By BCR Fegan, author of The Grumpface and other fairytales published by TaleBlade
There is something magical about fairy tales. They not only capture the imagination of children, but seem to hold their intrigue long into adulthood. Unfortunately there has been a recent trend to discard them, recreate them, or at the very least, update their language and underlying morals.
So what makes traditional fairy tales so relevant to our modern world? I can think of at least ten reasons to put aside any hesitations, curl up beside the fire and revisit these classic tales.
Fairy tales are driven by imagination. Fairy tales don’t just give us an exciting story, they give us an exciting world of endless possibilities. In this sense, they encourage us to never stop pushing the boundaries of our own imagination.
They give us hope for our very own happily ever after. There is a trend in literature these days to speak to the harshest realities of this world. We praise tales of antiheros, moral ambiguities and uncomfortable conclusions. Fairy tales in contrast focus on ideals, consequences and the hope (no matter how small) that things may one day get better.
They give us hope that there may be something more to life. We all like to think that as adults, we have moved beyond our childhood fascination with the magical and fantastical. Yet fairy tales have a way of reaching into our deepest yearnings. They whisper to us through the dark – that magic may yet exist, that our true destiny may yet be revealed, and that our life may yet have an incredible purpose. It is the ability of a fairy tale to play so masterfully upon these hopes that makes them so timeless.
They are simple to follow. What makes fairy tales so powerful, is that they generally distil these deep hopes into the simplest of narratives. They don’t try to be outstandingly clever or to produce tear-inducing twists. They are safe and accessible stories that feel cosy and warm, while describing scenes that are otherwise dark and cold.
They are deep enough for adults. Most adults who grew up on fairy tales would probably admit that they continue to hold some level of intrigue. It may however surprise some who haven’t had the pleasure of reading these tales as adults, that they often have many levels – and some can get quite deep.
They offer us learning points without being didactic. This is a concept many writers today often miss. Too many stories are so strongly centred on an agenda, the narrative seems to be just tacked on. Draw me into a world of fascination rather than beat me about the head with a social issue.
They challenge our literary competence. One of the biggest criticisms fairy tales receive are that characters are insensitively stereotyped. Unfortunately this is a misunderstanding of how fairy tales are designed to be read. No one in 17th Century Europe would have believed all stepmothers were evil, all princesses were fair or all knights were noble. Instead, these were literary devices designed to personify a set of ideal values.
They have a connection with history. Fairy tales often have a connection with folklore – a storehouse of wisdom fashioned long ago and refined by the ages. We may think that we have progressed to a time that can dispense with this kind of knowledge, but I suspect there is wisdom in them still.
They are a search for truth. Fairy tales don’t pretend to be a true representation of the world. What makes them so influential, is that they create a safe space to explore truth and consequence. For children especially, a journey into some of the more difficult issues of life and morality is made more palatable by disconnecting these fantastical events with reality.
They inspire us to consider our own values. Fairy tales tend to be made up of morally consistent characters. These morals will inevitably dictate their destiny. So naturally, the honest, pure-of-heart and caring characters will always win. The evil, selfish and greedy will always be stronger, but without a change of heart, will always lose. The greatest fairy tales throughout history are often those with characters that exist in relative obscurity, only to rise (against all odds) to the heights of mastery or true-purpose. And this, is perhaps the most important hope that fairy tales play upon. Put another way, fairy tales provide us with the hope that happily-ever-afters really are possible.