Wandering Tales for Contemporary Storytellers
While growing up, we as children then adults understand that folk and fairy tales are not merely stories of wonder in which the Good get rewarded and the Bad punished. The tales’ characters can haunt our imagination for ages, as they reflect the archetypes of humankind, and embody eternal, or one may say, universal stories. A number of scholars in cultural studies, sociology, and psychology have proven the deeper meaning of such tales, such as psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1975). Bettelheim introduced his research on the importance of tales on children’s psychological development as follows . . .
how we talk to each other
What would happen if you went back in time a million years and died in an accident, before you were ever born? In one such story, all memory of your existence immediately evaporates. Science-fiction story lines and illustrations (urban crowd fleeing flying saucer death ray!) of my pre-teen years are still with me decades later. They are akin to the Jewish folktales I grew up with, and I believe that they inform my ideas as co-curator of Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid. I never wanted to live in a magical world, or believed in its reality; I just wanted to be thrilled at the ideas of what such a world might be like. There is a line of thought about fantasy that argues: we can’t imagine something that doesn’t already exist, we only think of variations on what does exist (two heads or ten eyes). What I love about fantasy stories is when they approach that boundary . . .
Magic Portals and the Transmission of Jewish Folklore
Jews like to tell stories, it seems, so the corpus of Jewish folktales is large—and because Jews have lived in so many countries, people have recorded Jewish folktales from a dizzying array of places. The artists in Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid all chose topics from the stories in Howard Schwartz’s collection, Leaves from the Garden of Eden: One Hundred Classic Jewish Tales. My first question on looking at their work was which of Schwartz’s stories appealed to them, what they chose to use in their art, and what that tells us. That is, if we agree that the artist is a maggid—a folk preacher who tends to tell stories, then what kinds of maggids are these artists? . . .
The People of the Stories
The Jewish people are not only the People of the Book—the book being the Hebrew Bible—but they are also the People of the Stories. Wherever they wandered, they took their stories with them. Of course, there are glorious stories in the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible that many of us have been raised with: the story of creation, of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel, of the Tower of Babel, of Noah, and the stories of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. And there is the greatest Jewish story of all—the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah. Just this is a rich tradition of storytelling, but it doesn’t end there. . . .