I grew up believing that fairy tales were nonsensical time wasters. For decades, I never questioned that belief. Then, in a literature class, the teacher offered a new perspective. Startled, I tucked the thought away, where like a seed, it lay dormant for a number of years. One day while browsing at a garage sale, I came upon a beautifully illustrated book of Fairy Tales, remembered that class, and bought the book.
One of the first tales in the book that I read to my 3rd -4th students was the story of Hansel and Gretel. In this particular version, the children, who overheard the desperately worried parents discussing their dire poverty, decided to secretly slip out and look for work. That night, they left without saying a word to their parents. As I read that, all kinds of doubts rose up to haunt me. I wondered what in the world I was doing and how this story could be redemptive.
When I finished reading, I stalled for time by inviting them to talk to me about the story. Immediately students began to offer comparisons: the witch is like the devil who deceives, the candy house is like temptation, and so on. One young student observed, “The witch is like the devil, and she was thrown into the fire same as the devil will be.”
Their insights blew me away. We discussed how we are all like Hansel and Gretel. We, too, disobey and suffer the consequences. Then we are offered grace, and welcomed back home. I love that!
Each day, at the end of reading a tale, the students enthusiastically offered their understanding and comparisons. But when I came to the famous tale of “Puss in Boots,” I really shook my head. What kind of truth could that one teach? They wondered too, and then concluded that it is not a good story because it does not meet the standard of how life really is. They got it! 🙂 They saw that stories, even fairy tales, are subject to a standard of truth.
More recently I listened to a presentation by Andrew Pudawa on the value of fairy tales. He stated that wholesome fairy tales teach eternal, universal truths such as:
Again this year I am reading a few fairy tales. When I read “Snow White” and got to the part where the king’s son finds (dead) Snow White, loves her, and brings her back to life, I was so struck by the beautiful analogy that I involuntarily gasped and paused in amazement. Initially, the students wondered what was going on, but then quickly made the connections and eagerly discussed how Jesus, the Son of a King, came, loved us, brought us back to life (and we, like Snow White, were dead because of yielding to temptation). This tale seems particularly full of analogies.
So here I offer my changed perspective of fairy tales for your consideration, and yet respect those who choose to avoid them. However, for me, the seed planted a decade ago has germinated beautifully.