Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Griffin and the Minor Canon

What a fascinating little story! In many ways its identity as a fairy tale shouldn’t be too controversial, given a general lack of specificity and the inclusion of a conspicuously magical creature. On the other hand, though, its title characters don’t fit all that well into the fairy tale canon. The griffin isn’t obviously good or evil, but he also doesn’t have that element of powerful, neutral mischief that characterizes so many other magical creatures. Instead, he’s rather consistent in his behavior, thoughtful—human, really, at least more so than you’d expect a giant winged beast to be. The Minor Canon isn’t quite the clever everyman of something like The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs or the Cinderella-esque model of honesty; in fact, he doesn’t seem that relatable at all, despite having a fairly attainable level of virtue. At the end of the day, the reader doesn’t identify with either of the main characters, so presumably we are part of the nameless townsfolk—a role I’m not sure I’ve been asked to play in any of the Grimm’s stories.

The one thing that does jump out as thoroughly fairy tale-ish is the obscurity in the story’s message. It seems moralistic, but you’d be hard pressed to say what exactly the moral of the story is; instead, taking a note from Bettelheim, the author lets us play out various social and moral episodes in an imaginative setting, offering more mental resolution than actual lessons. Of course, I say “social and moral” episodes mainly because I don’t want to exclude the possible reactions of others—personally, I saw the story as a clever “narrativization” of many religious issues. The griffin’s “lordship” over the town, for example, creates a system of morality enforced by punishment, which the beast seems to see as a necessary evil but not the ideal. The legitimately good Minor Canon plays a sort of self-sacrificial, messianic role in the beginning of the story, but in the end it’s the more Old Testament God-ish griffin who lays down his life so that the MC can be honored. What do we make of that, I wonder? It’s as though the God who lays down the harsh Mosaic Law (threatens punishment) and demands sacrifices (gazes at his own statue) has recognized a much better relationship between mankind and the divine, and sacrifices himself to enable it.

1 comment:

  1. You mention that the ambiguity of moral message is a feature which distinguishes this as a fairy tale. I'm not sure that's entirely the case. A lot of the Grimms stories, as well as the Perraults, which from what we've talked about in class are two of the major canonical figures whom shaped the genre as we know it today, were very moralistic in their tails. There are those which go the other way as well I will admit (what exactly are we supposed to take away from the Juniper Tree, other than not to trick our daughter into thinking she killed her brother?), I don't think either the presence or absence of a moral message is indicative of the fairy tale genre. Despite this embarrassingly nit-picking comment, I enjoyed your response.