Pan's Labyrinth - the Fairy Tale Connection

The Monkey Barn Mythos rolls on. Today Team Alpha takes their stab at the origins of the Barn. Go have a look.


I want to finish my review of PAN'S LABYRINTH that I started a few days ago, and talk a little more about how the movie connects to Fairy Tales, and what that really means.

However, since it has been a few days, you would be doing me a favor if you read the review again. Either you missed it the first time, or you forgot some of it, or hey: it's just that good.

Anyway, read Part 1 of the Pan's Labyrinth review, and then meet me back here.

In my review of PAN’S LABYRINTH I wrote about how the film was really several different movies going on at once. You had this little girl Ofelia, stuck in a hellish world she had to come to terms with. You had this mystical adventure: maybe it represented an inner journey, more likely (at least according to the director) it was real. You just accept that Ofelia is the reincarnated soul of Princess Moanna of the underworld, and that she has to complete three tasks to show her worthiness to return to that world and be with her father the King.

I left off Part 1 by saying that PAN’S LABYRINTH was also a fairy tale, and that meant so much more than you could possibly know. What (besides trying to build dramatic suspense like the jerk I am) did I mean?

Director Guillermo Del Toro has come out and said emphatically that PAN’S LABYRINTYH is a fairy tale for adults, and not in any way for children. Of course he’s right. I sit here, weeks after watching the film, trying to justify taking kids to see it, and I just can’t. In the afterglow of PAN I think I looked for justifiable reasons why kids should see this film, at least after their parents had screened it, and had I been able to finish the review back then undoubtedly this is what I would have espoused. However, upon more mature consideration, I have no choice but to admit that PAN’S LABYRINTH is just too violent and scary for kids. The violence is not overwhelming and without cessation, but when it occurs it can be at least momentarily traumatizing. Even when there is not overt violence the tension is too much for kids, like the time Ofelia tries to run from this Marilyn Manson Hand/Eye coordination monster. (Trust me; it’s much scarier on film.) Ofelia is in constant peril—from all sides—and I’m kidding myself to think that PAN only rises to the tension level of a Harry Potter or Narnia film.

On the other hand, what Del Toro said is partly hogwash. He is right that PAN’S LABYRINTH is a fairy tale, but when it comes right down to it, all fairy tales are for children.

They are the only ones smart enough to understand them.

If anyone ever pulls Walt Disney’s head out from the Pirate ride at Disneyland and cryogenically unfreezes him I’m first in line to give the Waltsicle an ass kicking. This is because more than anyone Walt Disney is responsible for making adults think that fairy tales are just nonsensical children’s stories.

While I love Disney’s SNOW WHITE, them dwarves ain’t supposed to have names and identities: in the original they represent something much more powerful. And the origins of SLEEPING BEAUTY? Hellaciously dark way back when. (Prince Charming basically rapes the girl while she is in slumber, and she only awakens when her twins are born and looking for nourishment, and one accidentally sucks the poison thorn our of her finger instead of a breast.) Now the only darkness in that movie is Mellificent, and even then they screw it up. (In the original she is Prince Charming’s Ma, and tries to get him to eat his twin children, until Sleeping Beauty outsmarts her by giving her a pair of magic shoes that cause her to dance herself to death.)

And don’t even get me started on the darkest (and my favorite) of the tales: LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD.

I guess it’s not all Walt’s fault. We live now in a generation of audio and video recording. Between Radio, Television and the Internet we are confident that a butterfly won’t flap it’s wings in Malaysia without us hearing within the hour how it might affect our stocks (and taking appropriate hedge fund action).

I wrote about this phenomenon a few years ago in #113 The Truth of the Matter. The short of it is, because of our technologically advanced society (at least comparatively), we think we have a firm grasp on “fact” and therefore “truth.” This is almost total BS. Not only does fact hardly EVER translate to truth, but we don’t even have fact.

(I feel the soapbox coming on, but since I have extensively written about this, I again direct you to #113.)

The point is, adults look at fairy tales, where magical events take place that have nothing to do with our so-called “real world,” and they assume the stories are just chaff: silly prattle to keep the kids occupied until they are old enough to understand the real world.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Fairy Tales contain “truth” that far transcends any non-fiction stories we could throw at children. The stories contain lessons about growing up, and originally, not all of the stories had happy endings.

Fairy Tales are even more layered than just that. They don’t contain one lesson, but multiple lessons. Whatever stage of development the child is in he or she instinctively pulls out the lesson appropriate for that age. Sometimes the lesson in LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD is as simple as always listen to your mother and don’t talk to strangers. However, sometimes the lesson is that you are ready as a girl/woman to have sex.

I know. You’re sitting there thinking, “No way. Little Red Riding Hood is not about having sex.” Don’t kid yourself. In many ways LRRH is ALL about a girl getting ready to have sex. I could write about this subject for hours, and if there is any interest (cough cough comments cough cough) I will, but for now let me steer your toward a book called “The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettleheim. He goes through and explains much of the original dark intent of fairy tales.

What seems crazy to modern people is the idea that we would ever subject our kids to stories that are so dark. Of course, even the Disney version of fairy tales are dark, if you think about it. The hunter supposed to kill Snow White. The wolf set to eat Little Red. The giant at the top of the beanstalk looking to grind Jack’s bones to make his bread. The father in Hansel and Gretel leaving the children in the forest, and then the evil witch looking to entice the children.

These stories have always been dark, even with the Disney influence, but adults just do not think about it that way. They have forgotten the sometimes terror of those stories when they were children, and assume they are bits of nothing now.

I would argue that kids can handle these stories. Traditionally life has been hard, only recently, and only in Western Society have kids sometimes grown up in anything approaching a safe and sheltered environment. That kids used to be exposed to (the real) stories did not traumatize them, but gave them tools they needed to grow up.

Look, almost everything scares kids, or at least is capable of it. It’s not wrong that kids sometimes be scared by stories, especially if those stories have something to teach them. If the children in the story figure a way out of their predicament, the children in the story realize that they can solve their problems too. (Even the cautionary tales have immense value, as they show what not to do, and if you don’t think those are powerful lessons, think a spell upon your own life, and things you do and don’t do that seem to have no rhyme or reason, and whether they aren’t connected to something from child hood.)

(And before I go on, I would rather a kid have the tar scared out of him by a fairy tale that has power to teach than watch thousands of hours of violence on television growing up. Talk about warped priorities you messed-up parents. Every one of you should be beaten with sticks.)

Well, I’ve stayed too long on the fairy tale soap box, so let me climb down and get back to PAN’S LABYRINTH. I’m not sure how much Del Toro even meant this, but PAN is a fairy tale is almost every sense of the term. All of the archetypes of classic fairy tales are there: the three tests, the oral regression, the multiple father and mother figures, the exaggerated and un-nuanced sense of evil that only a child could truly understand; that and more. There comes a time in a movie when Ofelia has a choice to make regarding grapes. My sister sat in the theatre mock-shouting, “You idiot girl! Don’t!”

But this was no Teen Scream Queen, venturing upstairs at night all alone. If Ofelia had not made the choice she does I might have walked out, so convinced had I become that we were watching the first fully realized fairy tale in years.

In fact, when you take into account the butchery done by Disney, PAN’S LABYRINTH might be the most complete fairy tale ever put on film. I don’t know if Del Toro just gets it, or he was channeling the archetypes that flow just beneath the surface of all our consciousness, but when PAN’S LABYRINTH gets humming it is running on pure fairy tale, and that is indeed a powerful thing.

I cannot tell you to take your kids to PAN’S LABYRINTH, though I wish that I could. What I can do is exhort you to enter into such a world. Fairy Tales just do not come more powerful than this, and as it is arguably the most important genre we have as humans, it is one that should be truly celebrated.

April 10, 2007


Dragon said...

Please, tell us more about how Little Red Riding Hood is all about a girl getting ready to have sex.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Dragon. And in a world consumed with rationalism, pseudo-facts, and science; what could be more eye-opening than a detailed investigation of human mysticism? Let us away!...Hype, you lead :)


Sparky Duck said...

ahhh, now I know how Anne Rice was able to craft her Sleeping Beauty stories and get away with it.