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By Pam Burke 

Once upon a time on the Internet


November 15, 2013

History proves that humankind loves a good tale.

Back in the days before modern amenities like television, Internet and indoor plumbing, people of cultures from all around the world told tales to entertain and teach.

The tale of Cinderella has hundreds of variations from different cultures. One version of the tale, made popular by Disney, teaches us that good things will happen to young women if they work hard and stay pure of heart — and have a fairy godmother.

Other versions aren't so nice, and some involve birds plucking out the eyes of the stepsisters; magic fish bones — or slimy frogs — granting wishes except to the greedy; or a scar-faced girl dressed in a bark dress and her father's cast-off moccasins seeing a man outfitted in rainbows and the Milky Way.

Then there's the one in which Cinderella is actually a mean young witch. Didn't see that comin', did you.

While some experts believe most of these tales are unique to each culture and are only similar because they speak about human truths, others believe the tales have one starting point and spread to other cultures through retelling. The stories end up being altered to suit the norms of each particular culture.

Alan Boyle, science editor for NBCNews.com reports that Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologists at Durham University, studied all the versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” to find out if it came from a single source. He divided all the story lines and plot elements into categories — that means he looked at variations of “X-eats-Y” and which characters are evil, which are animals and which human, who saved whom, and how the tale ends.

He plugged this data into a computer program that tracked the evolution of the tale back to the original source and, voila!, through the magic hocus-pocus of the electronic machine, he abracadabra-ed the answer of: Europe.

He says the tale of Red Riding Hood started in Europe as something called “The Wolf and the Kids” in the first century, branching out to the world from there, as well as evolving in European-based countries into “Little Red Riding Hood.”

You can read all about it in "The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood" which was published Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

But as I said, history proves that humans like a good tale.

Even in this day and age, when duplicating a story word for word or scene for scene and sending it far and wide through the modern magic of the Internet is easy, we still can't resist tweaking a good tale.

The other day I got, for the second time, a link to a website that supposedly shows a video clip of a U.S. Marine knocking out a "champion Bohemian kickboxer." It's unbelievably awesome. Truly unbelievable.

With more than 1,300 comments, I didn't read them all, but the most recent comments echo earlier ones that go something like this:

"Haha, that dooosh is flipping around and then BAM! one fist to the face and he's done. Go (bleeping) Marines!"

"Yes, the Marines are tough (bleeps), but that's actually a scene from a movie."

"Bohemian kick box meets American fist box and goes DOWN!"

"It's actually a movie and the guy, an ACTOR, is doing a form of Brazilian martial arts, not kickboxing."

"That's what I mean! That dood with the wicked right hook looks like a guy my brother served with."

"You mean that actor with the choreographed fake punch? Do you people not understand this is a movie scene?!"

"Yeah, adapt, improvise overcome ... booyah!!!"

We just don't want to let go of our fairy tales.

(Once upon a time, there was this awkward girl who grew up to be an even awkwarder adult. The end, at pam@viewfromthenorth40.com.)


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