Fairy Tales Aren't Just for Kids
June 08, 2012
Fairy tales have long enchanted us. Many of us recall being lulled to sleep by talk of deceptive gingerbread houses, wicked stepmothers, and wish-granting fairies. When we want to impress the importance of storytime upon our own children, we first turn to fairy tales. These go-to stories are often fast-paced, adventurous, and feature elements of magic. They stimulate the imagination. They're also highly adaptable. While the story arcs remain familiar generation after generation, changes in the specific details of setting and character can make them more relevant to a particular group of listeners or readers.
Fairy tales are built around archetypes. The word archetype comes from two Greek root words. Archein means "original" or "old" and typos means "pattern" or "type." Psychologist Carl Jung argued that archetypes are those elements of the human psyche that reside within the collective unconsciousness of all people. They tend to evoke deep emotions in us. Jung might say that fairy tales are one way we seek to understand ourselves. Fairy tales often pit different archetypes against one another. Consider just a few of these:
- The Shadow: The more savage aspect of our nature. While it's not necessarily evil, it's often viewed that way by the more civilized human mind. It often takes the form of the things we fear or despise. Jung would argue that this says something about what we don't want to admit about ourselves.
- The Persona: The face we show to the world. It often offers a kind of protection to us. We show people what we want them to see.
- The Maiden: Innocence, purity, and naivete.
- The Wise Old Man/woman: A source of wisdom and advice.
- The Trickster: The force that attempts to hinder the heroic. The trickster is often shown as a magician or clown.
- The Mother: Representative of a desire to nurture and be nurtured. The evil stepmother that shows up in many fairy tales is a distortion of this fundamental need.
As a result, fairy tales are instructive by nature. A few of the more popular fairy tales and what they seek to teach us about ourselves:
- Beauty and the Beast: Excessive pride and vanity make one ugly; true beauty lies within; love should be based on more than the physical.
- Cinderella: Kindness and patience are ultimately rewarded; unkindness makes one ugly; love should not be based on one's station in life.
- Hansel and Gretel: It's important to stick together; not everthing is what it seems; the instinct to survive can lead one to kill.
- The Little Mermaid: We are curious by nature; we want what we don't have; we must be wary when we're asked to give something up in order to be given access to something else.
Fairy tales aren't just for children. They're for everyone. Looking for a good fairy tale retelling? Check out one of these books today!
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Cinderella)
- Beastly by Alex Flinn (Beauty and the Beast)
- Bewitching by Alex Flinn (Assorted)
- Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross (Assorted)
- Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (The Six Swans)
- The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey (Snow White)
Any fairy tale retelling you'd suggest to fellow readers? I'm currently making my way through Cinder and loving every page of it!
North Independence Branch