Once Upon A Time
I heard a pretty good story the other day on the radio. It was about these two guys back I Europe, a couple hundred years ago who had an interesting theory. I’m not exactly sure what their professions were, but I think it was some type of profession that had to do with sociology or religion. I think maybe they were professors or something.
Anyway, they had this idea that if they went out to the small towns around Europe (this during a time of relative peace, before the two big world wars) and talked to enough people, they would find something very interesting. Being both devout Christians, they figured they would be able to piece together all the stories from various towns and villages, and put together some super grand unification theory of morality.
They were hoping to find some kind of underlying message or ethical punch line to all these various stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. Their underlying assumption was that God somehow transmits ideas to people, and then people transmit His ideas through their own experiences.
If they collected enough of these stories, they would be able to find the similar themes and messages, and strip out the various personal and local flavors that had been added to these tales over the years, and uncover Gods clear message to humanity.
Unfortunately, after several years of research, all they had was a bunch of nonsense that didn’t really make any sense. The stories they heard from this town over here had absolutely nothing at all to do with the tales they heard from that village over there.
Dejected, they gave up, and went home as failures and went back to teaching, or whatever it was they did before they set out on their failed mission.
Those that have studied the works of Joseph Campbell may see a similar structure in this. He went around the world, for many years, and studied mythology from different cultures, and unlike the two failed researchers mentioned above, he found some very striking similarities between the myths of all cultures.
They more or less followed something called a “Hero’s Journey,” in which there was a young kid, who lived a relatively boring life. Then some higher spirit or god called him on a journey, and he either was forced to go, or went on it on his on volition. On the journey he learns new things about himself, and fights some evil monster, and then returns to his previous life, but now an “enlightened” person, who is seen as a leader or a person of significance in his original community.
That’s pretty much the rough outline, there are several variations, and he identified seventeen or eighteen elements of which 4 or 5 exist in almost every mythological tale ever passed on from human to human. The “Hero’s Journey” is at the core.
If you take as step back, you can see this in many popular movies, as well as modern mythology (e.g. Christianity). Luke Skywalker, Dorothy, Harry Potter, that kid in Transformers, and even Jesus of Nazareth follow the same outline of the Hero’s Journey.
Many believe the reason behind this ubiquitous story structure is the method by which we are all born. We are in the womb, and then the contractions start, and then we are forced through the birth canal and out in the world, literally kicking and screaming. Dorothy and Luke on their respective farms, Harry in his room under the steps, Spiderman living a life of Peter parker, and even Jesus the humble carpenter are all metaphors for the womb.
The Dorothy’s tornado, Luke’s journey with Obi Won, Harry being swept away to Hogwarts, are all metaphors for being pulled into the birth canal.
Then when Harry becomes a wizard, Dorothy finds the wizard, and Luke becomes a Jedi are all metaphors for being born. And the same process, repeats over and over again throughout our lives, giving that particular story structure a strange affinity to our unconscious.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about linguistics. And there are two kinds of grammar, prescriptive grammar, and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is the kind of grammar you “should” use, and descriptive grammar is the kind that people actually use.
Apparently, any linguist worth his salt studies “descriptive,” grammar, just like any scientists worth his salt checks his expectations at the door and measures reality the way it really is, and not the way he thinks it should be, or the way he wishes it were.
Those that advocate prescriptive grammar, (which actually stems from schools in London many years ago that basically “invented” certain grammar rules so that upper class wanna-be’s could distinguish themselves from the rabble) are advocating a method of speech based on what they think “should” be the way you talk.
There is more and more evidence that strongly suggests that language is a biologically based instinct, and prescriptive grammar is no more natural than removing a couple of ribs to make your waist skinner.
Which, I think, lays the difference between those two researchers, who came up empty, and Joseph Campbell, who discovered some fantastic insights into human nature.
The first two were trying to prove what they thought was a pre determined outcome, while Campbell was merely studying and observing, as a scientific.
Of course the first two guys, who were brothers, and had the last name of Grimm, didn’t completely fail. Several years after they collected their stories, a friend suggested they publish them as children’s stories.
And that is how the Brothers Grimm Fairly Tales came to be. An attempt to uncover some mystical teachings of God, which turned out to be some pretty cool stories.
Note: The story of how the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales came about was heard on Paul Harvey’s “The Rest Of The Story.”
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