“Some say you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” - C.S.Lewis
When I was a little boy I often spent the Summer holidays at my grandparents’ house. This was something that will stay with me as a treasured memory as I loved them both very much and there were always special treats – trips, wonderful food, summertime friendships and of course lots of fairy tales. My grandfather especially used to make up many tales for me (insatiable as I was for the stories he told me) and in these tales he wove myth, fable, folk tradition, and fairy tale elements he could remember from his own youth. Later of course, I read all of the classics: Andersen’s fairy tales, the Grimms’ fairy tales, Perrault’s, Wilde’s etc, etc. My love of fairy tales has stayed with me to this day and this blog post today is devoted to that special branch of literature: Fairy Tales.
Many psychologists and psychiatrists have analysed the function of the fairy tale in society. Freud, Jung, and Bettelheim, have all seen many features of the fairy tale as manifestations of universal fears and desires of human beings. Bettelheim especially, maintains that the violent and apparently arbitrary nature of many folk fairy stories is an instructive reflection of the child's natural and necessary “killing off” of successive phases of development and initiation.
Fairy tales often have as a theme times of extreme social conflict: Transformation of adolescents into adults, family continuity, rites of succession of leadership, movement into marriage (and many of its uncertainties and fears, as well as its potential creativity and power) and traditionally, birth or barrenness. These rites of passage have been fertile ground for authors, artists and performers and fairy tales have found them a useful source of emotionally charged and interesting stories to the communities that created them and retold them. Fairy tales also give children messages of hope, because even if the hero of the story finds himself in incredibly difficult situations, he always manages to get out of them successfully.
Another function of the fairy tale is that of pure escapism. Nature is given a prime role in many tales and communicating with it is often presented in a way that only poetry can do it. The frequent metamorphoses described in tales are a link to the mineral and the animal world. Fairy tales are a way to escape from the real and neurotic world (with its tiny, unhealthy, overcrowded towns) into the great healthy open spaces (untouched woods, never ending valleys, crystal-clear rivers, magical and enchanted castles, sleeping princesses, etc).
Grimms’ Fairy Tales is my featured book for this literary Tuesday. The Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm) published their Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children’s and House Tales) between 1812 and 1815 in Germany. They had as their ideal the exact recording of tales as heard from oral tellers, though it is clear that many stories in their famous work are not folk literature at all, but polished and edited literary pieces inspired by the folk tales, which at the same time retained their folkloric heritage.
Grimms’ fairy tales are of universal appeal and have been translated into over 70 languages around the world. Many well-loved tales that children love to hear are from their collection: The Frog Prince, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Tom Thumb, Rumpelstitskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Rose Red, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, etc. My personal favourite fairy tale in the Grimms’ collection is Jorinda and Jorindel.
What is your favourite fairy tale?
1 hour ago