Witches, wolves, and wicked stepmothers, oh my! They are the stuff of legend, and a goldmine for Hollywood, which regularly taps a seemingly insatiable public appetite for fantasy and folklore.The recent big budget remakes “Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” are just two of the countless film adaptations of the seductive and savage tales by brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. The forthcoming film “Witch Hunters” recasts Hansel and Gretel as young adult bounty hunters seeking revenge on evil witches as payback for their traumatic time in the deadly gingerbread house.What makes such stories — at times beautiful, at times horrific — so enduring?Can the lure of children’s tales originally brought to life around the hearth in spoken form — what John Updike called “the television and pornography of an earlier age” — and later in the pages of elegantly illustrated books, survive the onslaught of technology?Maria Tatar, Harvard’s resident fairy tale expert, answered those questions during a discussion last Thursday at the Boston Public Library’s Dudley Branch.The John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and of Folklore Mythology explored how fairy tales have migrated through centuries and across cultures into a world of movie screens, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and increasingly short attention spans. Her talk was part of the John Harvard Book Celebration, a program of events at Cambridge and Boston public libraries to commemorate Harvard’s 375th anniversary.Though often wildly commercialized, the stories have maintained their vicelike hold on the imaginations of countless generations, said Tatar, through their most basic ingredient: magic. “They are stories that I see as massive, potent, and mysterious in many ways … they have a mythical quality to them. They’re not just old wives’ tales that can be easily dismissed. I think they are stories that we listen to and that we internalize, that we keep with us.”Tatar decided to investigate the tales further after reading her young children the Grimm tale “The Juniper Tree,” the story of an evil stepmother who beheads her stepson and serves his body up in a soup. She is ultimately crushed to death by a millstone.“I started getting very worried” as the story progressed, said Tatar. But her children were enthralled. “They wanted me to go to the end.”She has been studying fairy tales ever since, researching how they have morphed from an oral tradition geared to a multigenerational audience into books infused with moral lessons and read by adults to children in the hopes of “scaring them into good behavior.”“Instead of ‘What if?’ we’ve suddenly got stories that move in the mode of ‘or else.’ ”The lasting power of fairy tales lies in their potential to be reworked and reimagined in endless ways, said Tatar. In the 1960s, writers began tweaking and twisting them, rendering the big bad wolf a misunderstood victim, and the scheming Rumpelstiltskin an honest laborer. But the stories never lost “any of their narrative mass.”Even the highly commercialized Disney empire, keeper of fairy tales during the past century, has scored “direct visceral hits” with films that have captured the “power and the melodrama of the stories in their original form,” she said.Rather than dampening the appeal of the stories, such rewriting revives them, calling attention to the source material while creating playful new versions, said Tatar. The digital age, she offered, one oriented toward the sound bite and the 30-second video clip, helps the stories reclaim their multigenerational appeal by “amplifying” their mythic qualities.“These are the stories that thrive in a culture of sound bites and miniaturization, and in a culture of distraction, their magic is nomadic,” said Tatar. They lend themselves to the new electronic medium largely because of what they don’t offer the reader, she added.“Most of these stories are really short and we have to fill in a lot … we feel a compulsion to talk about them, to figure them out because we have so little information.”In addition, the tales continue to resonate because they tackle complicated cultural anxieties. The world couldn’t stop discussing the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, Tatar said, because it tapped into notions of innocence and seduction, the central themes of “Little Red Riding Hood.” “Beauty and the Beast” addresses monstrosity and compassion; “Hansel and Gretel” touches on hostility and hospitality.The tales investigate “simple expressions of complex thought,” and through “a stunning economy of means they manage to produce thunderous effects.“As cultural taboos are made or undone, our stories are refashioned,” said Tatar, “and that’s why to me [fairy tales] remain relevant today, even as they present this wonderful whiff of the archaic.”Roxbury resident Rodney Singleton was impressed by Tatar’s emphasis on the deep cultural appeal of fairy tales. “I thought it was pretty compelling,” he said. “I never thought of them as tales for grown-ups, but I guess that’s true.”The next John Harvard Book Celebration event, “Telling War Stories: Reflections of a Civil War Historian,” will feature Harvard University President and Lincoln Professor of History Drew Faust. The lecture will be held April 10 at 6 p.m. at the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St.
Courtesy of Alysa Guffey Current ACE teachers living in Corpus Christi, Texas, opened the annual ACE information night with a prayer. Corpus Christ is one of 35 communities the ACE teaching fellows program serves.This year, a second option for the application process is available for students who would like to know of their acceptance decision to ACE earlier, Comuniello said. Applicants can either apply early by Nov. 3 and hear back by Christmas or apply regular decision by Jan. 19 and hear back in mid-March.Comuniello said he is proud that all 35 communities the program serves ask specifically for ACE teachers to be assigned in the community.“We’ve never gone to a diocese and asked to place teachers there, it has always been a response to the needs of that community,” Comuniello said. “So we’ve always been invited by the bishop or the superintendent, and then thereafter the principals of those schools.”Comuniello said after the teachers and schools are confirmed, the program plays “matchmaker” to align teachers’ strengths and content areas with the needs of each school. ACE teachers are split into three levels, with one-third teaching each level of elementary, middle and high school.While some ACE teachers graduate from the program and go on to fulfill a lifelong vocation of teaching, Comuniello said former ACE teachers can pursue a myriad of career paths, from medical school to law school and public service.While the online format for ACE Night did not allow for crowd interaction and conversation, interested undergraduates could hear from ACE teachers across the country who are currently in their service programs or recent graduates.The information night began with an opening prayer led by the current ACE teachers living in community with each other in Corpus Christi, Texas.Calling in on Zoom from New York City, Dan Faas, a member of ACE cohort 17, shared his experiences with the program from the two years he taught at the Most Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Mobile, Ala.“The best advice I would give you is to allow yourself to just delight in the lives of your students,” Faas said. “You have the opportunity to engage and become a part of children’s lives for two years or more.”Now a principal of a school, Faas explained his three “immutable facts” on ACE that he believes to be true.“Number one, your students will change you, if you let them,” he said. “Number two, your community will change you, if you let them. And number three, the Lord will change you, if you let him or her.”John Cunningham, a member of ACE cohort 26, spoke to audience members from Saint Joseph High School in South Bend where he currently has a full-time teaching position. Prior to teaching in South Bend, Cunningham taught middle school social studies in Mission, Texas, where he found himself immersed in the community.Cunningham recalled not knowing exactly where he would be located upon receiving his random position.“But when I looked it up [and] I realized where I was going, I was thrilled because I knew I was going to be living in a place where I would not have else lived,” he said.Cunningham connected with the community in Texas in two ways: tacos and basketball.“When I first got to the valley, I didn’t know the culture,” Cunningham said. “During my years in Mission, Texas, I took pictures of every taco I ate and I posted it on Snapchat, so I ended up with 415 tacos. I ate every one of them, and they were absolutely delicious.”Through coaching the middle school basketball team, Cunningham said he was able to connect with his students outside the classroom.“I could let my guard down as a teacher a little bit, they could let their guard down as the students and we could connect over a common bond, which is basketball, and it allowed us to really get to know each other,” Cunningham said.In addition to an educational experience, ACE teachers participate in a total of 12 retreats over the two-year commitment. The largest retreat each year convenes in December in Austin, Texas, where all teachers are invited.“[We invite] all 180 teachers across the country to celebrate with one another and to rekindle friendships, but also to pray and celebrate Mass and really recenter and ground ourselves in the why and what we’re doing,” Comuniello said.Given the relatively easy and free application process, Faas said he sees no reason for an interested student not to apply to ACE.“The process of applying for ACE is itself a form of discernment,” Faas said. “You get to discern ACE, and ACE gets to discern you.”Tags: Alliance for Catholic Education, Catholic Schools, graduate program, masters of education Instead of walking across campus to the Stinson Remick Building, students dialed in from their devices Wednesday night to learn about the teaching fellows program within The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in the annual fall ACE night.The ACE fellows program allows recent college graduates to embark on two years of service by teaching in under-resourced Catholic schools while working toward a cost-free Masters of Education degree.Michael Comuniello, associate director for recruiting and a 2016 ACE graduate, said each year there are 90 to 95 teachers who accept the position in the program, totaling around 180 ACE teachers serving in any given year between the two cohorts. According to Comuniello, roughly 50% of each cohort graduated from the tri-campus community and the other 50% come from across the country.