Inspired by a question on You Can Never Have Too Many Books, I’ve been spending some time this morning trying to decide which fairy tale is my favorite. And the truth is that choice is very hard for me because I didn’t really read fairy tales until I was older – at least I don’t think I did (Sorry, Mom, if you have lots of memories of reading them to me). So my knowledge of fairy tales starts in a very academic place – mostly with Angela Carter – who is, by the way, my favorite recent fairy tale reviser/writer.
But if I had to pick, I’d probably choose “Snow-White and Rose-Red” because it is a story of the way that kindness can transform life – to be it very simply. And that’s why I read fairy tales – because they portray the depths of life – good and bad – very simply.
I will say, with an eye to Susan’s comments on Too Many Books, that I really don’t like the Disney versions of the fairy tales. They take the sting and bite out of stories that are meant to seem real, not fictional. I find it very ironic that we make our children’s stories so banal and simple and yet we let our children watch violence and sex on mainstream TV, almost without knowing it. Before everyone stops reading because you think I’m a prude, let me say that, if given help in understanding, children can process a lot more information than we give them credit for – hence, I wish Disney hadn’t cleaned up the fairy tales (and for that matter, I wish the Brothers Grimm hadn’t done so, too) because I think that it’s important that children have save places to work out their fears. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” If we make the safe completely unreal – clean and pure and lovely – and then make the real seem safe because it’s on a screen, are we really helping kids?
Share your thoughts on fairy tales, if you have them. And happy reading.
P.S. For a great fairy tale illustrator, check out Anne Anderson.
P.P.S. For some very contemporary uses of fairy tales, check out The Fairy Tale Review.