I recently read an article about the poet Yeats, who, as a young man, apparently wanted to find proof that fairies were real. I can dig it; when I was a kid I was spellbound by The Neverending Story, movie and book, and I tried to find a book that could transport me to a fantasy land. In a sense I was successful; The Worm Ouroboros, A Voyage to Arcturus, and all those Oz books did the trick. But Yeates was frustrated by the fact that, while he knew logically that fairies were make-believe, he found the fairy tales of old country folk to have a realistic, authentic texture.
Alan Moore once said that "All stories are true," meaning not that they're all literally true, but that they all tell truths about the people who tell or listen to the stories. I think fairy tales, or rather stories about fairies, have the ring of truth because they are based on the aforementioned Irish country folks' observations about life. Folks had noticed that the natural world shared many characteristics with humans: kindness, cruelty, wisdom, caprice, beauty, ugliness. Fairies are the places where human characteristics and the natural world's characteristics flow together, overlap.
New subject: I got the soundtrack to the recent Broadway revival of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and it's quite good, but it cuts one of my favorite songs: Cinderella Darling. They probably thought it was too sexist, but there's a sexist streak running through the whole show. Start cutting the sexism, and where do you stop? I thought about this some during our production of Kiss Me Kate; it's full of dated gender politics that don't quite match the values of anyone in the cast or crew. How, then, do we justify doing the show when it seems to present values that we can't endorse? "It's just a musical" is an obvious answer, and while glib, I think it's basically on the money. Reviving old musicals is a kind of antiques restoration project; we're not presenting them as representative of our views, but as the views of our ancestors. The best way to treat sexism and such in these shows is probably to present them as relics, and perhaps to cheerfully upend them from beneath. A wink to the audience should be enough. After all, the dopey General I played had little to do with my actual estimation of real-world generals, and I don't think anyone was really confused about that-the joke was too broad to take straight.