"To read a fairy tale," writes Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer as a special to the National Post, "is to enter a collective dream space. The stories have lost and accrued material. One must suspend a sense of authority at all — of narrative positioning, of who and why a story might have survived ... They entrance us with their superficiality."
With Snow White and the Huntsman grossing something like $56.2 million on its opening weekend (June 3rd), and with the film presently standing as the second-highest grossing movie at the foreign box office (surpassed only by Madacascar 3), Kathryn's point is hard to argue. Even the subverted fairy tale--once the exclusive terrain of pungently political fiction writers like Angela Carter--is now being co-opted by the mainstream. "Strongly influenced by a lot of smart, feminist thinking," says New York magazine of Snow White. (Because the heroine spends the film running from, instead of sleeping through, her stepmother's vanity-driven genocide campaign?) And here's the LA Times: "[the film is] an absolute wonder to watch and creates a warrior princess for the ages. But what this revisionist fairy tale does not give us is a passionate love - its kisses are as chaste as the snow is white."
It seems that the 2012 theatre-going public wants something like An Affair to Remember plus Xena. It's easy to dish up. Especially because--as Maria Tatar writes in The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, and as Kuitenbrouwer cites in the Post--"fairy tales are invested above all in surfaces, in everything that glitters, dazzles and shines." In that respect there's no genre better suited to the silver screen.
"Still," Tatar continues, "[fairy tales] give us the psychological depth, even when the characters are described only in terms of surfaces. … As the stereotypical plots of fairy tales churn with melodramatic fervor, they also sparkle with surface beauty. The result is something I will call ignition power — the ability to inspire our powers of imagination so that we begin to see scenes described by nothing more than words on the page.”
The point of all this, of course, being that Kuitenbrouwer thinks Mike Barnes's The Reasonable Ogre has ignition power and then some. "We do not live in reasonable times," she says, and Barnes "[uses] the comfort of the old stories — their cliché and predictability — to discuss ... climate change, war, economic ruin and moral laziness. The 12 stories that comprise this collection are marvellous in the truest sense. They are strange and dark, unpleasant and open-hearted, by which I mean my deepest compliments."
Check out the whole review in this weekend's Saturday Post, or online here. Beyond being a thoughtful look at Mike's work it's a nice intro to the nature of the modern fairy tale, and features doffs of the cap to A. S. Byatt, Sara Maitland, Italo Calvino, Kate Bernheimer, Angela Carter, and Oscar Wilde.
In other words? Dwarves, schwarves. Mike, you're in the company of giants.