Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Grandmothers are great

My two grandmothers were very different personalities. My father’s mother had a sweetness, as well as a firmness, which drew people to her as a fount of sage advice and comfort. She played a major role in my growing up, and her death when I was eighteen was a personal tragedy for me.

My other grandmother was also a strong character, but in a different, and more negative, way. She endeavoured to rule her family to such an extent that she alienated their affections, and ended up as a very lonely old woman, still railing about their shortcomings. I felt sorry for her.

Grandmothers – when we are fortunate enough to have them – are often seminal figures in our lives. To a child, they represent a fount of wisdom and experience beyond that of our parents, and although often accused of over-indulgent “spoiling”, leave behind them – perhaps for that very reason – undying memories of being not only loved, but fully accepted by them.

Wise grandmothers – often great-grandmothers – feature in many of the classic fairy tales by the great Victorian writer George MacDonald, such as “The Princess and the Goblin” and “The Princess and Curdie”. Usually they are tucked away in a lofty turret of the castle, only reachable by a child with true discernment, where they sit spinning the warp and weft of the lives of those whose good fairy they are. In “The Wise Woman”, it is an isolated cottage on the moors where the grandmother-figure instils spiritual wisdom by placing the self-absorbed and surly children into ‘mood chambers’ where they undergo various revelatory experiences.

MacDonald understood the power of true feminine wisdom, long before the strident man- hating feminists appeared on the modern scene. If you haven’t read him, do – his Complete Fairy Tales are available in the Penguin Classics series – and reflect this Christmas upon the blessings the fortunate ones amongst us have received from our grandmothers.


Bodwyn Wook said...

Another tremendous source are the lectures by Marie-Louise von Franz, on the subject of fairytales. Her /Shadow And Evil In Fairytales/ is especially good, and she does a swell job of redeeming the dark wisdom of the old witch, Baba Yaga, a true grandmother figure from Hell. I especially treasure the remembrance of my Irish-Catholic grandmother Mary Doran Smith, even though she did tell me catholic boogie stories as I've written here before. Maybe /because/. It is likely because of her that, in fact, I don't fall for any popes now:

"Oh, my boy, the men are forever telling each other what to do. And do they listen any better than they do to us [women, she meant]? Oh, not a bit of it!"

anticant said...

Yes, I've a lot of time for von Franz.

There's more wisdom in genuine fairy tales than there is in the fake "truth" called the Bible.

anticant said...

And do you know Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment"?

In "What Do You Say After You Say Hello?", Eric Berne gives a very different, and most amusing while insightful, gloss to 'Little Red Riding Hood' and other fairy stories.

zola a social thing said...

Ah, bildung always beaks at this time of the shitty year.

Bodwyn Wook said...

No romans a clefs in /my/ romaine if you please, M Zola, I'd rather pour beer!

Jose said...

And for a good granny there has never been a bad boy or girl.

Bodwyn Wook said...

At my most feculent and obnoxious, I was always "...my little boy," to her!

zola a social thing said...

The mince pies of Mrs Malapoopers are not for little boys I can assure you all.