The Importance of Fairytales
When Vicki asked me a few weeks ago to write a post for her blog on the importance of fairytales for the 200th Anniversary of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I almost declined. I enjoy writing, I famously love fairytales, yet the analysis of the “why” seemed overwhelming. How could I speak for the human experience? I can’t, not being an anthropologist or a sociologist. I have no scientific basis for these words, only the long-held tang of instinct when the words ring true to me.
Fairytales are one of the oldest forms of storytelling. We have stories that survive from hundreds of years ago. They make up our common mythology. The Grimm brothers wrote down these stories and folktales, codified them into their most famous versions. But Cinderella existed in 1st century B.C. Greece:
They are cautionary tales, but not only for children. In the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and others of its time, children were lost forever. Good people died. There was torture and frequently the endings were, well, grim. There was a true reason to be afraid of the dark.When she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals from her maid…While the king was administering justice in the open air, the eagle…flung the sandal into his lap. The king, having been stirred both by the beautiful shape of the sandal and by the strangeness of the occurrence, sent men in all directions into the country in quest of the woman who wore the sandal. When she was found in the city of Naucratis, she…became the wife of the king.1
Today, there has been a revival of sorts of the fairytale, through the movies of Disney and the popularity of shows like Once Upon a Time, though they might be filtered through our modern lens, with princesses who save themselves and post-modern irony. My has 2,944 followers and 4,333 pins. You don’t have to believe in tiny people with wings to believe in fairytales.
Water Dancer, Digital World
But life is not a fairytale, some will object. Sometimes the wrong person dies, the bad guys win, and there is no happy ending. This is true. But a necessary part of survival is that we believe in a better tomorrow. We are all faced with our own mortality, the place beyond that screen where “The End” is writ large in golden script.
It would be easy to despair. Yet we go on. Because sometimes it does end happily. Sometimes the good guys prevail. Sometimes true love overcomes death. Enchantment is the sheen of frost on the bough. Magic is seeing the smile of the person you love best at the top of the stairs. This is what is essential to hold onto as we get older.
Fairytales restore our hope. They are all that remains in Pandora’s box. They are a necessary part of our existence. If we relegate fairytales only to children, we lose our chance to not only connect with our children, but also our humanity and the stories that will last long after we are gone.
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