Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Telling the Rose

I respect literary critics and am in fact trained as one.

Paradoxically, as an aspiring writer, I have a strong tendency to bristle when the critic passes final judgment, as if he or she could know better than the storyteller the meaning behind his story.*

So I find Marcia Lane's book, Picturing the Rose: A Way of Looking at Fairy Tales, an art-affirming approach to criticsm.

Richard S. Johnson
Ms. Lane is a storyteller--that is, a participator in that great oral tradition, an art that, until now, I have overlooked on this blog.**  Similar to writing and drama, yet distinct from both, oral storytelling offers its own valuable insights into the subtlety of fairy tales that are sometimes too easily overlooked by literary and anthropological criticism.

Ms. Lane wastes no time disclosing her intentions.  Her clear delight in fairy tales (risking accusations, I'd imagine, of unprofessionalism from some scholarly corners) delights me in turn.

From the Introduction (emphasis mine):

If I say to you, "Think of a rose," your mind conjures up a picture of a flower--but your picture is unique.  You imagine a new, tight bud, or a full-blown flower.  Everyone sees a different rose.  Take it by the stem and rotate it slowly and, second by second, it transforms right before your eyes.  Each time you look at it, it's different, but the rose is till there.  In much the same way, fairy tales tend to change as we live with them, examine them, and tell them.  Return to the rose.  Close your eyes and the perfume will resurrect the image of the flower.  Always the same, always changing.  These stories will blossom as you examine them; you can look and look, and they will never lose their ability to delight and enchant.  Such is their power!

[ . . . ]

For the two categories of people who matter most, all the books amount to linguistic excess.  Simply put, kids don't care about, and storytellers can't use most of what has been written about fairy tales.  For all the theorizing that has gone forth about the nature of story, and the ability of a child to perceive and internalize various aspects of story, the truth is, no one can know for sure.

I have a very strong feeling, just from reading the introduction, that Picturing the Rose will grow to become a companion of mine, and a handbook for me as I attempt to tell my own stories.

What book of criticism or writing handbook have you found helpful or inspiring in your writing endeavors?

*  Though I do try to remain neutral and professional as I look at those criticisms; and make every attempt to keep to the facts and away from emotional arguments, except when personal interpretation seems appropriate.
**  I use the word "storyteller" elsewhere on this blog to refer to writers who tell stories, as opposed to non-fiction authors, journalists, bloggers, etc.



  1. I think I'll see if I can get a copy of "Picturing the Rose." Books that I have previously read on novel writing have always left me dissatisfied - I never felt that they wanted to improve my writing, they just wanted to feed me the formula for a bestseller.

    I hope you do more contests and prompts soon! I just found your blog (thank you for the comment, by the way) and have really enjoyed it so far.

    1. You are VERY welcome, for the comment and here on the blog. c:

      I hope we can make a community here that aims to improve the art of storytelling by writing, as it relates to the mythopoetic tradition.

  2. Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" is my favorite. I am always refreshed by his writing, and his little letters are so encouraging, while still challenging me.

    1. I own it, I MUST dig it out now and read it again!


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