According to Sara Maitland, whose fantastic book ‘From the Forest: a Search for the Hidden Roots of our Fairy Tales’, fairy tales are ‘site specific’. A geographer, I try to make sense of the place I study or live in. Even if I am not paid for it, automatically I try to grasp the sense of a place. Fairytales and forests are often the first ‘things’ I examine. That is why I am so motivated to keep a blog about woodwide stories. Sara Maitland goes one step deeper: she connects forests and fairytales in Northwest-Europe, with has Teutonic cultural roots. In countries like Germany and United Kingdom (and I assume Flanders in Belgium, where we speak also a Germanic language), forests and fairytales are in a symbiotic relationship, like trees and the fungi. Another common thread is getting lost in the forest, or escaping in the forest. I am not a fairytale expert/folklorist, but I am not sure of that statement: that forest fairytales are a ‘Germanic/Teutonic cultural thing’. I do not want to deny either ‘how the land, the scenery and the climate shape and inform the imaginations of people,’ as Sara beautifully wrote down.
Fairytales in other regions
“To put it at its most basic, in the Arabian Nights the heroes do not go out and get lost in the forest, or escape into the forest; this is because, very simply, there aren’t any forests. But it goes deeper than this – they do not get lost at all; the heroes either set off freely seeking adventure – often by boat, like Sinbad the Sailor – or they are exiled, escape murder (rather than poverty), or are abducted’, Sara wrote. She is also not surprised that the three monotheist religions – the Abrahamic faiths like christianity, islam and judaism- have “their roots in the desert, in the vast empty space under those enormous stars, where life is always provisional, always at risk”, in contrary to Japanese shintoism, with its many kami, almost for each different rock and tree. Also other themes emerge, as the place also shapes and informs the psyche of the person who live there. The fairytales are born out of the place, and are born out of the imagination of the collective shaped and influenced by this place.
But we start to travel more, so which fairytales do we need?
Sara focuses only on the fairytales of Grimm and connects 12 forests in the United Kingdom with 12 fairytales. She has her own reason for that. As someone who has lived in different places, I have used and retold fairytales from different regions.
Sara wrote one sentence that let me smile deeply: ‘The stories ar so tough and shrewd formally that I can us them for anything I want – feminist revisioning, psychological exploration, malicious humor, magical realism, nature writing.” I had done all of that in the past year, or more. I had retold Amaterasu’s myth in light of an ecofeminist workshop, had explored my own psyche through Grimm fairytales and infused my somewhat magical realist novel with the fairytale of Vasalisa and the doll. And yes, now I realise that perhaps it is no coincidence that for the ecofeminist workshop in Japan I used a Japanese story, for my harvest project in Belgium a Germanic, and for my book which has many references to Northern Europe a Nordic myth. I did not do it on purpose, but after reflecting upon this, it makes sense, that the imagination that this place evokes among others, also inspires me.
What are your thoughts?