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Adults Gain an Insight to Fairy Tales

by Amy Oakes, Los Angeles Times

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Gustave Dore, Red Riding Hood.

Journeying into the unknown to visit her mentor, Little Red Riding Hood succumbed to her compulsive urges, confronted her inner fears and struggled through her first real test in life.

This may seem like an overly psychoanalytical approach to a classic childhood fairy tale, but storyteller Jonathan Young says it's the way these stories were meant to be understood. After all, the psychologist added, these are cautionary tales for adults.

Young discussed "The Magic of Mythic Stories" at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Canoga Park on Sunday. His presentation included a sermon on the meaning behind "Little Red Riding Hood" and a 2 1/2-hour discussion on "The Wizard of OZ" called "Some Lessons Learned Along the Yellow Brick Road."

As founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives and Library in Carpinteria, Young travels the world, echoing the ideas of his mentor, who believed cultural myths, such as fairy tales, reveal universal truths. That is why they endure, Young said.

Gustave Dore, Red Riding Hood in bed with the Wolf.

"The symbolism in these stories is very heavy-handed," said Young, a disciple of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell. "You get 10 times as much material if you are looking at the symbols because they connote so much."

Other popular tales Young deconstructs include "Hansel and Gretel," "Cinderella" and "Robin Hood," familiar stories that have a profound impact on people when their deeper meanings are uncovered.

"We can come back to these stories all the time," Young said. "At each stage in our lives we will take something different from them."

Warwick Goble, Little Red Riding Hood

Al Trumpler, 72, of Woodland Hills said the examination of "Little Red Riding Hood" made him open to Young's suggestion that people share the traits of the characters.

"I like the twist Young gave to the story," Trumpler said. "It's much more thought-provoking."

A psychotherapist in the Sunday crowd of about 70 said she never realized the fairy tale contained a lesson on compulsive behavior. Little Red Riding Hood's compulsion to pick flowers for her grandmother, Young told the audience, throws the girl off her path, forcing her to deal with the grim consequences.

"The business of getting caught up by a (peripheral distraction) is something we all have the potential to do," said Sandy Ginsberg, 66, of Panorama City.

But skeptic Chuck Moore, 54, of Woodland Hills said he thought people out of their own need, were over-analyzing the stories and suggested a more straightforward reading of their lessons.

Moore's wife, Jane, 50, took the opposite view, saying the imagery enhanced her understanding of the fairy tale and the guiding principles of life. Unlike her husband, Moore wanted to stay and learn more from the discussion of "The Wizard of OZ."

But, like Little Red Riding Hood, she said she would be distracted from her goal by having to go to work.

© Los Angeles Times, August 30. 1998