Christina Patterson: It's time to wave farewell to fairy tales

Many, many people in New York on Sunday night believed that the wicked witch had been killed, and would rot in hell
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The Independent Online

It was a great weekend for parties. It was a great weekend for party planners. It was a great weekend for party accessory suppliers, and for four in particular, who all looked great, sounded (according to other guests) great, and generally conducted themselves as if marrying into a monarchy that stretched back for more than a millennium was no big deal.

The party planners outside the Abbey and the Palace did pretty well, too. A million people on the streets of London braved the crowds and the potential lack of toilets, and had a lovely time. They could, thanks to nice, friendly policing, walk without being crushed. They could, thanks to strategically placed coffee carts, get a nice cappuccino and a muffin. They could, thanks to lines of Portaloos, not just open champagne, but drink it. It was friendly, and pleasant, and convivial, and polite. It was cheerful, and it was calm.

On Sunday, a million and a half people on the streets of Rome braved the crowds, and the potential lack of toilets, and had a largely lovely time. Some, as in London, slept on the streets. Some, as in London, waved flags. But some, thanks to Italian policing, and Italian crowd control, were stuck in crowds where they couldn't move forward, and couldn't move back. Some of them fainted. Some of them collapsed. It was joyous, and pious, and passionate and intense. It wasn't all that calm.

On Sunday night, thousands of people burst on to the streets of New York. They burst on to the main square, and on to a place where there used to be a massive building, and now wasn't. Some of them waved flags. Some of them waved banners. Some of them lit candles, and cried. It was happy, and triumphant, and angry, and sad. It wasn't calm at all.

The first party, which had been planned for months, was for a fairy tale. It was for the kind of fairy tale where a beautiful young girl meets a handsome prince and becomes a princess in a golden carriage. It was Sleeping Beauty. It was Cinderella. The beautiful girl wakes, the shoe fits, the wedding bells peal. And they all lived happily ever after.

The second party, which had been planned for months, was for another fairy tale. It was for the kind of fairy tale where you get a fairy godmother, a woodcutter, and three wishes. The fairy godmother waves a magic wand and the woodcutter becomes a prince and then she waves it again, and someone who couldn't walk walks, and someone who couldn't see sees. And the prince, once he's made two or three wishes come true, becomes a fairy godfather, too.

The third party, which hadn't been planned at all, was for another fairy tale. It was for the kind of fairy tale where you get a wicked witch who has tried to cast spells on everybody, and has managed to cast spells on quite a lot of people, and who wants people who are happy and smiling to be sad and scared. And where the wicked witch is, after a long struggle, dead. And the people are happy and smiling, because they know that they don't need to be scared any more.

We all love fairy tales. Even the people who didn't expect to, loved the fairy tale that unfolded before us on Friday. If we didn't like the idea of a society structured around kings and queens and princes, we still liked this prince, and we liked the idea that an accessories buyer at Jigsaw could become a princess. We cheered, and waved, and smiled, because we liked to think of the prince being happy, and we liked to think of his princess being happy, and because we liked to have a nice big knees-up.

But even the people who had camped out the night before, and even the people wrapped in Union flags, and even the people in gloves, and hats, and pearls, didn't cheer and wave and smile because they believed in happy ever after. They knew that the media the prince thinks killed his mother would soon make his life pretty tough, too. And that when he became head of that great British show called the monarchy, the handsome young prince would probably be middle-aged and bald.

We loved this fairy tale. We were enchanted by it. But we didn't actually believe in it.

People did believe in the fairy tale in Rome on Sunday. They believed that a fairy godmother, or a Mother of God, which may be the same thing, had, with the help of a dead pope, performed a miracle. They believed that the dead pope had made a nun with Parkinson's well. They believed that the vial of the dead pope's blood that the nun now clutched had magical powers. They believed that the dead pope would, once the paperwork was complete, be able to put in a good word for them to God. A God, by the way, who believes that it's better for people to die of Aids than use a condom.

And many, many people believed in the fairy tale in New York on Sunday night. They believed that a battle against evil had been won. They believed that good had prevailed. They believed that the wicked witch had been killed, and would rot in hell.

The wicked witch looked, confusingly, like Jesus. He lived a bit like Jesus, too. He lived, for a while, in a cave. He didn't eat much. He wore white robes. He told the world that the end was nigh, and that there was a battle, and that the enemy, which was more than half the world, was the Great Satan, and that he was on the side of God and justice and truth. It was the wicked witch who started the fairy tale. Thousands of people died because of it, and then hundreds of thousands more.

He was the 17th son, in a family with as many children as there are States of America. It was like the Old Testament. It was like the tribes of Abraham, if the tribes of Abraham had also made a multibillion-dollar fortune building Saudi palaces and highways for pilgrims to Mecca. Was it the Soviets in Afghanistan who gave him his fairy tale? Was it the Saudi refusal of his help to expel Saddam's troops from Kuwait? Was it the use of American, infidel troops in Kuwait that made him think that the best way to keep the fairy tale alive was with bombs in hotels and embassies, and planes in Twin Towers?

We don't know and can't know. We do know that the wicked witch, who pretended to be a messiah, was clever. He did cast a spell. He cast a spell not just on his followers, but on the government in the country he hated, whose citizens he killed. He cast a spell that made them believe in fairy tales, too. The government wanted to kill him. Of course it wanted to kill him. But the government believed that there was a battle between good and evil, and that the evil was found in places where the wicked witch had walked, like Afghanistan, and places where he hadn't, like Iraq. The government thought it was important to look as if you were fighting the wicked witch, and that if you couldn't find him, you had to fight someone else.

Some people in New York on Sunday didn't believe in fairy tales. "The news," said the father of one young man who was killed in the Twin Towers, "cannot bring back our loved ones, or ease our pain." There won't, said the father of another, who has never had a body to bury, "be any closure".

These people are unlikely to agree with the Peruvian President, Alan Garcia, that the death of Osama bin Laden is the beatified pope's first miracle. They won't be holding any parties, for any fairy tales. I think we should listen to them.





c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

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