Fairy Tales and Star Trek

My mother told me stories when I was little: Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. I soon learned that I was not destined to be a princess:  my feet were too big; I wasn’t small, dainty and blonde, but large, brunette, and outspoken. I did spend a lot of time playing by myself, trying to escape from my younger brother, and much of that time I imagined being a fairy. I am in the middle of revising my first novel, which is the story of how a middle-aged woman gets a job as a fairy godmother.

I loved making tiny things that my fairy friends could use: a bed made of sticks and dandelion fluff, a bottle cap for a dish, a hearth with fine gravel and sand. I could never get the hang of weaving grass blades for cloth or making baskets of straw, even tiny ones. Later on, I got into doll houses, making furniture to scale. I also learned to sew by making Barbie clothes, fancy evening gowns that I would never have a place to wear.

There was a bush in my yard that I liked to pretend was the gate to Faery. I thought if I went through it, rather than around it, I would be there. I never tried it though. I was partly afraid that I would not find Faery, and very much afraid that I would, and that I would not be able to get back. This is much the same reason I never dropped acid…I was afraid I would not come back.

What captured my imagination about 4th grade was Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. On the first page, the narrator said that girls were better pilots than men— unheard of! President Kennedy was making speeches about going to the moon. We were told that we could do anything we put our minds to. Heinlein’s books had people who could build space ships almost in their back yards, who took risks to get what they wanted. The lack of girls in these stories gave me no one to be unable to identify with. Escaping the small southern mill town I lived in to adventure in outer space was wonderful. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

At the time, I was also reading Anne of Green Gables and Little Women series, both of which featured protagonists who did not fit into the mold of the proper sort of girl in either their times or mine. They both became teachers, and probably served as my role models, as I didn’t think I could make it as a writer. Even Jo March gave up her writing to run her school for wayward boys.

Then when I was fifteen, a new show came on that I loved: Star Trek. Yes, it was cheesy, the plots simple and recycled often, a low budget set with one guy in charge of special effects, but it featured people who went into space and tried to solve problems through negotiation rather than phaser banks—Faery with dilithium crystals and a transporter beam! My neighbor recently gave me a box of all the old episodes on VHS, so my daughter and I have been watching them. They dealt with social problems of prejudice, fascism, and cultural interference. Every week both intuition and logic played their parts in working out the solution. I loved it then, and I have enjoyed it again, although I’m laughing at them more than with them. Ah, but Mr. Spock—sigh!

I re-read a lot of Heinlein’s early work last year. Much of my value system is based in his stories of independent scientists and teenagers who outwitted the tradition bound adults around then. He taught me that frightened people turn into a lynch mob if someone points out a scapegoat. Heinlein wrote about characters who loved life, adventure, and sex. He wrote about the positives of technology when used by intelligent, thoughtful people, but showed how physics is completely unforgiving in the hands of the ignorant or careless. These myths of the modern world shaped my attitudes about how life should be, and made me uncomfortable with what I saw as the limitations on my life as a woman. But when I was reading, I was the hero, not the girl.

I seemed to lose my life when I married at 20 and then graduated from college to teach remedial English in several rural high schools. I lost my sense of magic. I had read Lord of the Rings and hated it. What was the big deal? Now I know—where there are no women, fairies, elves, Ent Wives or what have you, the society dies. I don’t think that’s what Tolkein meant, but that is what I read.

It has taken me a long while, more than ten years of therapists telling me that I was not crazy, two marriages, bankruptcy, and taking up witchcraft to begin to find myself again. I still read science fiction for the insight into our culture. After all, as Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,”   which explains how I got into computers and web design when I had a C average in math. Any sufficiently advanced magic will make technology work.  Ask Mr. Scott.

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