This Editor’s Note has three parts. As with all of my Editor’s Notes, I ask that you daydream while you read it. My students are often delighted that I encourage them to daydream during my lectures, even to sleep. I stand by this policy with intellectual rigor. There is a fairy tale theory hidden inside it. And besides, sleep and dreams are the themes of this year’s issue.
To the Editor’s Note we go.
Fairy tales are imaginary places with real words in them.
I often repeat this sentence to myself, and in my lectures. Its inspiration is Marianne Moore’s famous phrase from her famous poem “Poetry,” in which she exhorts that until we have “literalists of the imagination” we will not have genuine poetry. We have genuine fairy tales, many of them here in The Lilac Issue.
Fairy tale tellers are literalists of the imagination. Are you? Do you dream? Consider what it might mean to be a literalist of the imagination, and where it might lead you—to what places?
You sit somewhere reading this page—in a place—but you go somewhere else in the pages. Some of you are not writers. Some of you design buildings and parks, tutus and cufflinks, wheelchairs and hats. Some of you make cakes, cookies, latkes, and kugel. Some of you help children with math, help to make numbers—a language that, like all languages, relies on our belief in imagination—have meaning for them. There are many makers among us who might intuitively grasp what Marianne Moore means when she writes, “literalists of the imagination.”
Poetry scholars have argued about her poem for a half century, but I think I get it. In her poem, Moore describes genuine poems as “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” She has described this poem as being about her contempt for poetry as it exists.
Let’s hold all this in mind, too: imaginary gardens, real toads, and contempt.
I prefer that readers drift in and out of daydreams as they read, just as you may have done as a child, likely still do…thinking insolent thoughts, or maybe confused, dazed, happy thoughts, or maybe fretting about a lost kitten, or hungry. When I read Moore’s poem I think, “Gardens and toads? Whatever on earth could she—well that’s a nice word, garden.”
So we’ve got a place—here, the hearthside—and we’ve got an object, which is to say not only a toad, but a goal: to talk about fairy-tale places with real words in them, and we all know that words—words! Words! Why must they have so many meanings? Like fairy tales. Thank goodness.
To over-simplify Sigmund Freud’s dream theories, dreams are made of two essential components: a wish and an obstruction to that wish. The dreamer has a wish; the dream presents obstacles to it, often in a long series. Sounds a lot like a fairy tale to me.
Freud also believed that dreams were like puzzles—written in code—like a rebus drawn by the dreamer. The royal road to the unconscious. Dreams tell us something we need to know about what we want. If we are brave and pay close attention to our own language. Dreams are a private language. Fairy tales are like dreams, but they are not dreams, because fairy tales are meant to be shared, to share meaning with others.
I have written and said many times that fairy tales are a form, but I have moved along to the idea that fairy tales are a language. The psychoanalyst Ella Freeman Sharpe, from whom I contend Jacques Lacan owes his entire body of work, and who is the superior writer and thinker to him, wrote a book called Dream Analysis in which, through her background in literature, she describes how language operates in dreams the way it operates in poetry. She sets down a way to analyze dreams through their syntax and structure—through the way dreams are told by the dreamer. Dreams have a double existence; they exist in two worlds. They happen, but they are also retold, whether in speech, memory, or in a dreamer’s diary. (I encourage you to keep one daily.)
Dreams are not a random celebration of nonsense. To the dreamer, an encounter with nonsense can delight, or it can chill. Just as in real life, or in a poem.
Dreams have deep intelligence to them.
Fairy tales, too.
If dreams had a color, what would it be? I do not dream in color, but I do not dream in black and white either. Might I be dreaming in lilac?
Fairy tales and dreams, like childhood, always come to an end. Do you know anyone whose childhood ended well? Is there any such thing?
Fairy tales are a language, and like dreams, we are asked to join the dreamer in them.
Fairy tales are not imaginary.
Fairy tales—like lilacs—are real.
We are so honored to share The Lilac Issue with you. This is our eighteenth annual volume, and it would not exist were it not for the painstakingly hard, completely volunteer work of our editorial staff. Please visit their bios, and their creative work, via our website. They work many hours reading the thousands of submissions we receive every year, which we must heartbreakingly winnow down to a couple dozen or so. We turn down a lot of breathtaking work, and we value each submission we read. We are thrilled that this year we are able, for the first time, to pay our contributors a small sum for their labor. Our publisher, Wayne State University Press, kindly provides production, distribution, and warehousing expenses. Without you, our readers, without our volunteer staff, and without fairy tale tellers, we simply would not exist.
Thank you for your support of our little journal over the years.
Long live fairy tales.
To The Lilac Issue we go.
From The Lilac Issue of Fairy Tale Review. Published by Wayne State University Press, 2022.