I have never shied away from these tales – we tell them to each other in the car on long trips, at bedtime, whenever a story is needed but no book is present. We mix the Brothers Grimm with Hans Christian Anderson and throw in Greek mythology or Aesop for good measure. And what I only half recall, I make up, but always remembering what I think are the big important must-haves of fairy tales:
- They must be entertaining
- They must include unpleasantness
- They must have happy endings
- The wolf is the Big Bad Wolf, not the poor misunderstood wolf whom, in the name of inclusiveness, we must rehabilitate
- The evil witch is truly evil. She really wants to eat Hansel and Gretel and it is their ingenuity that saves the day, not her latent morality kicking in repentantly
- Death is often final. And ugly. And children are not immune to tragedy just because they are children.
We sugar coat so much of our children’s experiences. And then one day they learn to read and pick up a paper and learn the hard way just how scary the real world can be. Fairy tales can be a bridge between innocence and reality, allowing safe exploration of the good and bad that makes up human existence in all corners of the world. We often make up our own endings now – Little Red might use a well timed karate kada to help the woodman take down the wolf – because the kids have internalized an important truth: that they if they know their own strengths, they can succeed.
Little Red sorted out the wolf, learned a valuable lesson in who to trust along the way, and lived happily ever after.
Hansel and Gretel stood up for themselves, teamed up to outwit the witch, showed great resilience, and lived happily ever after.
Snow White broke free of the evil queen, let go of the issues holding her back, and lived happily ever after (well, apart from her prince’s predilection for singing which, though charming at first, got really annoying in later years).
Fairy Tales aren’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. But both are adventures. That’s a message I can live with.