Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Illud Tempus

Most fairy tales start with what is called ‘illud tempus,’ (now and forever) or a temporal-spatial determination meant to take the reader from their world to the world of the story. In stories from oral traditions it used to be the opening line, ‘Once upon a time.' That clearly informed listeners that the story did not take place here and now, but some timeless place both now and forever.

Admittedly, stories no longer begin with ‘once upon the time.’ However, the ‘illud tempus’ shows up in other forms through most of our media. There are book titles and covers that inform us about the change of place and time, plus those few pages a reader turns to in every book before the story begins – just a few seconds to take a break from reality. In television shows there are the initial introduction scenes and driving music that inform most viewers that the show is about to start, taking them to an imaginary place. This happens in movies, too. Watch for images during these openings. They are often rich in mythic symbolism.

In addition, few of us listen to the stories in the original, oral tradition where ‘once upon a time,’ or ‘a long, long time ago,’ are needed. We chose to read. By making that decision we choose, at least initially, to suspend our disbelief about the impossible and improbable. We give our agreement to visit this story’s world in the now and forever.

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