Die Sprache selbst auf dem metaphysischen Unterschied des Sinnlichen und Nichtsinnlichen beruht, insofern die Grundelemente Laut und Schrift auf der einen Bedeutung und Sinn auf der anderen Seite den Bau der Sprache tragen.
—Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs zur Sprache
(Speech itself rests on the metaphysical distinction between the sensible and the non-sensible, insofar as sound and writing on the one side and sense and significance on the other side carry the structure of speech.)
A PARABLE, first of all, is a story with a message. The message in a parable must be signified in some special way, because any story whatever, parable or not, contains a message at least to the extent that it has some unconscious content, a trace of mythic substratum. This is true even of the “shaggy dog” story, the story with no other decodable message than the unconscious content. We are a story-telling kind, and our stories cannot be detached from references to the unconscious, hence to that for which myth constitutes either a parallel or an explanation. Stories cannot help being like dreams, as dreams can be recovered only in retelling. Indeed, it may be that there is something of the parable in every story, except those that directly recount myths concerning gods. The birth of Apollo or the birth of Dionysus cannot be taken as a parable; the voyage of Jason or the blinding of Oedipus can.
However, the term parable is used in the more restricted sense to apply to stories, usually of a single episode, with a message that pretends to be formulable in a single proverblike sentence, while resisting the closed designations of such formulae. Hebrew mashal means “parable” as well as “proverb.” If we extend the definition of parable to include pointed stories in general, then fables about beasts are parables; and those with a miraculous component, fairy stories, may contain a more or less prominent element of parable. More than once in the New Testament the parable is described as a sort of puzzle deliberately put into code, aligning the parable with the riddle, another meaning of mashal. All these simple literary forms—riddle, proverb, parable, fable—are abstract types that may be combined and intermingled in the actual, connected utterance.
In a riddle the separation in the order of an utterance between its components and its signification has been foregrounded. In a proverb it has been stripped to a form of its message. The reference of both is also apparent; they are answers: it is clear that a fire riddle names fire and that Haste makes waste recommends caution. A myth, however, is an answer to a question we do not have; its message about the gods may be clear, but its reference is unclear, waiting to be partially decoded by a Frazer or a Lévi-Strauss. It does not obviously refer exclusively even to those weather patterns whose manipulation by ritual magic it explains. Since the reference of a myth is by definition shrouded in mystery, the order of the elements in it is not subject to manipulation, as in a riddle, nor may its references be put into neat order, as in an allegory, nor may a reformulable exclusive message be derived from the myth (pace Lévi-Strauss), not even a message about the unconscious thought processes for which it can be taken as a sort of rebus. In this sense a myth is both free of narrative sequence and bound to its component elements.
A story whose elements are subject to manipulation becomes possible, again, only in a society that has begun to perform questioning operations upon its myths. Aesop begins beast-fable and the Panchatantra comes long after the Vedas and the Upanishads. The parables in the New Testament were a relatively new form.1 The significance in them pretends to be patent but actually lurks under the story. Fairy stories manage a very special reassignment of mythic elements to stories whose handling of their components resembles that in a parable.
While a myth is free of any context more specific than that of the cultural unit where it occurs, the parable tends to refer to some specific context. The parable of the Prodigal Son implies a specific historical situation where the population of the Diaspora is about eight times that of Palestine itself,2 and the parable of the sower is based on the practice of sowing a field before plowing, because of the rough terrain. The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard implies both a labor market and the freedom of a charitable employer to redefine its conditions for the benefit of late-hired unfortunates. As John P. Brown says of Matthew 22:7 (p. 75), “the royal parables are a fund of suppressed political comment.” The new Christians of the New Testament were subject to three interlocking administrations, all of them problematic for the nascent group: the Roman Empire, the kingdom of Herod, and the Temple (Sherwin-White). The Sermon on the Mount applies its aphorisms on the way to becoming parables to a context where Roman law is operative, but also rabbinical law, and the currents of Gnostic, Essene, Pharisee, and Sadducee discussion, are very specifically brought into focus (W.D. Davies).
The parable centers on a single prominent figure, a son or a steward or a sower or a householder or a bridegroom. The complexity of its context entails some disjunction in the reference of the allegorical elements, which must be present in the parable for the story to carry a message. It announces at once hope for its auditors and a reassurance that the fear underlying the open order of its significations need not be finally confusing. The order of the story will redeploy the allegorical elements rather than presenting them in simple abstract sequence, as in the Faerie Queene or the Roman de la Rose or even Moby-Dick and The Castle. Order of event, message, unconscious content, allegorical correspondence, general social context, and point-by-point signification are set by the parable into a vivid and interactive, if simple, relationship, moral exhortations predominating in early parables and metaphysical perplexities dominating later ones, Zen or Kafka, though both moral and metaphysical elements are present in all parables, whatever their proportion.
The parables in the New Testament manipulate still more pointedly than the narrative context in which they occur the significations and what stands behind the significations. Here is a parable rather fully qualified in its immediate context:
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith,
By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.
Here the immediate story is simple; it differs from allegory only in the literalness of the vehicle. Nor does the tenor share in the properties of the vehicle: the sower is only following normal Palestinian procedures of covering the land randomly with seed (Jeremias, p. 11). The vehicle is natural processes, the fate of seeds in various growth locations. The tenor is the spiritual destinies of a human life under various growth conditions. That is the tenor to the seed, and while it holds simply point for point between seeds actually and human beings metaphorically on stony ground or scorched by sun and rootless or on good ground, its illocutionary inception is not simple. A little later (13:18-23) the tenor is interpreted as “hearing the word,” and so the seed is seen prominently as referring to what will later include such parables as the Parable of the Sower—but not yet. The word is not yet the text; the text is, rather, a historical account of the live presentation of the word. Christ, indeed, Jeremias points out, himself has the expression “logos” attributed to him only with reference to parables. This is the “middle” or specific sense of logos here, then, “message of a parable.” But there is a weak sense in which logos is not much more than a pronoun covering the reference plus the truth-value of the story told. And there is a strong sense in which all the Greek philosophical history of logos and all the Hebrew religious accumulation of davar (“word” and “thing”) are con-jointly operative.
Moreover, “word” is only one tenor, although the main one, for the vehicle “seed.” There are others; the act of hearing the word makes the hearer also the tenor, though he is, at another angle, a tenor for the vehicle of the ground, the thorns, etc. And what is being recommended to the auditors? On the one hand, this discourse to a “multitude in the shore” (13:2), if it have any bearing of exhortation at all, must recommend that they try not to be on stony ground and try to be in good ground. Yet this is precisely what seeds cannot do. Something like the mystery or problem of predestination—in more modern terms, of Situation as Jaspers and Sartre use the term—is at issue. On the one hand a man is like a seed. He grows in certain ground, and his development is conditioned by probabilities. But on the other hand he can aspire; there is a sense in which he can choose his ground. Fusing the two senses together in the parable, the speaker leaves his auditor in what has to be an interdependent and inextricable reliance on faith (because he is conditioned) and on good works (because he is somehow free).
What about the Sower? He can only be analogous to God. In this way he may also be analogous to the Son of God, the preacher of the word. But as a human being, the sower is analogous to the auditors, many of whom in Palestine’s agricultural villages of this district will have sown seed in just this fashion. The auditors, then, are distributionally, so to speak, like the seeds, but collectively like the sower. The simple tale, in the order of its presentation, turns its narrative sequence to a fusion and multiplication of significations.
As for the force of myth, that has been wholly redeployed into the secrecy of understanding the tale, and into the context surrounding it. The agricultural cycle now does not generate a vast, correlating set of myth. Instead it serves only as random example, good ground, stony ground, thorns, and the like. While there are many correlations between cyclic myth structures and the Christian story (Rahner and Bultmann), those are not being drawn on here; the dimension in solar myth of God the Father and God the Son are not operative, even though the effect of the sun is mentioned in the instance of scorching and implied in the other instances.
The ordering of events in the parable, just because it must be deciphered to be understood, moves the significations of its message outside the area of myth. The parable does not answer questions with a covering name like Apollo. Rather, in its richness it provides an assurance that enough answers are forthcoming for the initiated to be able to manage. The defining condition becomes not only the message of the story but the context of the story, which includes, crucially, the prédisposition of the hearers to understand it, even though the seeming transparency of the message contains displacements of signification. By understanding, they are already on good ground; their act of understanding corresponds to the optimal conditions of the parable, making it a reassurance as well as an exhortation.
“Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The thrust is illocutionary, an explicit command to be attentive. And the subject of attention is also named, “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” These mysteries, again, are not myths, but a congruence at once moral and developmental between natural processes and human processes, then between earth and heaven, at once factoring out and embodying the contrast between the expressible and the inexpressible. The parable activates the double antithesis Davies quotes Albertz and Daube as applying to the Sermon on the Mount, an antithesis between the law and its deeper sense, and then an antithesis between the law and its opposite.3 Here the subject is not the law, which can be formulated in apophthegms like the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, but rather natural processes that have a deeper sense if attended to, and that can also be supplemental to their opposite (a seed has no choice; a human being in some sense has).
These hearers are energized, and energized along lines prophesied by Isaiah, here quoted. Those who see and hear (13:26) are distinguished from all others. It is the function of the parable’s secret formulation to keep these others from the meaning it would be improper for them to assimilate:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross,
And their ears are dull of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed;
Lest at any time they should see with their eyes
And hear with their ears
And should understand with their heart
And should be converted, and I should heal them. (13:15)
The prophet has defined the conditions for hearing the parable, and these have also provided the conditions for framing in a simile or side-case (parabole). But hearing the parable takes the hearers beyond the prophets, “For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (13:17).
All these conditions are laid out before the interpretation is then offered:
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the work of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. That is he which received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (13:18-23)
The interpretation applies the conditions themselves back to the parable, making it metalinguistic. The hearer is ground as well as seed, and the determinant of how well growth takes place is in what manner he assimilates the word, including as a salient and culminating example just such words as this parable. Other details reinforce the eschatological context, as the identification of the birds who take away the seed with “the wicked one” (poneros, also “useless”; this is still clearer in Mark 4:15, “Satan,” and Luke 8:12, “the devil”). The story form makes the eschatological, the metalinguistic, the natural, and the human adaptively interactive, without confining them to the system of correspondences that the initially simple and allegorylike series of alternatives for the seed would seem to dictate. If in Umberto Eco’s analysis art is always an open structure that makes reference to other structures that are themselves closed, here art, the literary form of the parable, tries to keep open the other structures, those in which its auditors live, by allowing its own structures at once a maximum openness and a kind of maximum simplicity and a very disappointment about closing the meaning, as reinforcements of its illocutionary thrust. As for the structures of the world, the illocutionary injunction is after all not confined just to this parable; it includes the whole gospel, and it therefore enjoins the hearer to do nothing less than to save his soul and to convert the world.
The conditions set forth here are meant to define the context of the aim of other parables, simply told, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Unjust Steward, and so on. At their most condensed, the parables shade into aphorisms that converge with the proverb form. “Cast not your pearls before swine” (Matthew 6:6) realigns the prudence of the proverb in a spiritual direction; it comes at a moment of the Sermon on the Mount.
The actions of Christ are parablelike, too, as in the Raising of Lazarus or the Driving of the Moneychangers from the Temple. The Gospels themselves contain as part of their narrative form not only history, an account of events that actually happened, but also parable, the story with a moral. When just before his utterance of the parables in Matthew, Christ responds to the Pharisees’ request for a sign (semeion), he replies to them with what he declares to be a defective sign, since they are improper hearers, of the sort he will shortly define with the parable of the sower:
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:38-40)
The “sign” of Jonas, with all its typological correlatives to the Old Testament and its myth motifs of a descent into darkness, is not quite a parable; it has yet to take on the order of the story here, which it does have in the book of Jonah, where it constitutes something like parable, a story with a mysterious point.
The richness of the context here, the definition of the “generation,” and the function of scripture, have still not taken on the pitch of parable. Later that pitch, once it has been reached, will be raised:
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:24-25)
Here the parable of the sower and the seed has been simplified in several directions. The sower is gone, and the seed holds all its options in one. That one now takes paradoxical form, setting earth and heaven into explicit antithesis. This is spoken just before the Passion, itself the culmination of an overarching parable. Likewise condensed are the parables spoken before the Passion in Matthew, beginning with another derived from the agricultural cycle:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:32-35)
The cycle is used to indicate the transcendence of the cycle, and the words declare their special character of eschatological permanence.
In the overarching parable-narrative of the Gospels, the separate parables come at culminating points: first after much healing and preaching; then just before the Passion.4 In context they create an emphasis of contrast in mode and similarity in sense to other forms of Christ’s speaking and action. And they come in series; the Fig Tree introduces a series that runs through the Wise and Foolish Servant, the Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Unjust Steward. Parable is defined at one point as the exclusive—which we may interpret as the most characteristic—form of Christ’s utterance, at least at these culminating moments, “Without a parable spake he not unto them” (Matthew 13:34).
Heracles is not the subject of a parable, and none of the heroic stories about him has that status, though he might be drawn on as an exemplum. The hero of myth is locked in separation from men and from gods; whereas parable would seem to require a typological union, and transcendent religious leaders, who redefine myth, make use of parable as a verbal instrument for permuting prudential with spiritual meanings on a time line. Sometimes the leader himselfis the center of the story, as the Buddha is for the Jatakas and saints for saints’ lives. Sometimes he disappears entirely, as in the Zen parables or the tales of the Dervishes.
The parable form, like the riddle and the proverb which can enter into combination with it, begins to emerge as an abstract structure for utterance when an anthropocentric figure calls the myth into question. Job is a questioner, and The Book of Job already begins to look like a parable. Judah Halevi’s medieval riddle about the grain of wheat that can only live by dying (Taylor, p. 39) puts that parable into riddle form. The dog in the manger is a parable if it is put in story form, the parable where the analogy is animal rather than vegetable; as a locution it is a proverb, and so catalogued by Erasmus (Canis in praesepi, Adagia, I, X,xiii). Solomon’s act of judgment with the baby (I Kings 3.16-27) is many things at once—a sort of rebus (since it goes through the psychodrama partly without words), a riddle which only the true mother can decipher, the raw material for a proverb, a parable, and that longer, looser form of the cautionary story which we know as a unit of historiography when it is declared to correspond to past fact. The story of the Lydian dynasty, in Herodotus, which begins with a man who is forced either to kill the husband of the woman he has seen naked or to die himself, offers a piece of history in parable form complete with appended proverb-moral (“A woman puts off her modesty—or loses her respect (aidos)—when she puts off her clothes.” Hdt. 1.8). It is an exemplum used to further a large sense of something lurking under the story. Rimbaud, when he adopts the Pool at Bethsaida for a prose poem, presumes that act of healing to be something like a parable; his rhetorical acts form themselves on the assumption of such a substratum.
The parable, being so dependent on a dialectical manipulation of context over against figurative signification, tends at once to resist and to suggest closure, as the New Testament parables so abundantly demonstrate. A salient resistance to closure is a requirement of the form of the Zen parable, and perhaps also for the Chasidic tale. Both the resistance to closure and the necessity for closure are enlisted by Kafka as the central paradox of his parable about parables, where the central word, Gleichnis, functions back and forth between a strong sense “parable-story” and a weak sense “likeness-comparison”:
Viele beklagen sich, dass die Worte der Weisen immer wieder nur Gleichnisse seien, aber unverwendbar im täglichen Leben, und nur dieses allein haben wir. Wenn der Weise sagt: “Gehe hinüber,’’ so meint er nicht, dass man auf die andere Seite hinübergehen solle, was man immerhin noch leisten könnte, wenn das Ergebnis des Weges wert wäre, sondern er meint irgendein sagenhaftes Drüben, etwas, das wir nicht kennen, das auch von ihm nicht näher zu bezeichnen ist und das uns also hier gar nichts helfen kann. Alle diese Gleichnisse wollen eigentlich nur sagen, dass das Unfassbare unfassbar ist, und das haben wir gewusst. Aber das, womit wir uns jeden Tag abmühen, sind andere Dinge. Darauf sagte einer: Warum wehrt ihr euch: Würdet ihr den Gleichnissen folgen, dann wäret ihr selbst Gleichnisse geworden und damit schon der täglichen Mühe frei. Ein anderer sagte: Ich wette, dass auch das ein Gleichnis ist. Der erste sagte: Du hast gewonnen. Der zweite sagte: Aber leider nur im Gleichnis. Der erste sagte: nein, in Wirklichkeit, im Gleichnis hast du verloren.
Many complain that the words of the wise are perpetually merely parables and inapplicable to life, which is the only life we have. When the wise man says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross to the other side, which we could do anyhow if the result of the way were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more closely, and therefore cannot at all help us here. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But what we struggle with every day is something else. About this a man once said: Why do you resist? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would have become parables and with that would be free of all daily cares. Another said: I bet that is also a parable. The first said: You have won. The second said: But unfortunately only in parable. The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
(Based on the Muir translation.)
When the parable approaches closure, it becomes social and quotidian, losing the supernatural side of the doubly open religious parables. It becomes a beast fable, a story about animals with a proverb appended. And all the sophistication of La Fontaine does not change that fundamental metaphysical and ethical bearing. The onus of his fables, like that of Aesop’s, lies in the concluding proverb. There, too, the animal has ceased to be totemic in any way, to be invested with Lévi-Straussian networks of mythic mediation. It is merely a vehicle of analogy. In the fairy tale, however, the wonder of myth is reimported into the parable, and the supernatural element reenters for a reasserted prominence.
The fairy tale or märchen only becomes possible—like its scientifistic opposite number, the tale of fantasy in Todorov’s analysis—at some sort of intersection between the natural and the supernatural worlds. The fairy story depends on the sense that what happens in it is technically miraculous, superhuman if not supernatural. Even when feats of the hero become easily explicable, it is only Puss-in-Boots or the Little Tailor who is privy to the secret behind the exploit. Both face and overcome giants who are real in the story. For a terrain or a being or a series of exploits to be miraculous, there must be a clear counter-definition of the nonmiraculous. In this epic and fairy tale may differ. The dragon whom Beowulf faces is as real as a band of warriors or as Grendel’s mother; Hrothgar may be an historical king. The world in which the Odyssey appeared, where Circe and Calypso coexist with Penelope and Helen, depends on myth, and it does not provide such a counter-definition. Consequently, though Odysseus’ exploits resemble those of a fairy-tale hero, their mode of relation to the unknown, to that which the myth explains, remains crucially different.
The air of the miraculous in a fairy tale is imported for a use which does not require explanation, or separable coordination, but only re-sourceful mastery. If the protagonist fails, as in “The Juniper Tree,” the wonder remains, he is resurrected, and the pattern persists for coping with the randomly unexpected out of an alertness and even a deep generosity. Fairy tales, like parables, which are more directly religious, do provide models for action. As Tolkien says, (p. 77) “The Frog King” is “a queer tale with a plain moral.”
In the earliest references to what may have been fairy tales, those in Plato and Aristophanes,5 they are defined, the way they are later in the Middle Ages, as tales told by old women or nurses to children. Some of Grimm’s informants were old women. As for New Testament parables, a special kind of auditor, the child, is required. The special development from the late seventeenth century onwards (Ariès) of stories directed exclusively to children only compartmentalizes this audience of the acculturated.
Old women and children appear also as protagonists in the stories, and important ones. The motif of “the youngest daughter” or “the youngest son” can be translated as “the most childlike”; and the trait of un-questioning generosity recurs in the fairy tales as the key to success at impossible exploits more often than does that of mere martial prowess. To face the old woman carries with it not only the Freudian overtones of facing the Disguised Mother; it implies facing Death itself, the Death Mother of Marie von Franzi attribution. Tolkien stresses this aspect, too, of the eucatastrophic structure of the fairy tale, its yield of joy before the seemingly invincible.
Kindness and generosity, traits highly valued in the Christian and other religious traditions, are at the center of the parable-injunction of the fairy tale. And it is important that the kindness and generosity derive from no merely prudential motive; the yield must be unexpected beforehand and even concealed afterwards, preserving its connection with the world of the miraculous. In this sense, the moral dimension of the fairy tale inverts that of the proverb; someone who relies on Many a mickle makes a muckle does not suddenly deplete a small store of food for a little man met on the path of a strange forest: older brothers and sisters typically do not.
What will define the fairy tale is the intersection of human mastery-in-innocence and supernaturally shaded tasks. These seem riddlelike when faced by the protagonist, and indeed that task sometimes takes the form of solving a riddle. Solving the riddle, however, is not an end in itself, but rather the means to some other end, one deeply involving a joy that may include sexual fulfillment as its natural center and employ sexual imagery in its depictions.
The fairy tale differs from the beast fable because, as in Der alte Sultan, the talking animals stand on a miraculous par with the human beings, for whom in beast fable they are figures. In such a universe of miracle anything is miraculous, including the charitable and childlike moral gestures by which the persons come through either to success or to vindication. The mythical unknown surrounds but does not control the events, and so the miraculous acts of help performed by animals have a different effect from comparable events in American Indian myths. There, once the bear has saved someone’s life, that figure becomes a remembered tutelary figure for the entire tribe; the achievement is permanent, and ritualized. But in fairy tale these events, evoked as the quid-pro-quo for kindliness, do not hold outside the sphere of the benefited person’s life. Only as a personal reward and a personal achievement does the mythlike even yield its force. “They lived happily ever after.”
The protagonist can die, however, and the moral remains very much the same. While Little Red Riding Hood is not called upon for acts of kindness in the tale, the first sentence describes her as “sweet” and “liked by everyone.” Her errand to her grandmother consists of taking cake and wine to the old woman, who is weak and ill. Though in one version she is devoured, it is while she is on this succoring errand of mercy, which she herself characterizes as an act of some restoration for the grandmother. “I want to make everything right,” is what she literally says as she sets out, “Ich will schon alles gut machen,” though in colloquial usage she is merely saying she will obey her mother’s order.
The parable element that gives coherence to a fairy story is independent of the actual outcome of a life in it, though on balance it tends to establish joy against odds. For both “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Juniper Tree,” as for either ending of “Little Red Riding Hood,” such a relative independence of outcome differentiates the fairy story from more so phisticated literary genres. Nahum Tate’s King Lear, ending with the marriage of Edgar and Cordelia, is simply ridiculous. The Tempest could not be disappointed of its marriage.
In this attribute, too, the fairy story translates hope and fear into general conditions opening out into specifically justifiable reactions to some natural set of circumstances. Facing hopeless terrors, in all their psychoanalytic complexity, may indeed help to fortify hope, as Bruno Bettelheim urges in his praise of fairy tales. He takes them as illocutionary agents for self-realization. Cinderella has no good reason to hope. But she is close enough to childhood, and open enough to the miraculous, for that not to matter. Or in the apophthegm-phrasing of the New Testament, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The word “converted” means simply “turn” (strapheite). The fairy tale is a parable that at once creates an ambience and provides an injunction for turning.