December 1, 2020

Fairy Tales Are Not Just for Children

Die drei kleinen Schweinchen or Three Little Pigs

Have you ever read a fairy tale to a child? Did someone read them to you when you were young?

Cinderella or Cendrillon by Perrault

There are usually five elements to fairy tales; a moral lesson, a hero and a villain as stock characters, an element of magic, obstacles or tasks for the main character to overcome, and a happy ending. Fairy tales teach children what it is to be human and how they may fit into the world.

Let me point out two other great uses for fairy tales.

Language-learning can be greatly enhanced by reading and listening to these familiar stories. Pinterest has dozens of posts on fairy tales in French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages. Some posts take you to paid services, but many allow you to use the material for free. There are even slow audio versions so you can really train your ear to hear the new language.

The Fable Cottage allows you to read fairy tales in five different languages for free; access to video and audio material does require becoming a member, however.

YouTube is another excellent source for fairy tales in other languages, but there is another use for English speakers: sleep enhancement. There are videos using readers with soothing voices to lull both children and adults to sleep. Some of the videos bill themselves as “Truly Boring Fairy Tales,” “Bedtime Story Fairy Tales to Fall Asleep,” or “Softly Told Tales.”

Then again, perhaps we should avoid some of the more gruesome tales by the Brothers Grimm if we want sweet dreams.

Buona notte! Bonne nuit! Buenas Noches! Gute Nacht! Good night and sleep tight!

The Fable Cottage web site which has selected fairy tales in five different languages:

https://www.thefablecottage.com/

“Truly Boring Fairy Tales” on the Casper Sleep Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p0B2MD11QI

“Bedtime Stories for Adults – More Viking Myths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNUbZtbi_HY

“The Wild Blue” by Stephen Ambrose

“The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45” is the whole title of historian Stephen Ambrose’s account of this lesser known facet of World War II. The war was waged with men and women of all ages, but American men age 18 to 21 filled many crucial military roles on land, on sea and in the air.

Some of the bravest recruits were the pilots and crew members of the B-24 Liberators which bombed Axis weapons factories and fuel depots throughout Europe. Notable young pilots were statesman Stewart Udall, filmmaker Robert Altman, actor Jimmy Stewart and the focus of the book, former presidential candidate, George S. McGovern.

Each bomber had a crew of ten: pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, radio operator, flight engineer and four gunners. They worked as a tight-knit team but all looked to the main pilot to get them to their target and safely back to base. Air servicemen were asked to fly thirty-five missions, with a fearsome number killed in air combat or captured as POWs after having parachuted from their burning planes.

I have to note that Ambrose was accused of plagiarism in copying some of the text from the footnote sources. (One of the sources is McGovern’s autobiography, “Grassroots.”) In response, Ambrose said he did give credit in the end notes and would issue a corrected version with more quotation marks. This might be a book for history-lovers only, but World War II buffs will find much of interest.

As some of you know, I am mightily interested in presidential history, including the also-rans for our top national office. I had the honor of knowing Senator McGovern as a family friend and South Dakota congressman. His bravery and rock-solid leadership in his early twenties give us a deeper understanding of the man who was trounced by Richard Nixon in 1972.

“The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp

A wise creative-type urged me to get a copy of Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit.” Full of nuts and bolts advice on how to develop a consistent way to generate ideas, each chapter has a theme with subsequent exercises.

Although a choreographer, Tharp finds the thread that connects artists, writers, composers, poets, photographers and other creative producers. They all share the ability to start with nothing but ideas and create something tangible. Tharp emphasizes that regular and methodical work is what allows creators to catch the spark of inspiration.

As a musician, I was intrigued by her deep connection to classical and popular music, including music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Jelly Roll Morton, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen. She worked with Milos Forman on the movies “Hair,” “Ragtime” and “Amadeus;” directed the tv special “Baryshnikov by Tharp,” and directed “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Movin’ Out” for Broadway.

I have not had the honor to meet Twyla Tharp, but she was staying at the hotel at which I sang during her work on “Movin’ Out,” the Billy Joel music dancical. Would that we could have talked about her creative process then, but her book is a treasure to peruse now.

“The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson

I got to meet one of my non-fiction literary heroes, Erik Larson, in 2016 while playing the piano for a Chicago Library Literary Dinner. Every new book from him is cause for celebration, but he has outdone himself with “The Splendid and the Vile” about Churchill during the German blitz of England during World War II.

Doyle, Elizabeth Berg & Francesca Peppiatt

We get an inside look into Winston Churchill, his wife Clementine, his daughter Mary, his son Randolph, his daughter-in-law Pamela, as well as his familiars like his secretary John Coville or confidante Lord Beaverbrook. We also get to see what it might have been like for citizens of London and all of England. German bombs and incendiaries could decimate your home, your air raid shelter and your city’s architectural treasures in the space of a single evening. Larson helps you imagine what that continual anxiety must have been like during 1940 and 1941.

We are also given a glimpse into the thinking of Hitler’s acolytes, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels and Rudolf Hess, to name a few of the infamous.

Especially noteworthy is the role the U. S. played in bolstering the morale of the British public. Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman, representatives sent by FDR to report back to him, have their own important narratives. Before the U. S. officially entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the lending of military supplies, money and moral support to the British government and people helped prevent them from capitulating under the German air and water onslaught.

Someone blithely asked why we have to keep rehashing World War II. History repeats itself, as any historian will tell us, so it bears noting parallels between one’s current time and previous challenging eras.

Erik Larson has provided not only food for historical thought in “The Splendid and the Vile,” but created a non-fiction work with short informative chapters that impel the reader forward. Who says history has to be dry and dusty?

Two British mystery novels: “Maisie Dobbs” and “The Turn of the Key”

Jacqueline Winspear started a detective series in 2003 starring “Maisie Dobbs,” a female English private investigator and psychologist. We hear of Dobbs’ life from 1910 to 1929: her mother’s death when she is 14, her college years, her work as a nurse during WWI, her apprenticeship with famous French sleuth Maurice Blanche and finally the opening of her own detective agency.

Her first case investigating where a client’s wife goes every week, brings up painful memories of her own war-time romance.

Winspear says her interest in history and World War I, in particular, was due to her grandfather who suffered from shell shock in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. There are now 15 books in the series which include Dobbs’ cases through World War II.

Winspear won several prizes for her debut novel, “Maisie Dobbs,” including the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel, the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and made it to the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list.

Ruth Ware, another Brit who has made a name for herself in the mystery genre, is often billed as a psychological crime thriller author.

In “The Turn of the Key,” the reader is introduced to nanny Rowan Caine who is sitting in prison, awaiting trial for the murder of one of the children in her care.

Having received comparisons to Agatha Christie, Ware updates the spooky house setting by having it be a “smart home” with cameras everywhere, voice-controlled windows, door and lights and an out-of-town boss who indiscriminately starts talking to Rowan like a voice from out of the blue.

There is the requisite love interest, a poison garden and a plot twist. Ware wrote the book as a nod to “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, but the main characters are quite different.

Three of Ware’s books have been made into movies, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” “The Woman in Cabin 10” and “The Lying Game.”

Winspear is the more literary writer, but Ware knows how to spin a suspenseful tale. Both are worthy of the English crime literary club.

“The Pioneers” by David McCullough

“The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West” by David McCullough

I have read almost all of historian David McCullough’s books (“1776,” “The Greater Journey,” “The Wright Brothers,” to name a few) so I was excited about his new work, “The Pioneers.” Two chapters in, I decided I was not sufficiently engaged enough to continue. The writing seemed to be merely a recitation of people who moved to the post-Revolutionary Northwest Territory, namely Ohio and environs.

Months later, “The Pioneers” became available on my audiobooks app and I decided to take another crack at the saga of men and women who pushed American civilization west. The book was able to keep my attention as an audio experience.

While McCullough writes about Manasseh Cutler and Revolutionary War veteran Rufus Putman, Puritans from New England and principals in the development of Ohio, of much more interest are mentions of personalities who have a connection to the Ohio Territory: “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, George Washington (an early investor), Charles Dickens, Aaron Burr, Lewis and Clark, John Quincy Adams and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The Ohio Company was forward thinking in many respects incorporating freedom of religion and education in new settlements. The founders were also abolitionists who wanted Ohio to be a non-slave state and kept it such, even as Thomas Jefferson unsuccessfully tried to insert some slave ownership exceptions in the by-laws of the Northwest Ordinance.

Native Americans are the adversaries in this narrative; I was definitely reading history through the eyes of an older white man, however brilliant he may be.

If you are interested in early American history however, “The Pioneers” may suit you, but it does not have the strong narrative that many of McCullough’s previous books possess. Reach for “The Great Bridge,” “The Johnstown Flood” or “John Adams” instead.