The Life of Death

A lecture at MPC this week treats the subject of death as it appears in folklore and fairy tales.  Here is the announcement:

Who is your favorite fairy tale character? Cinderella? Little Red Riding Hood? The Frog Prince? Anyone for Godfather Death?

There are thousands of characters to choose from, of course, popular, celebrated heroes of our childhood, starring in Disney films and countless illustrated story books. But there are other, lesser known characters from folklore and fairy tales dating back to the Middle Ages, and Death is certainly among the most compelling.

Death has been called the greatest taboo of the twentieth century. In modern society, we seem to do our best to shelter ourselves from death, dying, and the dead. Our loved ones die in hospitals and are taken to funeral “homes.” Gone are the days of the parlor viewing and the wake. Death is not a subject for the modern, civilized mind to ponder directly. But it has not always been this way.

Our ancestors frequently witnessed the deaths of animals and people alike. Death was a part of everyday life and, therefore, it was an important part of folklore, myth, and fairy tales.

As Midori Snyder puts it, we re-create Death in folk tale figures “who allow us to personalize our contact with death long enough to confront it, to argue with it, to pit our wits against it . . . and perhaps, if we are lucky, to finally make peace with it.” This lecture will explore the concept of Death as subject and star of folklore and fairytales, sharing examples from the ancient world through to our contemporary tradition, and exploring what can be gained from inviting Death back into the story of our lives.

Lecture by Laura Courtney Headley, “Death in Folklore and Fairytales: Meet Godfather Death,” Wednesday, March 21, in Lecture Forum 103, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.  The lecture is free, but a $1.00 parking permit is required; parking permit machines (quarters only) are located in each parking lot.