Fairy Tales | The Best Stories for Children
"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." ~Albert Einstein
What do Charles Dickens, Joseph Campbell, Albert Einstein and Rudolph Steiner have in common?
A Love of Fairy Tales
All of these great thinkers felt that these stories should be an integral part of every childhood. Fairy tales, in their classic form, integrate literature, morality and human understanding.
Harvard Professor, Maria Tatar and famous child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim also feel strongly that classic fairy tales are beneficial to child development.
If these great thinkers, writers and experts agree on the value and benefits of classic fairy tales, then why are these stories not being read to the majority of children today?
Perhaps Walt Disney is to blame. Walt Disney has co-opted many of these stories and watered them down so that children are only getting a small portion of what these stories have to offer. Walt Disney, in order to make these stories work in a movie format, had to rewrite them in simpler versions. This could be compared to what capitalists have done to water; they bottled it and sold to us what was once free. Fairy tales have been a part of traditions, handed down from generation to generation and told with love. This story telling has been diluted and altered for versions designed for the masses in order to make them more palatable to a wider audience, thus increase profits for movie studios, toy marketers and publishing corporations. Walt Disney was first a shrewd businessman looking to make money.
Television has also replaced the day where folk and fairy tales used to exist. These stories were told in the evening, but now television has monopolized much of this family time. In the days when these stories were told they offered an almost seamless transition between the wakeful hours of daytime and the dream world of night.
Now we are left with multiple generations only knowing the watered down version of these classic stories instead of the treasure of wealth that the classic versions hold.
Compared to their watered down versions, Classic fairy tales offer:
In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most people are familiar with the ending in which Goldilocks runs away and is never seen again. In the longer classic version, Goldilocks actually comes back and helps repair the chair and also helps the mother cook more food. She remains friends with the bear family and comes back to visit periodically. The lesson being, when you do something wrong, you make it up to the other person. These are building blocks of friendship.
In Cinderella, at the end of the story when Cinderella moves to the castle and marries the prince, she invites the stepsisters to live in the castle, the moral being ‘forgiveness.’
In Little Red Riding Hood, after the wolf is killed there is another part to the story. Little Red Riding hood is again approached by another wolf on a trip to Grandmother’s house and this time she remembers not to talk with him and does not stray from the path. After arriving at Grandmother’s house she tells the grandmother about this second wolf and they come up with a plan to keep this wolf from eating them. The moral is ‘learning from your mistakes.’
Here is the text from the Disney version of Snow White:
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful young princess named Snow white. Her hair was as dark as night, her lips were as red as a rose, and her skin was as white as snow.
Here is the classic version:
Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a Queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the white snow, and she thought to herself: “Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame.
This classic version is rich with vocabulary and offers the young listener a rich introduction to a world of literary language.
When I first started reading the classic Grimm’s fairy tales, I was surprised to find verse dispersed within the stories. When Hansel and Gretel arrive at the candy house and start eating it they hear a soft voice saying:
Nibble, nibble, gnaw,
Who is nibbling at my little house?
To this the children answered
The Wind, the wind,
The heaven born wind.
Later, when Gretel wants a duck to help her cross a great stretch of water, Hansel says
Little duck, little duck, dost thou see,
Hansel and Gretel are waiting for thee?
There’s never a plack, or bridge in sight,
Take us across on thy back so white.
How much more inspiring it is to introduce verse to children seamlessly within a story when the child is already engaged.
If we also consider that fairy tales are read to children, inviting the child to use words to make picture images, we can see yet another reason to introduce our children to these literary masterpieces. When a child makes these picture images they are learning how to use their own imagination rather then allowing Disney or an illustrator to provide an adult’s version for them. (see more about imagination)
These stories are a joy to read because of their natural flow. They hold your interest with characters who are intriguing for a younger child as well as plots and morals which will interest an older audience, thus appealing to all age groups. Since these stories were told aloud they are easy to read aloud. If you have ever read a poorly written children’s story you will appreciate that these stories have been written and masterfully shaped by the hands of time.
"By entering the world of fantasy and imagination, children and adults secure for themselves a safe space where fears can be confronted, mastered, and banished." - Maria Tatar The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales
A Word about Cruelty and Evil
In the Journal of Ethics and Education, Diana Hughes states that fairy tales speak directly to the natural morality in the child and to his or her sense of moral order in the world. When the good wins and the evil is punished, a child is visibly satisfied. The child identifies with the hero in the story and the hero always has resolution in the end.
In Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood, he says the importance of fairytales “lies in their capacity to reveal the existence of evil in a form that permits children to integrate without trauma.” Many children have been traumatized by movie versions of fairy tales since the images are much stronger than a child’s mind is ready for.
That being said, you know your child best and can select fairy tales that you feel are appropriate for your child.
These stories connect with the human experience on a deep level, which is validating.
Experts agree that the characters in a fairly tales reflect elements within each individual; aspects of our selves and our destinies. The characters are said to be metaphors for our own striving to achieve a sense of union between the parts of ourselves
The classic fairy tales are lengthier then their contemporary counterparts, therefore allowing the listener to become better acquainted with the characters. The characters in these fairy tales often have more than one challenge. Each challenge builds upon the next, which helps us to see where the character has come from and what he has learned along the way.
It is a tribute to these stories that even in their watered down ‘Disney’ versions, they remain as popular as ever, so why do we persist in depriving our children of the great literature in its purest and most potent form? Let’s not deprive our children of the vast treasure trove of fairy tales which have so much value.
Fairy Tale Endings
- And so they lived happily every after
- A mouse did run, the story is done
- Bo bow bended, my story’s ended, if you don’t like it, you may mend it
- If the story was beautiful, the beauty belongs to us all; if it was bad, the fault is mine only, who told it
- Snip, snap, snout, this tale's told out
Fairy Tale Beginnings
- Once upon a time...
- In the days of good King Arthur...
- A thousand years ago tomorrow...
- A great while ago, when the world was full of wonders...
- Back, far back, in the mists of time when the world was very young...
- Far away and just as long ago...
Fairy Tale Quiz
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© 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway