Fall News 2015

Written by Michelle Tocher on .

sleep

A Round Table Presentation: "Awakenings"

In a commentary on the Grimm's fairy tales, Joseph Campbell suggested that the "playful folktale" is truer today than ever before, "with more power and weight than the old myths." He wrote that these potent fantasies have survived the "acids of the modern spirit" and continue to serve as a "gastric fire," helping us to digest and assimilate raw experience.

With that in mind, I will be speaking at the Toronto Joseph Campbell Round Table on November 4, 2015, and introducing the raw experience of the people who survived the "sleepy sickness" that swept the world in 1915-1926. This strange virus, known as encephalitis lethargica, claimed five million victims before it disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. People fell into deep states of immobility and catatonia, and a third of them never woke up. When Dr. Oliver Sacks arrived at Beth Abraham Hospital in the mid-1960s, he met 80 survivors, some of whom had been entranced and jammed for nearly half a century.

To provide a "gastric fire" for digesting the raw experience of the doctor and his patients, I will tell the Grimm's story, "The Briar Rose," followed by Dr. Sacks' real life account. We will view excerpts from the (unreleased) documentary that was made after Dr. Sacks administered an experimental drug that produced spontaneous awakenings. The drug only worked for a short time, however, and the predicament of the patients prompted the doctor to ask a profound question which the group will explore: "What does it mean to awaken?"

If you are interested in this or any other presentation of the Toronto Joseph Campbell Round Table, please contact Genevieve Chorneki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

NEW Exercises on the Story Finder

I've introduced some new writing exercises that will allow you to interact with the characters on the Story Finder. If you want to generate some mythic writing, or find a new story to tell, check out the Story Finder. I especially like the random feature because you never know what character is going to come up and they often raise issues that are timely.

The SEARCH function has also become quite useful because there are now nearly a thousand entries. If you're interested in a particular figure--mirror, godfather, dragon, or Tree of Life--you are now likely to find a variety of them, allowing you to explore different expressions of the same essential symbol. The Story Finder is meant to help you awaken the "forgotten language of myth" in your own life.

"Symbolic language is a language in which inner experiences, feelings and thoughts are expressed as if they were sensory experiences, events in the outer world... it is the one universal language the human race has ever developed, the same for all cultures and throughout history. It is a language with its own grammar and syntax, as it were, a language one must understand if one is to understand the meaning of myths, fairy tales and dreams. Yet this language has been forgotten by modern man. Not when he is asleep, but when he is awake." —Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language

Mythic Writing: How is it Different from Fantasy Writing?

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Many people ask me this question, and it's a big subject, but here's my answer in a nutshell.

If you're doing "mythic writing," you're approaching the mythic realm (of dreams, myths, fairy tales, metaphors and symbols) with the intention of deepening your understanding through the reflective mirror of myth. Mythic writers come with all kinds of questions, each one as unique as the person.

A general question such as: "What does the evil sorcerer?" can be answered by examining a specific, individual sorcerer in a story. Witnessing how that particular character behaves, and what he thinks and feels, will yield all sorts of insights into the nature of the "evil sorcerer" as he is expressed in the human psyche (and acted out in the world.)

Mythic writing takes all forms. You might do this kind of writing to as a way of reflecting on yourself and the human condition. You might find that your insights produce poetry or story ideas. Certainly, anyone who is telling stories in any media will find that the stories are enriched by understanding the archetypal nature of the characters and events.

There are many different ways of doing "mythic writing," but what essentially distinguishes it from fantasy writing is the writer's intention. If you go to the myths with queries and you find answers by looking honestly into the stories, scenes, and characters, then fairy tale writing becomes a way of knowing. George MacDonald, P.L. Travers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and William Blake all did this kind of purposeful storytelling.

Recommended Viewing: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

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I recently had the pleasure of watching a 2013 Japanese animated fantasy drama called The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Produced by Studio Ghibi and directed and co-written by Isao Takahata, this film is a fabulous example of good mythic writing and storytelling.

The film is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and takes you into the depths of the fairy tale as it lives in Takahata's wonderful imagination. While respecting the classical lines of the story, he fills out the life of the princess in evocative detail.

The story is about about a childless woodcutter who one day finds a tiny girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. He takes her home to his wife and they raise her as their own, knowing full well that she comes from elsewhere, and one day she will have to return to the moon.

The New York Times' reviewers and other critics have loved the film. "Boasting narrative depth, frank honesty, and exquisite visual beauty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a modern animated treasure with timeless appeal." It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.

Want More Information?

If you'd like more information on WonderLit or the courses that are being offered, don't hesitate to contact me. You can also find my books, stories, and more videos on fairy tales on my main website, michelletocher.com.