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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Wonder of Fairy Tales: Read Them to Your Children

I'm thinking about fairy tales this morning because of a novel I'm reading by an author recommended in Fr. John Hardon's Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. The heroine is called Beauty and the story reminds me somewhat of Beauty and the Beast since there is a beastly man in it.

But I digress. Have you ever noticed how moral fairy tales are?
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?


Elizabeth said...

Great post, Mary Ann. I love fairy tales and I don't have any children to read them to. Just me!

Very early in my conversion I was particularly moved by one by George MacDonald called "The Princess and the Goblin". I haven't read it in some years but I still vividly remember the chills I got reading about the thin invisible thread that the Princess held onto for dear life. So apropos for me at the time as I was just barely coming to belief and feeling so scared and off-balance! I'll have to go back now and re-read it.

I also adore the illustrations in children's books.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Re illustrations, I agree completely and sometimes buy children's books just for the beauty of the illustrations. I find it hard to understand the popularity of some of the modern children's works because they are sooooo ugly. James and the Giant Peach leaps to mind. Dissenters certainly used that. Some of the horrible catechetical materials for children developed by heretics had pictures where Jesus looked monstrous. Beware of those who make beautiful things ugly.

Anonymous said...

I gave my copies of "Grimm's Fairy Tales", William Bennett's "Book of Virtues" and Karen Santorum's "Every Days Graces: Child's Book of Good Manners" to my youngest daughter for my granddaughters. They are all great books that I used to love to read myself. I also read and gave my copies of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis to a public school library where I used to work. I have heard that one needs to buy the Chronicles of Narnia at Christian bookstores now for the most part because some of the secular bookstores carry a revised version that has taken out a lot of the Christian content.

Kay Porter said...

Hello! Where did you get the image for this entry? I love it and would love to know more about the artist.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Here's the website, although I have to laugh because I didn't look closely at the individual images and, after reading about the picture, it's totally inappropriate for the post so I'll probably change it. But here's the website for the artist: I should have posted it originally to give him the traffic.