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In an effort to push myself to read more than I have in the past few years, I decided to sign up for an online course examining works of fantasy and science fiction throughout the ages, beginning with Grimm’s Household Tales and ending with the Left Hand of Darkness.  Each reading is accompanied by an essay assignment, a brief 320 word thesis aimed at enlightening my fellow attentive, intelligent student. This is more difficult in many ways than writing a 10 page report. particularly when taking 40+ fairy tales and finding common thread in their midst to focus on. I’ve already picked five different topics I could discuss, and literally just thought of another.

As is often the case, people of a certain age settle into ruts in their lives, following the routines of sustaining a civilized existence. I am usually inundated with work, kid’s activities, cooking, cleaning and trying to squeeze in self-engaging thought and writing when I believe I have the other things in hand, which is usually about 10:30 pm. I love to learn new things, but generally on my own terms and at my own pace. Taking a course forces me to hold to a time table and engage my peers by evaluating their brief works. So far, I’m ahead of the game. The essay is due Tuesday at Noon.

Seeing as how it has been many years since I’ve written an actual thesis, I had to dig around the internet for examples, brush up on my academic vocabulary and hone my editing for maximum explanation in minimum words.  Not easy to do overnight. Thank you, Goggle!

First attempt out of eleven for this course:

Human interpersonal relationships are exemplified by the use of animal forms through transformations of humans into animals such as ravens, and by the use of animals as assistants. Animals, many seen as pure due to their wildness and unencumbered by human complexities, are used to personify different aspects of the human character.

Often spoken in times of frustration and personal desperation, a wish transforms a child into a creature that leaves its parents and must spend years searching for someone with enough strength of character to perform the rules of the disenchantment. A prime lesson of speaking such a rash wish is that you lose someone you hold dear, such as in The Raven. Even in our moments of personal stress, we must be mindful of hurting our loved ones. Words can work magic in both light and dark forms, even when spoken by the non-magical. In particular, the raven is often viewed as a mediator of life and death, and these human/raven characters are condemned to a half-life until the time of their disenchantment.

Animals also offer assistance to human characters that have been kind to them. In The White Snake, a young man on a quest to marry a princess succeeds in impossible tasks with the help of animal friends including fish, ants, and ravens. The fish represent the depth of knowledge and fertility, the ants signify cooperation, and the ravens symbolize intelligence and problem solving, completing the impossible tasks set forth by the princess and king. The tale can be interpreted as the man consumes the flesh of the white snake and is put in touch with his hidden potential in the form of animal guides. He is rewarded for his “transformation” by marrying royalty, improving his social status and enjoying years of happiness.

Next Up:  Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass


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