Masaryk university in brno faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies




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2. Serafine, the storyteller


The following passage will focus on the stories as they are narrated by Serafine. It will try to explore the various fairy tale and myth elements that they contain. As has already been mentioned above, Serafine enjoys creating her own stories, mixing myth and fairy tale ingredients of various origins, as well as employing and retelling real events. And so all of the tales Serafine tells to little Miranda strongly resemble fairy tales, even though often they would be based on real events. Serafine retells those stories in her own original way. Miranda herself observes that in Serafine´s stories “everything risked changing shape.”139 An instance of Warner´s distinctive narrative technique can be found already at the very beginning of the whole Indigo story. The book starts with Serafine telling a story to little Miranda. The scene is somewhat confusing as there is no introductory part, instead we are thrown right into the flow of Serafine´s storytelling. We are presented a mixture of voices belonging to Serafine, Miranda and to the fictional characters of Serafine´s tale. As the reader is not yet familiar with the characters and the way of Warner´s narration, one may find it quite hard to decipher which voice belongs to whom and to separate Serafine´s tale from the reality.

So the opening scene of the book contains a tale narrated by Serafine. Warner is deliberately creating confusion through the character of Serafine, who is blending the story with didactic remarks such as: “Put that tongue away, little sweet heart, it´s not nice to stick it out like that;”140 and advice based on her lifelong experience: “something ladies should never do, you better remember that.”141 Her tale contains obvious fairy tale references, as for example when Serafine describes the king´s daughter and remarks: “her mother is dead, yes, just like in one of those fairy tales.”142

However, most of all, the tale strongly resembles the Classical myth of king Midas, who is “popularly remembered for his ability to turn anything he touched into gold.”143 According to Wikipedia, the Classical myth begins with the missing of Silenus, the schoolmaster and foster father of Dionysus. Dionysus is a well known character of the Classical mythology, he is the god who is connected with wine, he represents “not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficial influences. He is viewed as the promoter of civilization, a lawgiver, and lover of peace — as well as the patron deity of agriculture and the theatre ”144 It later turns out that Silenius had had far too much wine and had lost his way, consequently he was found by some peasants who brought him to king Midas, who offered his help and hospitability to poor Silenius. After eight days Silenius returned back to Dionysus, who in return offered Midas one wish to be fulfilled. Midas then asks that anything that he would touch should turn into gold. However, this turns out to be a curse, when Midas finds out that he is doomed to starve to death, as he cannot eat for all the food he touches turns into gold. And so having found out how foolish his wish was, he begs Dionysus to undo the magic instantly, with which Dionysus agrees. “In a version told by Nathaniel Hawthorne, he (Midas) found that when he touched his daughter, she turned into a statue as well.“145

Serafine´s tale follows the plot of the well known ancient myth, yet she retells the story leaving the characters nameless and updating their speech making it sound like a contemporary everyday language ( for example, Silenius is parting with Midas with these words: “Take care of yourself! Thanks awfully-marvellous oysters!”146) Serafine´s story and the myth is, however, not identical. While the Classical myth reaches its peak when Midas finds out his wish had not been the right choice and has to have it undone, the myth being traditionally seen as a warning against greed; in Serafine´s story the magic does not have to be undone because the function of the tale and the advice it contains is different. In Serafine´s story, like in Nathaniel Hawthorne´s version, the king´s daughter is turned into gold (“her hair, her skin, her clothes, her hands, her eyebrows and her eyelashes, all of her, changes to gold”147). On seeing that, the king swears that he will protect his daughter and will take enormous care of her if the curse is undone. His daughter then remains gold, nevertheless, it turns out she is alive. Serafine then words her advice that results from the story and she tells Miranda: “Don´t let anyone know what you are, or notice you too much. Always be a secret princess, sweetheart.”148 Thus Serafine, as the Sibylan narrator, connect the mythical, the fairy tale and the real through her words.
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