Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Fairy Tale About Technology" has to be a fairy tale, right?

"The Fairy Tale About Technology," written by Alfred Doblin in 1935, is the story of a Jewish family that is broken apart due to the ravages of World War I. Living in Ukraine before WWI, this family (like so many other fellow Jewish families in the area) faced the threats of others as a result of fear-mongering and religious prosecution. Eventually all the hatred towards the Jewish people boiled over, leading to a massacre of all Jewish men, women, and children. The father of the aforementioned Jewish family was able to violently protect is family, but decided to flee the first chance they got rather than wait for more attacks. However, one of the eldest sons was lost during the escape and the family presumed him to be dead. Years and years went on. The mother died. The children grew up. The father got old. For his seventieth birthday, the father received a gramophone and a radio because of his love for music. One day, the father was certain he heard his long lost son's voice over the radio. The rest of the family did not hear the song, but if the father was sure, then they were sure too. After a bit of resourceful investigation, the father finally made contact with his long lost son.

Despite the fact that this story was written about 75 years ago, this story should be considered a modern fairy tale. It has some of the fairy tale staples: a "once upon a time," a broken home life, and a recognition that good things happen to those that believe in God. On the other hand, it lacks quite a few of the things we commonly associate with fairy tales: no transformations, talking animals, or bippity boppity boo type magic. As I've said though, this still qualifies as a fairy despite all of the typical fairy tale mysticism being stripped away. This story reminds me a lot of "The Juniper Tree" really. Although it does not have an evil stepmother of sorts, the son's "resurrection" comes to the great relief of the father, freeing him from the guilt the mother placed on him by saying "You set an example for him. He probably took an ax or a knife. A Jew should hide." Lastly, the technology in the form of a radio is the modern magic bestowed upon a humble and faithful man, allowing his son to be returned to him.

1 comment:

  1. I think your point about the "modern magic" is very interesting. Right from the start my reactions was that this story was not a fairy tale because of its lack of fantastical elements and magical acts. But the way you managed it, it seems that the radio serves as the fantastical/magical element in this story. Despite the fact that it is a real technology, it is rather coincidental that the old man would just happen to get into contact with his long lost son. Some might say it goes a little beyond coincidence. So, I believe the magic is present, just in a more subtle, less literal way.

    The obvious difference between this story and the older fairy tales we've read, and even from the longer story-telling versions in the Zipes book is the reality of the events that transpired. This is pretty radically different from traditional fairy tales, and to be realistic, fairly out of place as far as the collection of tales is concerned.