|The Witch and Tree. By Arthur Rackham; 1918.
But a third critical position warrants inclusion. Like Oscar Wilde, who both penned imaginative literature and often insisted that life imitates art far more than art imitates life, English fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett proposed a revisionist theory of fantasy, which serves as a provocative point of entry point for Into the Woods
. As Pratchett maintains:
“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around. Stories exist independently of their players…And every time fresh actors tread the path of the
story, the groove runs deeper. That is why history keeps repeating all the time. So a thousand heroes have stolen fire from the gods. A thousand wolves have eaten grand-mother, a thousand princesses have been kissed. A million unknowing actors have moved, unknowing, through the pathways of story. Stories don’t care who takes part in them.
All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats.”
Pratchett’s thesis has clear resonance in the style and ideas of Into the Woods
, where reason and imagination, the individual and his or her community, actions and consequences, and history and myth all converge in a freewheeling, moving demonstration of how we shape and are shaped by the stories we tell.
Imaginative tales, then, once we seize their potential, like the theatre itself, help us to live more fully and intentionally, a truth that Shakespeare, along with Sondheim and Lapine, express in the very form of their respective works. Or as Shakespeare’s Queen Hippolyta affirms in embracing reports of the fantastical events in Midsummer’s
“…All the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images
And grows to something of great constancy;
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.”