When I ask this question in my classes I’m often met with silence. Sometimes people can’t say because they had no name for what they saw. Sometimes they were too busy ‘reading’ to notice what they felt. Sometimes, if they’re honest, they’ll say that they couldn’t finish it, or got distracted or went on to other things. They’re often polite and don’t like to use words like bored or bothered but you can hear those words clanking their chains around the table.
I know those chains. I too was lost to my fairy tale books. They had become flat and static. I was flummoxed by their lack of dimension, in the characters and the events. I couldn’t bear the repetitions – to read the same words, once, twice and then three times again. I was so restless, dare I say bored, that I could hardly stay on the page.
Like many an unsuspecting fairy tale character I found I could not go home again. The door was barred to the person I had become – too old, too worldly, too preoccupied perhaps – to reenter that realm. I could not summon the magic words that would unlock the golden door, or find a cloak of invisibility to masquerade my trespass. I was on the outside looking in.
Uneasy at this prospect, I did what most fairy tale characters do – I just stopped. I put the books away, and began to give up on my sentimental notions. Occasionally, I would have a fleeting sense of those stories, some atavistic reminder of what they were, and the yearning would come again. What could that mean, I asked. But the disappointed seeker in me would respond: Mere nostalgia, it reasoned, and nothing more.
When grown-up ways are firmly in place, then truer instincts find other ways to be heard. In my in-between times, when I least expected it, I would remember something from those days. A flash of intuition would arise or an image from one of my beloved books, and I’d have a sense of shared sympathy when another soul was in deep sadness or great joy. For brief moments, I could see the fairy tale lad or the princess in just such a state – their despair when all seemed lost or their immense relief at the journey’s end. Those moments grew. Soon, I could recognize that dragons still roam our world – in the office, at the mall, on our street. When I worked with clients struggling with addiction I suddenly knew what it meant to be under a spell. Evil stepmothers and magical helpers kept showing up, each doing what they do. The rhythm and cycle of storybook life, where we meet test after test on our way to becoming who we are, was present everywhere.
When I picked up my books again I remembered that each character has a time when they must sit and wait, when nothing can be done until grace arrives. That’s what I do now, what I have to do. I read the words slowly and then I wait. Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes everything comes alive and I am filled with wonderings. Although I leave with more questions than answers, the door is no longer barred.
That’s what you’ll find here. Each of my posts comes from those awakened moments. As I puzzled my way though the stories, I found things I wanted to share. These are my discoveries, but they’re not the whole of it. Each of you can find your own treasure. When you start to look it’ll be there, waiting, just for you.
The answer to the question – what do we see when we look into a fairy tale – we see ourselves.