Fairy Tales and Mythology
Fairy Tales and Childhood
Mythology and the Play
Symbolism and Mythology in this Play
Fairy Tales and Childhood
We all love fairy tales, but why? Fairy tales have a deep impact on the development of a child. Fairy tales told to a very young child not only stimulate his/her imagination but act as an open window for them to find meaning in their lives. Children, just like adults, constantly search for meaning in their lives. Through fairy tales, they intrinsically learn to identify with the journey of a character and assimilate that to their own lives. Very often fairy tales tell the stories of children or of heroes struggling against demons or insurmountable hardships. Children, by their very nature, align themselves with the hero. When the story ends happily, the hero triumphant, as is the case East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a child is comforted and their place in the world is secure once more. Bettelheim reinforces this point
"The message that manifests in fairy tales is that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence – but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious" (8)
Consequently, as a child travels along the path with the hero he/she becomes aware that by continuing the journey and not giving up that eventually everything ends well, even if you have to fight a hobgoblin or two along the way. A child comprehends through his/her exposure to fairy tales, that good is not always victorious but that evil does not pay and that the baddies always get their comeuppance. As Bettelheim puts it "More can be learned from fairy tales about the inner problems of human beings and of the right solutions than any other type of story within a child's comprehension (5). A child recognizes that even heroes have moments of indecision and moments of being scared and that it is quite normal to feel that way.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a fairy tale which endeavours to enrich a child's life by stimulating his/her imagination, arousing his/her curiosity and develop his/her intellect by exposing a him/her to a picturesque and somewhat complex journey of a young girl searching out a friend she has lost and is compelled to find. The play is an important tale with its themes embroiled in the bonds of friendship, the excitement of growing up and the unfamiliar road of self discovery. All of these are elemental facets of human existence and children expect and accept these.
Children accept that Sophia is guided along her journey by an owl, a butterfly, a seal, a snake and a dragon because children ask different questions to adults about just how things are. Bettelheim points out that it is more comprehendible to a child that the world is held up by a piece of string than to explain to them that the world turns on its axis and that it spins incredibly fast around the sun.
Mythology and the Play
The play is steeped in the mythology of many places, mainly Celtic. The use of mythology in a tale is a great way of giving people of all ages an insight into the way ancient civilizations explained their world – and taught their children lessons. It can also give people an idea of how others long ago thought, and what they believed in. In this respect, the play can be as much a lesson in history as it can be a lesson in personal self-discovery. The story of East of the Sun and West of the Moon can be glimpsed in the modern film, Shrek. The beautiful Princess Fiona has had a terrible spell cast upon her- to be human by day and ogre by night. The spell can only be broken by her one true love and her story is that of her search for the one who will break the spell. Shrek, an ogre, unwittingly goes on a quest for the cowardly king to rescue the princess. On the journey back to the king, Shrek falls in love with the princess and it is he who breaks the spell. Traditionally it is usually the prince, or the male protagonist who is under the spell- turned into a frog by an evil enchantress for example. In this story the roles are reversed. Even the transformation of the heroine is reversed. Instead of retaining her human form, she becomes the ogre for all time. Similarly, she learns about herself as a person, that she is beautiful and kind and good no matter what form she takes.
Stories such as these teach important life lessons in which children in particular can explore who they are and who they want to become as an adult. Some darker stories are not there to scare but to teach the importance of the balance of both dark and light within us all.
Based upon an old Celtic folk tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon is a story of bravery, love, determination, self-belief, retribution and life. This simple tale crosses cultures, time and space and similar stories can be found within Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, Siberian and Oriental culture. And it is not only ancient oral traditions that this same story can be found.
Despite differing religious and cultural traditions, a great number of traditional folk tales across the world bare striking resemblances to each other and to East of the Sun and West of the Moon. What are known as transformation myths or ‘metamorphosis myths' are extremely common and can be about humans who are turned into animals through magic, animals who turn into humans, humans becoming immortal and mortal bodies becoming heavenly bodies, more philosophically, they are about the journey of human beings from birth to death. The Roman poet Ovid told many such metamorphosis myths based upon many Roman traditional tales.
Many similar tales exist telling of transformations through magic by jealous or evil beings and the journeys the loved ones of the transformed go through to save them. These stories reach across the divisions of language and religion, spreading the same message throughout the world; love conquers all, evil will be punished, beauty and innocence defeats the ugly and hideous. Purity in a time of war and conflict was paramount in teaching the lessons of life. Equally, every culture in the world tells these tales not only to teach respect for human life but for animal life and for the lives of ancestors and gods. Each is a little myth within a myth waiting to be cracked as valuable insight into the way humanity has evolved and dealt with what the harshness of their lives have thrown in their paths.
Symbolism and Mythology in this Play
As with all stories, myths rely heavily upon the use of symbols as interpretive devices to drive the intended meaning, message or theme. These symbols differ from culture to culture as meaning changes according to the traditional customs and beliefs. Therefore interpretation of any one myth can differ greatly depending upon the one doing the interpretation and what back ground they come from. However, many hymnologists worldwide have come up with generally accepted interpretations of what particular symbols mean according to the cultural evidence left behind by the people to whom these stories belong.
The Sacred Tree
The most prominent and the most important symbol in this tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon is the use of trinities. The number three was sacred to the Celts and it appears everywhere in their art, writings and spiritual beliefs. These triads appear heavily within Celtic mythology where usually groups of three characters are prevalent. Significantly, these three characters are more often than not a triplication of a single person. This notion and strength of triads (a group of three) is also evident in the story East of the Sun and West of the moon. The character of the girl, the boy and the troll princess represent the Celtic romantic tale in regards to the love triangle. Perhaps on a deeper level, the young girl is divided into a triad within herself, each a representation of the deeper levels of human consciousness.
In folk literature he is depicted as the sun and the lover. His act of awakening the sleeping princess or freeing the enchanted maid is seen as his awakening of the world to love and light.
The frog is symbolic of many things; glory, inquisitiveness, inspiration, renewed birth, pestilence, vanity. In dream interpretation a frog means indiscretion. It is seen as the animal which supports the world on its back and in Altai Tatar mythology it is the bringer of fire to man, being the animal who discovers the mountain which supports the existence of the birch tree and stones from which fire was first made.
The first incarnation of Psyche and the personification of the human soul. Symbolizes beauty, grace, freedom and magic. Is generally the form taken by a ‘good witch' to bring tidings or to guide the lost or confused heroine. Sometimes seen as the form that a human soul may take after death on its journey to the afterlife.
Seen as the wisest of all creatures because of its large eyes and intelligent gaze. Often appears to a hero or heroine to advise and counsel and to guide in the absence of a wise human guardian
Often the terrifying and destructive force in mythology that the hero goes to defeat. Its reputations of fire breathing and ransacking of villages for the human feast it so loves. However, as the oldest of creatures it has an old mind and is wise, though often vain, and in good moods may offer help in exchange for a precious item of gold or jewels.