bred it out of the varieties we eat now.
    Fellow author and friend Kate Forsyth writes books based on fairy tales, especially those of the Brothers Grimm and the woman who told them the tales in the first place. Bitter Greens, for example, is a medieval tale wound around the story of Rapunzel. I can recommend her writing.

    • Thanks very much for all this, Gwen. Your own “I belong to no-one” was one of the last books added to my library, so I am unlikely to add Kate Forsyth, even though this is a good recommendation. I won’t have enough time left to get through all my others. 🙂

  7. The umbrella skeleton is scarier after the ‘Struwwelpeter’ image. How gruesome! I’m glad we’ve made progress as with Max who deserved to go to time out in his room. Hopefully he learned that we can imagine all sorts of adventures without acting them out.

  8. Children like to be frightened it seems. When my granddaughter was 4 she stayed with us and brought with her a DVD of the film Coraline. She was terrified of it but watched it every day. I remember seeing Doctor Who from behind the sofa but still continued to watch.

  9. As a child I enjoyed reading the fairytales and never once thought of them as scary or took them seriously. I read them to my children and now to my grandchildren and not one has found them dark, scary or worthy of nightmares.

    They are what they are, simply fairytales.

  10. A post right up my alley: I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bruno Bettelheim’s book; was introduced to Struwelpeter when young; my own children were deliciously scared by ‘Where the Wild Things are” and my grandchildren have all enjoyed “The Gruffalo”. Such happy, happy memories this post has evoked for me.

  11. Excellent post, Derrick!
    You’ve introduced me to Struwwelpeter. I had not heard of this before. 😮
    Even at my well-seasoned age some of the fairy tales and “children’s stories” are too scary for me! 😮 Like the original Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales…they freak me out.
    But I know some kids enjoy the scary stories and learn from them. It depends on the child, their age, etc. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  12. Thanks for sending us back in time here, Derrick. I’ve always delighted in the horror of the early, creepier versions of children’s tales. Chopping off fingers is frightening, and likewise keeping one’s little brother in a cage and fattening him up to eat. These stories wouldn’t even make it to the publishing house’s senior editor in 2021, ha ha.

    Your raindrops on nasturtium leaves reminds me of Andrew’s post today, and good on ya for bringing the sign out to warn motorists. I do like the crumpled skeleton of the umbrella, curled like dead spider legs.

  13. What a fascinating post, Derrick. I feel some fairy tales are too dark for children. Depending on their age and upbringing, some children are more naive than others and can’t differentiate between real and fantasy. I agree Struwwelpeter is horrific

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