Guest Post: Are You Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? (or Making Your Voice Heard, Even If You Can Only Whisper) by Gypsy Thornton
October 6, 2020
The following is a MARVELOUS guest post from the amazing Gypsy Thornton of Once Upon a Blog!
Let’s face this head-on: we are miffed – MIFFED, I say! – at our precious season of Halloween being overshadowed by the news of the present and immediate future. We want our witchy time, our costumed feasts, our night-street roaming and we want, possibly need, a good dose of magic in our lives after this Year Of Plague.
But there is more than that, too. We are also afraid.
No matter your situation or political affiliation, everyone has fears right now – big, bad, nightmarish fears. What has happened to us? What is happening right now? How do we go on? Will we survive?
It feels like dissent is everywhere and violence is just a heartbeat, or a word, away. How can we not be frightened?
But you know what? There couldn’t be a more appropriate season for facing this. Far from being a frivolous escape into bewitching dreams and dress-up, Halloween is really all about facing and dealing with our biggest fears. With the triple-slam-disaster of pandemic, eco-catastrophe, and political mayhem, it doesn’t get much bigger than this, and we could use a little fear-management about now.
The good news is, Halloween, with its glorious abundance of folklore, fairy tales, and myriad examples of bravery-despite-clear-and-present-danger, is here to help.
Fairy tales have talking wolves, jealous queens, blue-bearded aristocrats, mad kings, giants and disguised sorcerers for characters to test their bravery against. Making a single voice – or sentence – heard, or striking a blow that makes a difference, is a major feat in these stories, in no small part because they are afraid. Very afraid.
But that’s OK.
Being afraid is natural. Normal, understandable. Even in fairy tales. It’s nature’s way of saying “yes, there is danger here” so we can be aware of the possible consequences of any action taken. But -and this is important- fear is also a warning against consequences for any inaction taken.
Bravery is taking that action and saying those words that need to be said, despite that fear. Thinking about this in the context of Things going on in the world right now, fairy tales and Halloween might feel completely irrelevant. It may seem at a glance we need the moxy and eloquence of Scheherazade to do this, or perhaps the quick wits and deft hands of Molly Whuppie, but we’re tired, exhausted, and afraid. Who has the energy or wit to emulate heroines like these? But fairy tales give us many -many!- different clues for a myriad of survival strategies we can use, even when we’re shaking, more than a little, in our boots.
Remember Cinderella, running in a panic from the ball? Have you read the versions where her shoes get caught in pitch (a trap laid specifically for her by royalty) and, rather than freeze, she gives up her designer bling and gets to safety anyway? Brave. “But she just ran like a rabbit!”, I hear you say. She did. She did indeed. And then she went back, with a better disguise and a better strategy. Brave.
Does Cinderella’s story seem completely unrelated to your situation today, right now? How about if Cinderella’s shoe was actually a ballot that appeared to have been swallowed in “pitch” at the last poll? How about making sure that despite your experience, you are registered to vote? How about casting your vote, even if you have doubts it will make any difference? Be like Cinderella. Go back. Be brave.
Or what about the bravery of Red Riding Hood, asking her questions? Not assuming but voicing her observations, getting her facts straight, persisting on getting to the truth? “What big eyes you have, what big ears… what big teeth…” I will admit I had never considered Red Riding Hood’s statements as a survival strategy, or how much importance there is in her voicing her concerns in that story. In Kate Bernheimer’s recent brilliant and beautiful lecture on fairy tale survival strategies (an amazing mix of creative and personal storytelling and scholarship), she makes the profound parallel between Red asking questions that seek the truth and the persistence of the exact-same strategy, as modeled by our beloved, late hero Ruth Bader Ginsberg that changed history. RBG’s persistence in seeking both sides to answer truthfully, brought about a way forward, the path, to create laws of equality. Kate says it so much better, and outlines other brave and survival strategies worth hearing too. You can watch her lecture, for free, here. For my part, I will now always picture RBG, her voice calmly observing ”what fake news/big teeth you have,” dressed in her iconic lace collar, a heroic red cape at her back. Be like Red. Be persistent. Question the news. Be brave.
Think about Rose Red, Snow White, and their single-parent mother who persisted in caring for their strange neighbors with kindness despite fearsome looks, and without judgement despite ungratefulness and selfish ways. Persist in kindness, no matter who the neighbor. Be brave.
Think about the Goose Girl princess who is unable to speak (to keep her oath) but still finds a way to tell her truth. Instead of keeping a diary, like Anne Frank, she whispers her story to an oven, and against the odds, she is heard. Find a way to speak your truth, even if anonymously, quietly, your voice shaking. Be brave.
We’re all afraid and that’s OK. There are many, many ways to have your voice heard, to speak your truth. You don’t need to be heroically strong or full of witchy mischief. You can be mouse-small, nightingale-plain or deer-timid. All have their own ways of being brave and none involve having to stop being afraid.
So you are officially being given permission to pay attention to those fairy tales nudging the edge of your thoughts, to embrace the strength and strategies they’re offering you, to spend time in your traditions and activities that mark the magic of the season. Pull on your gothic boots, dust off your red cape, carve out a pumpkin smile with bared teeth and make it glow for all to see. These are exactly the things we should be doing to celebrate the fear-fighting power of Halloween. It’s not a trivial, irrelevant ritual, but one in which we empower ourselves by meeting fear head-on and saying “I am afraid but I am still here, and I’m not done yet.”
[Want some help making your Halloween extra magical with a witchy cheer squad who will help you speak your own truth and story? Come join the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic’s Haunted: An Online Halloween Extravaganza!]
Gypsy’s Recommended Further Reading:
- Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World by Kathleen Ragan – wonderful collection, also excellent for sharing with families, of different ways of dealing with very real fears, this collection was inspired by the aftermath of dealing with the fears surrounding 9/11.
- Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton
- The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg familiar fairy tales/children’s stories retold
- Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill – if you only look up one book in this list, choose this one. There’s a lot of power, and empowerment, packed into just a few words. Feeling exhausted, weak, afraid and overwhelmed? These poems hear you, validate you, and help you find the will to keep going.
- From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner – looks at the power of the female voice in folklore, fairy tale and myth, among other related subjects
- No Go, the Bogeyman: Scaring, lulling, and Making Mock by Marina Warner – wonderfully researched, academic exploration of that “fear figure” or “bogeyman” from childhood onward and why we are fascinated with scary things and monsters
Academic – Online Papers:
- “Women’s Voice and Images in Folk Tales and Fairy Tale” by Luma Ibrahim Al-Barazenji
- “Violence and Fear in Folktales” by David Boudinot
- “Strategic Silences: Voiceless Heroes in Fairy Tales” by Jeana Jorgensen
- Fairest by Gail Carson Levine – an unattractive heroine with a special voice she must figure out how to use (by the author of Ella Enchanted)
- Briar Rose: A Novel of the Holocaust by Jane Yolen – retelling of Sleeping Beauty, set during WWII; explores the power and importance of telling your own story, despite awful circumstances
- Watching the Roses by Adele Geras – although a short book with heavy subject matter, the novel explores working through fear and trauma to speak your own truth, and uses letters and symbology of roses for the journey. Uses Sleeping Beauty fairy tale as its basis.
- The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee – based on The Magic Flute and the character of The Queen of the Night; story revolves around an opera singer who “struggles to control her destiny by controlling her voice” – many fairy tale tropes included (overview/review here by Constance Grady for VOX)
- The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine – a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses that explores abuse and rebellion against the backdrop of 1920s speakeasies.
- Tales of Trouble and Transformation: Fairy tales served as inspiration for works in the Weatherspoon Art Museum’s ‘Dread & Delight’ review by Tom Patterson for Winston-Salem Journal Now (2019)
- The Dark Fairy Tales of Miwa Yanagi photos for Cult of Weird (trigger warning for explicit, horror photography)
- Letting Go Ritual for Halloween/Samhain by Mani Navasothy