Who hasn’t heard a story that begins something like ‘Once upon a time in a faraway land,’ ‘A long time ago in a distant land,’ or ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’? One of the most powerful storytelling tools used not just for fairytales but also in most other genres that explore fantastical realms is the separation of the audience from the story in both space and time. Fairy tales, for example, almost invariably happen in unnamed lands that really don’t have much relation to reality and they take place in indeterminate past times. So why do fairytales so consistently separate themselves from the audience in time and space?
The answer to this question can be found in the history of the fairytale genre. In Europe during the 19th-century, a movement in art and literature now termed as Romanticism rejected the cold logic of the 18th-century Enlightenment by exploring the mystical, spiritual, and superstitious folktale tradition that had its roots in the middle ages. Unlike the scientific, rational world of the 19th century, faith, superstition, and feeling governed the middle ages. By turning back to a more mystical time, Romanticism sought to emphasize strong emotions and feelings. Such strong emotions could reach a truth about the nature of people that science and rational logic just could not reach. Old folktales, rife with consuming love stories, inexplicable magic, and all manner of terrifying creatures and beings, were emotive of people’s deepest, darkest fears and most desperate hopes. Placed in an ancient past that was separate from the present, these stories explored strong emotions without being constrained by the rules of the modern world. To create a greater separation from the real world, many fairytales took place in far off and unspecified lands, where the rules of the real world have even less application. Fairytales set in a distant past and distant place allowed storytellers a safe arena to explore scary, powerful emotions while still allowing people to come back to the real world in time for tea. From fairytales and folktales sprang the fantasy genre, and even in modern fantasy stories like Harry Potter, the separation of the real world from the fantasy world is still a defining feature.
Here at Fairytale Studios, we believe self-exploration through the imagination is really important, especially for kids. So, this whole month we will present fun activities that will encourage kids to explore their own imaginary worlds. Check back for some really great activities and check out our apps, like Jack and the Beanstalk for some fun, imaginary worlds to explore!