“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”
— from the Parable of the Prodigal Son
I’ve written before and at length about that sense of bereavement when a treasured book is lent out, who knows when to who knows whom, and is then seemingly forever lost to view.
I felt this about Graham Anderson’s Fairytale in the Ancient World (Routledge 2000), a study which I was certain I’d lent to one friend or other but couldn’t for the life of me remember who; and all enquiries led down dim cul-de-sacs.
Great was the joy when on a recent visit to friends (no names, no pack drill) the long lost volume was discovered sitting snugly between studies on art, architecture and psychology. I can tell you that I did indeed make merry and was glad!
To replace it would have cost me close on twice as much as I’d paid for it nearly two decades ago. But it was not so much the money that concerned me as the absence of an inanimate friend which had enlightened and comforted me for the few years I’d had it with me.
The comfort came from the solid evidence that stories had sustained the human mind over thousands of years in forms that had, in essence, not changed at all. “Did the familiar children’s fairytales of today exist in the ancient world?” asks the blurb on the back cover. The simple answer is of course a resounding yes, but the devil is in the details, details I hope to tease out in a future review.
As the author says in his preface, he set out to address his study to specialists — to classicists, to scholars of folktale and children’s literature, and to comparative literary specialists — but I think we can all, academics and the general public alike, appreciate what he has done, for
“when the undergrowth is cleared away we have a castle full of Snow White and Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, and the rest — all in the same room. Most amazing of all: they have been lying there not for a hundred years, but in some cases for several thousand; and parts of the castle are not medieval, but built of classical columns on even earlier foundations.”
Fairytales are not just for children; they’re wonder tales for all of us.