Saturday saw me at the Philippine International Book Fair, hanging around the Encyclopedia Britannica booth.
Yes, I'm aware that the Encyclopedia Britannica has a certain reputation among purveyors of printed reference material. The volumes are thick, long-winded, and more than a little wordy. To be sure, the Encyclopedia always seems to use a font so small that each book is practically its own eye exam.
But there's one thing about the Encyclopedia Britannica booth every Book Fair, and that's the fact that they always bring along a multimedia presentation and a projector. Last year, their demonstration involved a reference software sample that dispensed bits of knowledge in a quiz-type setup, and I knew a trivia game when I saw one.
Sadly, although I like to think of myself as being good with useless bits of knowledge, the evil Britannica people ran me through their Sports category of questions, and I crashed and burned within minutes. So I guess that you probably won't blame me when I tell you that I was looking for a little payback this year.
Fortunately for the Britannica staff, they weren't pushing their little trivia game last Saturday morning. Instead, they treated the crowd to a showing of old fairy tales, animated in a 1980s-European style and generally looking out-of-place for a booth that was supposed to be selling advanced reference material.
Still, Britannica's Rumpelstiltskin was pretty good in the telling, even if most of its intended audience was busy browsing the discount books in the National Bookstore area. It occurred to me then that Rumpelstiltskin felt more like a suspense story, a morbid tale that may or may not have been appropriate for children to begin with. It's funny, really, how many of the familiar fairy tales seem that way as well -- I mean, you have wolves eating little girls who wear red riding hoods, you have witches fattening up children for dinner, and you have mermaids who raise knives against their former lovers. Sometimes I wonder if we should blame stories like these for inspiring our culture of violence, as opposed to blaming modern computer games.
For that matter, I find Rumpelstiltskin funny. An arcane little man performs a favor in return for a girl's first-born child? A miller's daughter gets forced by a king to spin straw into gold, after which she marries him to become a queen? If anything, the latter can at least describe a few relationships I've encountered... :)
But then again, we write of dragons and robots and gibbering mouthers and zeta reticuleans. We write of young women who are blown away by the wind, or mechanics who travel with a retinue of yellow butterflies. We write of agrarian reform, or social justice, or the marvels of a president who can balance both the masses and the economy. All this, we have to admit, is pretty fantastic to begin with. How can we complain about the prospect of spinning straw into gold, then?
The truth probably lies in there somewhere, and we just have to go digging around for it. It's much like finding out the little man's name, really. The only difference is that we've had a lot more than three days to work with, and we're still blindly stumbling around despite that.
Fairy tales shouldn't be told to children, I figure. Aesop's fables would make better storytelling material for the young ones, since the objective lessons in them are far more obvious. Fairy tales have lessons embedded into their lurid details somewhere, but in the modern era, these lessons are significantly harder to find.
Outside the Book Fair and the evil, evil influence of the Britannicans, I ran into a small Physics exhibit and spent two minutes amusing myself with their Van de Graaf generator. (You know, it's that mechanism with the metal plate that charges you with enough static electricity for your hair to stand on end.) It was only vaguely educational, but it did remind me that sometimes there are things that you just want to experience and not bother thinking about too much.
I offer a warm hello to Egil and Hanna, who are probably moving around either Baguio or Australia at this moment. Do drop by Metro Manila again, and look us up. We hope you had a nice time last Saturday afternoon. :)