Saturday, January 30, 2010 | Labels: A Matter of Opinion
"We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales – because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him.
We've all seen the Disney movies. Most of us spent time as young kids reading and rereading fairy tales, and now we enjoy flipping through a good retelling. For me, I've always been a kind of fairy tale junkie- I don't think I really ever grew out of that phase. My Brother's Grimm collection of stories is still at my bedside, and I'm known to occasionally watch an old Disney film. I never quite figured out why they've been such an important element in my life; the best reason I've come up with is that I'm a sucker for happy endings. Aren't we all? Doesn't everyone love these childhood stories, where things are perfect for a little while, where reality is just out of reach?
I was surprised to learn that, no, not everyone is a fan. Perhaps not in the sense that they disapprove of the stories themselves, but with the messages the stories are sending to young children. A dear friend, feminist, and teacher, blogged about her opinion of fairy tales, in this case, Cinderella.
If I were to teach this story literally, here is what my students would (in theory) learn from it:
1) Whatever crappy things happen to you, you just have to take it because eventually it will get better.
2) That when facing any difficult task in life you will have help to overcome it (birds, fairy godmother).
3) That one must hide one's flaws (Cinderella hiding her poor attire).
4) That step-families are evil.
5) That a man will rescue you from your crappy life if you're attractive enough.
With the popularity of the Disney Princesses line, I think it's a good thing to at least look at what ideas we're introducing our children to. Admittedly, I read this tale and watched the Disney film many times as a child, and I still was able to see past the superficiality of the relationships within it. However, there are lots of little girls (and teenage girls) who believe some of these ideas about beauty and men, so not everyone hears the tale without being influenced by it.
I think she makes some valid points. Reality is not anything like the fantasy world of fairy tales. One aspect of these stories that makes me cringe a little is the idea of love at first sight, and how willing the girls/princesses are to spend their lives pining after their true love. But really, is their love so 'true'? Can you really fall in love so deeply after a single glance, or one conversation? I don't know much about love, but I do know that it takes time. And it takes work. Not everyone rides off into the sunset.
But maybe, just maybe, the fact that fairy tales themselves are so unlike the real world is what makes them so beautiful. They're escapes. They spark a little hope that somewhere, there is a prince charming and a white horse. There is true happiness, and it's worth fighting a few dragons or evil stepmothers for.
What is your stance on fairy tales?