Why we should read more fairy tales

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Literature | 0 comments

What do you think of when you hear the words “fairy tales”? I have to admit, for most of my life, I associated fairy tales mostly with the Disney versions of old classics that I watched on VHS as a child. These kid-friendly stories enthralled me when I was little. The girls were beautiful and the men were handsome and strong and magic seemed to flow freely. I honestly can’t say that I remember reading or having read to me any of the full (or even semi-full) tales. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how much more there was to these stories. 

Though maybe not truly a “fairy tale” (depending on your definition), my full-fledged introduction to fairy was through JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I vividly remember my aunt and uncle telling me about these stories, whose movie adaptations were currently awaiting the theatrical release of the 3rd part of the trilogy. I was completely unfamiliar, but instantly intrigued. I watched the first 2 movies in rapid succession and then began on the books. By the time The Return of the King released in theater, I was hooked. Even having read the books (and seen the movies) countless times, each and every reading and viewing pierces my heart through with Truth. Within the narrative of these tales, I’ve learned perhaps more about Truth – about fate, free will, friendship, faith, and so, so much more – than I have learned from any other source. My love for Tolkien’s mythology expanded over time and grew to include both other classics and new adaptations of old stories. Each, in their own unique way, has added to my understanding of the world, the universe, and myself. 

Maybe it’s because of the deep way these stories have and continue to shape my life that I feel so strongly about not only the development of literacy skills in our upcoming generation but also a reverent love for stories. Yes, literacy has implications for school completion, college attendance, job acquisition, financial security, and more. And yes, I could argue that it’s because I developed strong literacy skills and have always had the blessing of experiencing all of these aforementioned things that I can even think about the benefits of fairy. However, I don’t believe that makes those benefits any less important. Maybe, just maybe, it makes it even more important? 

So, today, instead of thinking about the practical, academic benefits of reading, I want to specifically explore how reading shapes us as humans. I want to explore the reasons we should read more fairy tales.

1 | Fairy tales offer a safe framework for difficult feelings. 

This world is hard, isn’t it? Each and every day we are faced with worries, big and little. Even children experience this. Whether it’s the toddler who has been told “no” to a lollipop before dinner or the adult facing joblessness, we learn, from a very young age, that events won’t always lead to our desired outcomes or happy feelings. Nor do they in fairy stories. Within the realm of Faërie, things are not always rosy. Indeed, fairy stories seem to always center on something undesired occurring. When we read these stories, we are transported, in some manner of speaking, into another world, where things are indeed, dark; however, unlike the darkness of our own world, this is a world that cannot harm us. Within the framework of the story – in all of the ways we’ll discuss next – we offered a safe place to engage with hardships and all of the feelings that come with them.

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

GK Chesterton

2 | Fairy tales have obvious depictions of good and bad. 

Going back to the hardships already mentioned, there is one characteristic common in fairy stories: the good and the bad are obvious. When reading a fairy tale, we don’t have to wonder who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. The nature of the fairy story lays out such information very clearly for the reader. This clarity adds to the safety of the framework mentioned earlier. By describing the nature of good and evil so clearly, some of the guess work is taken out of the equation for us and we can be left to focus on what defines those natures. We can know without questioning, for instance, that sacrifice is the mark of good while selfishness is the mark of evil when we know who exactly to look towards for each. Mind you, that does not mean that the good characters will always be perfectly good. However, fairy stories ensure that the preponderance of evidence depicts the right characters in the right light, allowing the reader to know with sureness who to model.

In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected.

Charles Dickens 

3 | Fairy tales demonstrate the cause and effect of our actions.

Another benefit of knowing with sureness who is good and who is bad is the possibility it opens for navigating through cause and effect in a way that stimulates our ability to understand consequences and blessings. When even a good character makes a poor decision, we are able to see the consequences of that reflected. And, of course, we are similarly able to see the consequences and blessings of decisions made, both good and bad, by those respective characters. Within that safe framework, we are able to understand the possible effects of our own actions, in real life. Much of the fairy story is involved with this concept. After characters are set up as good or bad, the focus turns to their actions and the consequences of them. Though the events are occurring in a different world, we are able to relate to the characters in such a way that we reflect their actions onto our own and vice versa. Through the lens of their choices, and the consequences of them, we are able to better see our own actions and what has or might become of them. Because we are able to relate so the choices of the characters so clearly with their inherent goodness (or lack of), we begin to recognize into which camp our actions place us.

As for fairy tales, he understood that they were reflections of the people who had spun them, and were flecked with little truths – intrusions of reality into fantasy, like toast crumbs on a wizard’s beard.

Laini Taylor

4 | Fairy tales invite us to explore Truth through our imagination.

CS Lewis once called fairy stories “lies breathed through silver.” JRR Tolkien would go on to refute that statement through both a poem (Mythopoeia) and a speech/essay (On Faerie Stories). Through Tolkien’s defense and praise of the fairy story, Lewis would go on to include myths and legends and fantasy in what he called “good dreams” given to us by God. These stories, Lewis came to believe, were gifts meant to lead us to Truth that we cannot bring ourselves to notice within the dull and flattened nature of reality. I shared in the beginning how Tolkien’s words have shaped my life. That is because of the Truth found there. Even for those who do not share Tolkien’s personal beliefs, there is much to be found there that relates to Truth we can all share. Such is the nature of the fairy story. It is all too easy to get caught up in the drudgery of our daily lives. As we go about, tending to the necessary tasks of life, we forget to look for the magic. We fail to notice the stars in their glory; we fail to recognize the intricate design of the grasshopper; we fail to indulge in the taste of a beautifully ripe strawberry. Within the narrative of a fairy story, however, we are able to imagine a different world – one that somehow seems to reflect our own – that drives our imaginations back to wonder. Through our imaginations, through that wonder, we are able to find the Truth that is muddled by the urgent.

O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales.

Leo Rosten