Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Excellent book: Spinning Straw into Gold by Joan Gould

Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life
This marvelous book caught my eye because of its title, Spinning Straw into Gold. I instantly recognized the reference to Rumpelstiltskin, one of my favorite fairy tales. I was exceedingly impressed with the thoughtful research and insights of the author Joan Gould that I discovered inside.

Gould illustrates and examines the themes of female transformations and burdens throughout her life as dramatized in fairy tales. I've always loved fairy tales and of course recognized some of the messages about growing up, but I now have a much more profound appreciation and understanding of my own life thanks to Gould.

Her guiding point was that women are ruled by biological transformations that have huge impacts on their lives. The girl matures into a woman. A transformation. The young woman enters a sexual time. Another transformation. The woman bears children. A startling physical transformation. The woman grows old and loses fertility, and transforms into the final stage of life.

Many fairy tales and popular stories address the girl to sexual woman stages because this is the fun and sexy part. But from Gould I learned to think more deeply about the stages of matron and crone. I especially liked her interpretation of the Seal Wife stories. In the Seal Wife, a fisherman catches a seal and brings her on shore. He takes her seal skin and makes her a woman. He hides the seal skin because without it she cannot return to the sea. She is trapped on land with him and becomes his wife and the mother of his children. But one day she finds her seal skin, puts it on, and returns to the sea. The story connects with the general longing of mothers to escape their responsibilities and return to the freedoms lost to marriage and motherhood. Or it can represent the mother who recalls her former self and resumes some of her interests beyond the rigors of diapers and soccer practices.

I also liked Gould's words on the subject of old age. She explained how in earlier days most people did not live long enough to become elderly, so an old woman was considered to have some kind of strange magic keeping her alive. Now that old age is much more common, Gould said that it was a great gift of life for her free of the daily demands of nurturing the next generation as the matron must do.

I highly recommend Spinning Straw into Gold for people who like fairy tales and who really like to explore the deeper realities of life.