Beyone the Pale

The town from Stardust. I blew it up bit and the ‘pale’ is not in the forground, but I thought I could make it out in the distance in the background. But that could be my imagination willing it to be there. It is difficult to see in the low light with the scrub in the background. Don’t mistake the yard walls with the pale wall.

A lot of people use the phrase, and use it correctly, without a full understanding of it. They basically know that it means to do something very bad.

The word ‘pale’ is from the Latin ‘palus’ which is a stake used to support a fence. The word expanded to include meaning a picket-style fence and extended to a boundary within which the local laws were valid.

A long time ago, the Pale was a low rock fence circling a town. But it also might be a ditch with ramparts built around it. Think of it as the city limits. These were not necessarily defensive structures but could be. Such as when it was a fortified ditch with ramparts built around it.

A palus fence, ie. a picket fence, a sharp wooden post was a ‘pale’ as in ‘impale’.

Now, if a person in a town did something that was so horrible as to get himself (or herself) kicked out of town and told not to come back – ever – it meant they couldn’t come inside the fence. So not only was the town proper off limits, but the area around the town too. When this happened, the person was considered as being “Beyond the Pale”.

A variation on this is when a ‘paling’ fence (a wood stake fence like a picket fence) would mark an area and certain people could only living in that area, such as Jews, which happened in certain areas of Russia. It still conveyed the same meaning. People who were considered unacceptable or unwanted were put on the other side. This was called a Pale of Settlement.

It was also used to identify the parts of Ireland which were under English control, The Pale.  So area’s England did not hold sway were ‘Beyond the Pale’ as well.

The Pale, the fence/wall around the town from the movie Stardust.

There is a movie that is a good example of the use of a ‘pale’ border for the purpose of identifying a legal area and the concept of that is on the other side is the ‘other’. It is a point where what is inside the pale is the acceptable world and what is beyond the pale is too different to be accepted.

That movie is Stardust.

A boy wants to impress a girl he likes and she seems to like him too. But at the same time, she can be mean and petty and she likes to pit him against the rich boy who clearly wants her. So they see a falling star and he promises to fetch the star and return it to her.

But the Star landed outside the Pale. So he has to go there to get it. In the process, he learns more about whom he is, rescues a princess who is living as a slave turned into a bird and happens to be his mother, meets a cross-dressing pirate, has encounters with evil women, and other adventures. It is really a classic coming of age story.

It also does a great job of showing how what is inside the pale is safe, structured, and provides order to the world and what is outside the pale can be wicked, dangerous, and adventurous.

But do you always want to be safe, take no risks, and give up part of your soul in the process or do you want to open your life up to the possibilities and freedoms you didn’t know existed?

And as I wrote that sentence I suddenly thought that people need to think about that question in relation to the personal freedoms they were willing to give up after 9/11 and decided if it is really better or if we want to start demanding the government value the individual citizen again and put a stop to some of the more invasive and totalitarian, freedom-violating, aspects of the Homeland Security Act.  It is a good question for life in general.

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One Response to “Beyone the Pale”

  1. I enjoyed this movie too.

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