Evil is easy to identify in the character of witches, ogres, and vicious animals vs. the heroes: brave soldiers returning from war, shepherds and farmers with pure hearts, etc. And the minor characters often illustrate the vices and virtues of life: The envious sisters and brothers who do everything they can to bring down their good and innocent sibling: the evil imp Rumplestiltskin who takes advantage of an impossible situation to rob a mother of her child only to be defeated with the help of good huntsman, the old woman in the forest who tests the generosity of those she meets. Yes, fairy tales are a microcosm of life and they expose the truth, both for good and evil, within the hearts of the characters.
When I was a child I spent hours on the floor in the living room immersed in a thick book of Grimm's Fairy Tales enclosed in a green cover with gold letters. What a magic carpet that book was for me! There were few pictures, but who needed them when a rich imagination conjured up all the images the words conveyed? How I loved the story of the two sisters, one kind and good and one rude and selfish. The generosity of one to an old woman in the forest gave her the reward of pearls and rich gems coming from her mouth when she spoke. Her envious sister, hoping for a similar reward, could not overcome her unkind character and treated the old woman with contempt. She returned with the "gift" of spiders and toads coming out of her mouth when she spoke. I often used that story with my children as they grew because there is so much truth in it. Do our words share the pearl of great price with our listeners or do they bite and injure like vipers and spiders?
Yes, fairy tales are wonderful teaching tools. And they hold the entire world in them as Tolkein wrote:
Now, though I have only touched (wholly inadequately) on elves and fairies, I must turn back; for I have digressed from my proper theme: fairy-stories. I said the sense “stories about fairies” was too narrow. It is too narrow, even if we reject the diminutive size, for fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted....And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be “free with” Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.So read your children fairy tales to help them see the reality of life: of goodness and evil, truth and justice. Because in the best fairy tales, evil always comes to a bad end and good is always rewarded. And that is absolutely true about life even when we don't see it because "for now we see through a glass darkly." It will not always be so.
Critics will call the message of punishment and reward simplistic, but in the end, it is absolutely true. Fairy tales point to the day when the author of life will sort out all things and all will be made right. The evil will be punished and finally banished, just like the villains of the fairy tales, and the good will be rewarded and welcomed into the kingdom where they will "happily ever after."
I'm eager for that day, aren't you?