Way, way back, many moons ago, I spent a disproportionate amount of my degree studying fairy tale, folk lore, myth and language. A very lucky soul, I was.
I ended up examining the evolution of one character in particular – Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s half-sister. A powerful woman in every version of the tale, she morphed from pre-Christian tri-partite fertility goddess (Celtic Morrigan), to an evil, conniving force of darkness. Over the centuries, society’s attitudes to women changed, as Christianity spread, and as things like the Marian Cult of the Virgin Mary took hold in scriptoriums (remember, back in the day, the monks were the publishing houses!).
And so, as Christian men took over, the earth-mother became a demoness. The other significant woman in Arthurian legend, Guinevere, herself changes during the story from sweet virgin to unfaithful wife.
As my own tale morphs and grows, and I constantly learn about the importance of story-making and -telling, I’m reminded again and again how, fundamentally, stories are universal. No matter the surface differences between Peppa Pig, Greta Expectations and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a closer look will find the parallels: regardless of age or culture, we all want and need our story medicine – we just take it from different bottles.
So if there’s nothing new under the sun, that should remind us: our tribe is always out there.
- As a writer, that might goad you to keep writing. You’re not doing it for you – it’s for the people who need that story.
- As a reader/viewer, remember to try some new stuff, regularly and not just on the screen. Just as your own tale keeps growing, so others are sharing theirs for you to enjoy.
And as the changing depiction of Morgan showed how “society” (the story writers and publishers, reflecting an increasingly male-led world) viewed women who had power, so our stories reflect the way we want our world to be, and how it is. Which means, ultimately, that if we don’t say it, publish it, produce it, watch or read it, it canot be heard.
For those who like delving deeper in such things, both TV Tropes and the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Fable Index can lose you several hours down the rabbit holes of linking themes, motifs, lessons and characters….Just remember to come back!