My earliest reading memories are of getting fairy tale books from the local library, and devouring them. Literally. I must have eaten up those books, because they always felt lighter when I returned them – usually weeks late. Gypsy fairytales, Chinese tales, Anansi the Spider tales, Grimm Brothers tales; whatever I found, I read them. After that came myths and legends – Norse, Roman, Japanese, Thousand-and-One-Nights, Native-american – whatever I could lay hands on. The thrill of discovering new tales and legends has stayed with me ever since.
When I went on to study comparative linguistics and literature, I read Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the (Russian Fairy) Tale. Mr. Propp broke up every single fairy tale into a number of functions (31 in total, among them departure, difficulty, tribulation, trickery, rescue, punishment etc.). More or less all the functions we find in every fairy tale. And also in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, etc. Brown University produced a fairy tale generator whereby you tick the various functions you want included, and voila: out comes a tailor-made fairy tale. Try it and enjoy!
The world is not a fairy tale, at least not for the majority of people who live in it. After completing my second master’s degree in New York City, I went to work for the United Nations. Since then, I have been privileged to have worked and lived in many countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe. And in every one of those places I discovered more fairy tales. I guess you might say they were “Joseph Campbell moments.”
When I see a bag lady crossing 42nd Street, I see Sisyphus. That is how my mind works. When your mind is hard-wired to see myths and fairy tales everywhere, all the time, you imagine the extra-ordinary, the “sacred,” as Mircea Eliade called it a century ago, in every-day events.