The wonder tales, also called tales of magic, depict how protagonists undergo a transformation on their way to a better life. To overcome misery, they have to take a leap of faith and abandon their linear, trodden ways. Interestingly, it is often one little word, which announces their chance for transformation and the help of a mysterious otherwordly power.
Cinderella, for example, detects her inner strength and grows into her personal dignity. In the course of the story she develops from a mistreated step-daughter into a princess.
During their metamorphosis, called 'the hero’s journey', fairy tale protagonists are taken by the hand by a mysterious power that always seems to be there, when needed. Cinderella receives help from her fairy godmother. Now, I noticed when telling such tales that every time, when a story prepares for such a turn, the word but enters the narrative.
Many times, a but stands right at the beginning of a tale, implying that linear life gets interrupted and things are up for change. Destiny now takes its course and things bear an equally great potential for tragedy as for grandiosity. "But the queen died, and the king married a new woman. She also had a daughter the same age and one would think that the two young princesses would happily play together. But this was not so… " the Swedish tale Lilla Rosa and Long Leda begins.
To our ears, the word but means resistance. Normally, something nice is being said, only to be ruined with a dreadful but. “I love you, but…” However, after some research of this curious fact, I found that originally the word but stems from the West-Germanic “be-utan” and “utana” meaning out, outside, from without, thus implying that something from the outside is coming in. Now, in a fairy tale, this word and its attitude, seem to imply something invisible working its way into the linear destiny of the protagonists.
The but-moment therefore seems to call an otherworldly helper onto the plan, just like the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Could it be that this little word can summon up an ally who had been waiting behind the red line to jump in as soon as a protagonist needs help?
"Cinderella followed them with her eyes until the coach was out of sight. She then began to cry bitterly. But while she was sobbing, her godmother, who was a Fairy, appeared before her. 'Cinderella,' said the Fairy, 'I am your godmother, and for the sake of your dear mamma I am come to cheer you up, so dry your tears; you shall go to the grand ball to-night, but you must do just as I bid you. Go into the garden and bring me a pumpkin.'"
This kind of interjection presents the protagonists with the option to leave her trail of a linear, predestined life. That little word opens up the possibility for Cinderella to become a princess and start to lead a life, where she can be her true self.
In Cinderella there are ten, in Lilla Rosa and Long Leda there are thirty-seven buts and in Hansel and Gretel, there are twenty-five instances of the word but in the original English versions. It is this little word that seems to break up the regular linear flow of the protagonists’ reality and helps along transformation.
Though, life throws in many a but for the protagonists in fairy tales, thanks to them, they have a chance to detect their inner strengths, recover their inherent dignity, and overcome injustice in cooperation with the help of spirit. It is this little word that prevents the protagonists’ destiny from going down the linear path from misery to more misery.
So, where has your trodden path been changed by a powerful but lately? While it might be a scary thing at first to be provoked by a but that life throws at you, it could well be that right then and there you are offered a chance to change your life for the better. Could it be that you are taken by the hand of a mysterious power that only wants the best for you?
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