Folklore and Parallels to Fairytales in Lolita
The use of folklore and parallels to fairytales in Lolita makes the overall dynamic of the novel simultaneously confusing and artistic for readers. Nabokov implements the folklore and fairytale parallels in characters such as Humbert, Charlotte, Richard, and Lolita. However, the confusing aspect lies in the fact that each character can represent a different fairytale type throughout the book. This is especially true with Humbert, and explains the vexation readers have with his character. By the end of the book, the question of whether Humbert is sincere in his remorse, or lying about the truth, can be attributed to these folklore characterizations from Nabokov. It furthermore perverts the reader’s imagination of enchantment and the magical essence of fairytales as Nabokov blurs reality and fantasy.
In the article “The Enchanted Hunters,” Jones argues three reasons Nabokov uses these folklore characteristics in his characters. The first is, “[Nabokov] wishes to give his story some of the magical appeal of fairy tales…he wants to emulate their fanciful perspective,” (Jones 271). This is evident throughout the novel with his characters, place names, and Humbert’s narrations. Jones parallels characters in Lolita with character types in Snow White to illustrate this point of folklore characteristics. Lolita, character and novel, is depicted as this fantasy through the eyes of Humbert. He refers to her as a, “little princess (lost, kidnapped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds),” (Jones 273). Throughout the book, Humbert continues to compare Lolita to a nymphet, a fairy princess, or a fateful elf to create folkloristic allusions. Nabokov is exploiting these fanatical qualities to accompany Humbert’s pedophiliac narrative. The readers are being manipulated with these enchantments from Nabokov and cause the ultimate vexation most readers have by the end of the book.
Humbert embodies the most conflicting folklore characteristics as he is described as, “the prince, the ogre, and the hunter – sometimes the protagonist and sometimes the antagonist,” (Jones 277). These observations by Jones also contribute to the vexation readers have at the end of the novel. Nabokov successfully weaved these folkloristic allusions in with Humbert’s perverted, yet artistic, narrative to blend fantasies with reality. Humbert is all the above character types Jones lists, which is why readers struggle to interpret his character. At the Enchanted Hunters, he becomes the enchanted hunter, Lolita his prey, as he drugs and rapes her. He becomes the Ogre as he threatens her with orphanages at the thought of contacting the police. He makes himself the prince when he says he rescued her as an orphan and is her protector. Each of these character types are true and reveal an aspect of Humbert’s character. However, the confusion it causes for readers is the result of how Nabokov exploits these folklore character types.
Jones argues that the second reason Nabokov uses folkloric character types is, “He uses these traditional characters to expose the unrealistic way that fairy tales and their stock figures portray life and its actual participants…actual events and persons do not always fit these folkloristic fabrications,” (271). This is true in support of Humbert’s multiple character types. He is realistically unable to strictly be one folk character, and he embodies three folk character types as a result. Richard Schiller is supposed to be Dolly’s prince charming that rescued her from her tormentors. However, readers later find that he is not even able to have a coherent conversation with Humbert. Dick responds to Humbert’s question of, “You are going to Canada?…I mean Alaska, of course,” with, “Well, he cut it on a jagger, I guess. Lost his right arm in Italy,” (Nabokov 274-75). Richard appears to be less of a prince charming and more of a “buffoon”. Furthermore, Dolly and Richard never have their happily ever after when she dies in childbirth on Christmas Day. These unfortunate endings for folkloric inspired characteristics are mockeries to fairytale endings from Nabokov. He manages to disassemble reader’s ideal princess, prince charming, the expected demise of the ogre, or the defeat of the hunter and he turns them into lies. No one gets their fairytale ending in Lolita. They get reality mixed with the fantasy narrative from a pedophile. Jones’ last reason to explain Nabokov’s use of folk characterization is, “…to make a statement about the paradoxical relationship of art (mirage) and reality (fact)…that man lives between two worlds,” (271). This is true throughout Humbert’s narrative, and the reader’s perception of Lolita. Nabokov creates Humbert’s narrative with a tone of fantasy but readers are supposed to perceive it as factual. Humbert even admits, “At this or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding into deeper and darker waters than I care to probe. I have camouflaged what I could so as not to hurt people. And I have toyed with many pseudonyms for myself…,” (Nabokov 308). Humbert is unable to face his own heinous actions and takes on a new persona to “camouflage” his true self. Or, readers can perceive this as true remorsefulness for his actions. He no longer wants to be that person and is trying to move on with reality by ignoring his past mistakes.
Readers will never have a definite answer to the question; however, Humbert’s multiple character types can lead them to such a conclusion. Under this conclusion, that Humbert has reached a point of true remorse for his actions against Dolores Haze, readers can see this transformation. They can see how Humbert started out as this maniac, kidnapped a child, and lived in a Lolita fantasy. They can see the slow acknowledgment from his narrative that what he is doing is morally wrong in the eyes of society. Ultimately, they see how he tries to compensate for the pain he caused Dolores with the murder of Quilty and a sum of four thousand dollars. In this scenario, readers no longer see Lolita, they see Dolly being freed from Humbert’s fantasy. Or, readers still see Humbert living out this fantasy for eternity. In his final line he states, “…the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita,” (Nabokov 309). Readers still see the obsessive and possessive mindset Humbert has. He calls “their love” art. Art, with its own fantasy qualities, causing mirage and fact to once again blur the reader’s perspective and leave them with no absolute resolution to the novel. Lolita trapped for eternity in the fantasy of Humbert.
Jones’ explanations for Nabokov’s use of folk characteristics and fairytales are justified and accurate. He provides an explanation for the vexation experienced by readers. That Humbert embodies many different folk characteristics over the course of the novel. Each characteristic different from the other, and resulting in a different narration. Furthermore, contributing to the confusion and artistry readers are faced with at the end of the book. Nabokov has forced readers to defy their fairytale endings to determine the authenticity of Humbert’s remorse and actions. Nabokov’s characters are trapped in a continuum of reality invading their fantasies, and fantasies distracting their realities. Furthermore, this continuum creates a literary world of art and confusion for his readers as they embark on his backward fairytales.
Jones, Steven Swann. “The Enchanted Hunters: Nabokov’s Use of Folk Characterization in ‘Lolita.’” Western Folklore, vol. 39, no. 4, 1980, pp. 269–283., www.jstor.org/stable/1499996 Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. 2nd ed. New York: Random House, Inc., 1997. Print.
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The use of folklore and parallels to fairytales in Lolita makes the overall dynamic of the novel simultaneously confusing and artistic for readers. Nabokov implements the folklore and fairytale parallels […]