Why Fairy Tales?
(Elsie with Hans Christian Andersen...and the Ugly Ducking! - Central Park)
Why Fairy Tales?
Once upon a time, in the bronze age, perhaps even earlier, we began imagining and creating worlds to enchant ourselves and our children - to share our cultural identity and our perspectives about universal themes of good and evil, of struggle and hope. Fairy tales contain our worst fears, our greatest aspirations, and our pride. They contain and celebrate our humanity - a humanity that transcends nationalities, borders, skin colour, and sexual orientation. This is why we have chosen to celebrate them through our work at Stories Like Me.
Before Disney’s monopoly on fairy tales in the media, princesses were not assumed to be skinny, white, and pretty. In fact, the fairy tale precedes the written tradition and has no standard form or cast. Scholars are beginning to understand how vast the fairy tale network extends around the globe through indices revised and republished each year with new tales of wonder from old corners of the world. Fairy tales are one of the earliest components of culture, and they have been shared across civilizations, from generation to generation, with the fascinating result of a collection of universal plotlines that readers recognize: A girl abused by her stepmother ventures in disguise to the ball where she will meet the prince, only to lose her shoe while making her escape. Sound familiar?
The Cinderella story has delighted listeners for centuries, and different versions can be found in China, France, Mexico, Egypt, and hundreds of other beautiful places. These tales are unique, and yet they celebrate each individual culture while also being inextricably linked across time, language, and space. This means that, as readers, we have access to more cultures than we can fathom through a familiar framework, allowing us to relate to others, recognize our differences, all while wishing our beautiful dresses could come out of almonds too.
It is a common misconception that because fairy tales are often short and fantastical, that they are intended for children. Indeed, one of the earliest French literary collections was written for aristocratic audiences at Versailles by the illustrious Madame Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. The earliest Grimm collections were also anthropological studies of folklore and culture, coupled with comparative linguistic essays and scholarly interpretations. It was only later that the accessibility and length of fairy tales made them convenient in the formation of children. These stories teach us to feel and to express our emotions in the safe framework of fantasy. They encourage us to be angry at the evil witch or jealous of another realm, allowing us to express negative emotions in a safe space. Most importantly, we learn to imagine and be creative, to question a societal norm.
Learning how to interact with the world around us, and how to change it is becoming increasingly important. In a world where we fear more than we accept, and in which we judge before we understand, we are looking back to fairy tales, who have, for thousands of years, united us in our common humanity.