Over my time in the Folk Tales: Secrets & Sorcery class, I’ve come to realize that fairy tales do matter because their lessons are timeless. When we read them as children, we were able to derive lessons from them like “don’t talk to strangers,” “don’t brag,” or “keep your promises.” These messages were important in shaping our behavior as little kids, and most of them can still apply to us in our years after childhood as well. Even though some of the details in these stories may be a little outdated (for example, many people in the United States today don’t marry for friendship like in Beauty and the Beast, but rather for love), lessons in fairy tales recorded over two hundred years ago still hold true in contemporary times. This also helps keep fairy tales alive – the fairy tales I read as a kid were the same ones a kid may have read in the early nineteenth century, and as we keep passing these stories on, writing more modern versions, and making films based off the originals, who knows how many years into the future these fairy tales will be around for? Probably a pretty long time.
Something that I learned that surprised me was seeing my own personal growth while reading fairy tales at an older age. When I was a kid, I only understood the details presented on the surface, but now, I can see things only adults would catch, or social issues, such as the way genders were presented at the time when the tales were originally written. Even watching Spirited Away was much different for me. The first time I saw this movie, I think I was in elementary school, and the only things I really remembered that stood out to me at that age were the parents turning into pigs and the Stink Spirit. When I was that young, the parents turning into pigs really scared me. I think I was scared the whole “turning into pigs thing” could happen to my own parents, but now I see that it was just an irrational fear I had as a little kid. I was a little skeptical to watch Spirited Away again, but now, being older and able to understand the storyline and underlying themes much more, I really enjoyed the movie. I’m glad I was “forced” to watch it again, because I probably wouldn’t have done so on my own, and it was really cool to see the growth of maturity within myself in the years since I first watched it.
Something that interested me the most about our class was how the most minor details in fairy tales could actually be very important. In Cinderella’s tale, the stepmother was the head of the household, and before our class discussion, I didn’t see how revolutionary this story was; the idea of a woman leading a household was considered crazy at the time this story was written. In Hansel and Gretel, Hansel says “Don’t cry, Gretel. Just get some sleep. The good Lord will protect us.” Simple dialogue like this was the Grimms’ way of establishing the importance of religion in children at a young age. Even a small occurrence like the princess losing her golden ball in the well in The Frog King is intended to represent the loss of childhood. The little details truly make a difference, and that’s a lesson I can definitely take away from our class this semester.
I don’t think we really missed much, but if anything, I would have liked to read more fairy tales. There were quite a few fairy tales in our book that I’ve never heard of before, and I would have liked to discuss them as a class. I don’t think we necessarily missed this, though; I think it was just the fact that we only had a certain amount of time for this class.
I think something that would be really cool to add to this class would be having students give brief presentations on the fairy tales we read, presentations about these tales’ histories and deeper meanings (like our research project). I enjoyed exploring the origins and hidden themes of the tale I chose, and when we were doing the peer reading/editing in class, I thought everyone’s findings were very interesting. I would have liked to learn these things about the other tales we read in class. In the English class I took this semester (a class that explored the literature of authors with diverse backgrounds), we took about five to ten minutes of each class on presentations about an author we chose from a list. In our presentations, we talked about these authors’ lives and work, and learning about these authors’ backgrounds before discussing their work in class really helped us connect to their work more and understand where they were coming from. Even though it would be a little more work for students in the class, doing brief fairy tale presentations in the beginning of the class before reading them would be a great intro for class discussions.
Overall, I thought our folk and fairy tales class this semester was very interesting, and it has definitely helped prepare me to become a better, more attentive reader in my future classes and in the years after college.