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Christmas encourages belief in magic against all reason; Santa fits down the chimney, and the little girl onstage falls in love with a doll that comes to life. The ballet, set at Christmas, propagates every Western message about the holiday season against a backdrop of music that even those who have never seen it can hum.

To date, more people have seen "The Nutcracker," and more companies have performed it, than any other ballet.


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Most dancers — myself included — spend their careers cycling in and out of the production, often with minimal choreographic changes from year to year. Balanchine suggested other choreographers keep the ballet fresh by doing things their way, but audiences have largely decided that a more traditional performance is here to stay. Despite lingering messages about female disenfranchisement, its beloved music and inclusive theme of Christmas magic provide an escape from the tedium of the commercial holiday season, securing "The Nutcracker" a place in the pantheon of Western art.

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"The Nutcracker's" disturbing origin story: Why this was once the world's creepiest ballet

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Log Out. Preaching the Gospel of Lizzo. The Beatles' "Abbey Road" at Hot combo: Sexism and climate denial. Trending FEC can't enforce election laws. Fourthly, the scope of fairy tale is made by language: it consists above all of acts of imagination, conveyed in a symbolic Esperanto. Its building blocks include certain kinds of characters stepmothers and princesses, elves and giants and certain recurrent motifs keys, apples, mirrors, rings, and toads. The symbolism comes alive and communicates meaning through an imagery of strong contrasts and sensations, evoking simple, sensuous phenomena that glint and sparkle, pierce and flow.

The suspension of natural physical laws produces a magical state of reality throughout this form of narrative, which leads to wonder, astonishment. Supernatural agency and the pleasure of wonder are interwoven in the character of fairy tales — this interrelationship presents a fifth defining characteristic. Wonders shape plots that promise all kinds of riches; fairy tales typically offer hope of release from poverty, maltreatment, and subjection. A happy ending is one of their generic markers.

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The agents who bring about miracles of hope in the stories vary from place to place, as they rise from local belief systems which belong to tradition. The tradition may contain imaginary elements but also traces of history: fairies and goblins on the one hand, cunning beldames and stepmothers on the other. The history is itself often an imagined history: King Arthur inspired romances that in turn carry into fairytale motifs and plot devices — enchanted objects swords, mirrors, cups , tests and riddles, dangers from monsters and forests, dream journeys, and a sense of the other world near to hand.

Fairy tales evoke every kind of violence, injustice, and mischance, but in order to declare it need not continue. The promise of the happy ending carries the tales of terrible dark deeds to their unlikely conclusion. There is the occasional well-known fairy tale that ends badly, like Red Riding Hood according to Charles Perrault. But it is an aberration, as shown by myriad popular variations in which the young girl tricks the wolf out of his prize or even kills him herself.

The most often told version introduces a hero: the Grimms brought her father into the plot. You have a sketch map and a rough guide; the lights are lit in the windows of that house in the deep dark forest ahead of us. We can begin to move in, listening out, eyes open, trying to find our bearings. She liked the films of Akira Kurosawa, which were a blend of realism and fantasy and fairytale — so that was a strong pull on her. And she liked Japanese ghosts stories. With all of that influence fizzing around her, how out of the blue was what she was doing in the UK?

Who had inspired her? It was discovered in her library. Carter came across Carrington through Surrealism, which was an important influence on her — French Surrealism was very much the milieu of her earlier work especially.


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She was very interested in blasphemy as a method of shaking up thought. Support Five Books. Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you're enjoying this interview, please support us by donating a small amount. The US, she went to to teach. At the time she was lucky enough to go there it was a different place. The Americans have always had a great cult of literature and specifically of the short story.

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That was important. She never had an easy time in the UK. She never won a prize, or anything. How do you explain this revival? Why now? Hugely renewed interest, yes, and very much in academe, too.

She was a tremendous freethinker in the best possible way. Logan is very imaginative and very fertile. Because she is a lesbian and many of her stories are allegories of lesbian love, she is very much what I was saying earlier: this is literature that creates a realm of understanding and mutual feeling that can build something.

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A Portable Shelter is not a collection of fairytales but a novel with fairytales interpolated. And this couple has a baby and they are keeping it safe by telling these stories. Before we move on to your final book, Naomi Mitchison is another key figure we should mention. The Fourth Pig , first published in , being her best-known work.

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How important is she to the genre and its modern mutations? Mitchison is a bit of a forgotten figure and yet she had a great spirit and led an amazing life. The best place to start with her is her play Kate Crackernuts , which she wrote for children to perform. And although he loves being there with the fairies and the fairy queen, the woman who loves him back on earth fights, fights, fights the goblins and fairies to bring the earthling back to safety. Mitchison married a Scotsman and they lived on the beautiful Mull of Kintyre.

And she had a Scottish nationalist period in her life and she fought for fishing rights and all manner of things. She came from the Oxford intelligentsia-aristocracy. Yes, I do, but the person who really thinks highly of Mitchison is Ali Smith. Tell us what to expect? I had terrible dreams after reading it, all about babies and death.

Apparently this is very strong in Nigeria where she has roots. She seems to know the culture very well although she now lives in the US. She was born in the UK, though. The story is a poignant nightmare.

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She got very deep down into my psyche. It feels deeply unsettling and a very cutting critique of — I presume — America, where Nneka Arimah now lives? So one of the important things about making up stories and writing things down is that you create a record of all the possible human expressions and emotions and you understand their calibrations and subtleties and their complexities.

I need other people to notice for me. Fiction can do that. These particular gifted children — gifted because they have the right mathematical code —are seemingly capable of absorbing or removing grief from the world. Grief is overwhelming. The fairy tale genre — taken as a rough whole — seems like a very female one now, which sort of returns us to where it started. A lot of women artists are drawing on fairy-tale. I think its partly to do with this idea of a common language, a way of looking through a lens that will be shared by someone else so that one can have a shared joke, one can have a shared transgression.

It has a number of these witchy reversals of well-known fairy tales. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books or even just what you say about them please email us at editor fivebooks.