We have a lot to learn from folktales

Mike Gainor, Editor

I’ve been thinking a lot about folktales this past week. Part of this might have to do with the fact that the Pine City High School drama department is performing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” this weekend, and the Heritage Players are getting set to produce  “Into the Woods” this summer in the Pine City Auditorium. That is a heck of a show.

Part of it, too, is that the eighth and last season of “Game of Thrones” just ended. Back when I was a kid, books and movies about dragons, knights and magic were pretty geeky stuff. But for a while this spring, this crazy fantasy show was the biggest thing in the world.

I had friends telling me about “Game of Thrones” for the past few years, but for whatever reason I never got into it. But then, this last winter I had the chance to watch a couple of episodes. They were pretty good. So I watched a couple more. And then a couple more.

And then they had me. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I was watching the show on my phone whenever I had a few minutes to spare. Who does that?

For those of you who haven’t watched the show – well, there are dragons, knights and magic – but there are also mind-bending plot twists, excellent performances and some truly thrilling moments. And ice zombies. Pretty dang scary ice zombies.

Some long-running shows deliver a classic, thrilling finale that make you want to watch the whole series over again from the beginning. Unfortunately, the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” were some of the weakest in the series, with one of the good guys becoming a bad guy for no good reason and ... well, I could go on, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. And it’s like watching an Olympic gymnast who has a fantastic performance, but then stumbles in the landing.  It’s still awfully impressive – it’s just not perfect.

One thing any fan of the show will tell is it can get pretty dark. Some folks are surprised by this, but they probably shouldn’t be. Folktales and fairytales have always had a dark side. For instance, in the original Cinderella story, the two mean stepsisters have their eyes poked out by birds at the end. And that’s hardly the worst of it. The other day I came across one of the original illustrations from the 1812 edition of The Brothers Grimm, and it showed a scene from a story called “The Godfather” of a man running down a stairway with a pile of decapitated human heads behind him and a devil laughing at him. Honestly, it was pretty gruesome – especially for something we usually consider to be children’s stories.

Well, I suppose it’s like the old saying: “The truth ain’t always pretty, but it’s true.” Stories aren’t always about the nicest things that happen, and even the darker folktales get told and retold again and again. But at their best, stories are a way of helping us find our place in the real world and giving us some advice for making our way through it.

I was reading one of our sister newspapers the other day, the Osceola Sun, and came across an editorial by Suzanne Lindgren who was talking about, of all things, folklore – specifically, the Norse tales, and the fact that Odin had two ravens, Huginn and Munninn, whose names meant “thought” and “memory.” Every day they would go out, see the world, and report back to Odin.

“News, it turns out, is a very old concept,” Lindgren wrote. “What’s more, historians and anthropologists have found that the basic idea of news is consistent from culture to culture, from place to place.” She quotes from the book, “The Elements of Journalism,” which states “Being aware of events we cannot see for ourselves engenders a sense of security, control and confidence.”

“Even Odin, who’d given his eye in a successful quest for wisdom, knew he could not lead the gods without the news of the day.”

Well, that’s true for us too here at the Pioneer. We do our best to report on the good and bad in our community, but we couldn’t do it without community members calling or emailing us to tell us when there’s something going on we should know about. Please keep in touch.

Mike Gainor is the editor of the Pine City Pioneer. Contact him at editor@pinecitymn.com or 320-322-5241.

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