Throughout the fall semester in our SJNY100H class, I have learned a multitude of valuable information and lessons regarding our studies of fairy tales, and these findings can be carried with me through the many stages of life that I will encounter. Through the fairy tales that we read in the textbook and outside sources from reputable theorists, I learned why fairy tales matter and some new information that can serve as everlasting knowledge. Fairytales provide an escape from reality for children and their parents, and they can supply entertainment for all generations. They matter to our imagination as young children, and foster our creativity to imagine something and run with it. Maria Tatar, in Why Fairy Tales Matter, adds that fairy tales allow us to freely “‘subjunctivize,’ to explore the ‘might be, could have been, perhaps will be’” as well as “open up a theater of possibilities and create an unparalleled sense of immediacy” (Tatar 56). Allowing young children the curiosity to explore their newfound world and question the future promotes better cognitive development and understanding of themselves and their atmosphere. The exposure of these fairytales to children in our everyday lives through books at home or movies in the classroom teaches them more valuable life lessons than instructional school work at times.
A particular theorist, Bruno Bettelheim, helped me understand the importance of fairy tales to children in his piece The Struggle For Meaning. In his first opening lines, he talks about how one must believe that they will make a “significant contribution to life” at some point even if they don’t see it in the moment (Bettelheim, 269). The heroes and heroines in fairy tales show children that everyone has a purpose, and everyone can make it in life and grow up to be something amazing. Even if they’re just a young child right now, they can let their imagination wander and dream that one day they will be big and strong or the most beautiful princess. Bettelheim puts an emphasis on how children must feel their self-worth from the inside out, and from a young age, or they will never be satisfied with themselves and their life. He adds that he is dissatisfied with the literature that children are being exposed to, as nothing is more important “than the impact of parents and others who take care of the child” and “when children are young, it is literature that carries such information best” (Bettelheim 269). His interpretation of the impact of proper care of a child from their parents and the proper exposure to literature helped me better understand the psychological aspects that fairy tales play on development, and a child’s understanding of themselves and the world.
I learned many things that surprised me about fairy tales, particularly how violent and explicit they could be. For example, I have never heard of “The Juniper Tree” so when we read it together as a class, we were all taken aback by how the mother simply cut off her son’s head, blamed it on her daughter, and then cooked her son in a stew to be served and eaten for dinner. Personally, I would not enjoy reading that fairy tale to my young children so it is interesting to see why it was written and what the reactions were from the families back then. I was also surprised when we looked at the many alternate readings of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and how depending on the audience the tale was changed. For young children, the tale was intended to show the importance of obeying your parents, not wandering off on your own, and not talking to strangers. For adults, the tale had taken a sexual turn as the wolf became a predator, typically a male predator, trying to lure in a young girl possibly based on what she was wearing. It was equally surprising and interesting to see these fairy tales change from seemingly innocent and fun to dark and violent.
I found the entirety of the course as a whole to be very interesting. Some things that stood out to me included learning about the psychology of fairy tales, and just revisiting them as a whole after I had forgotten most of them from my childhood. I am thinking about a psychology major, so anything that involves psychology always has me invested in it. I like learning about psychology, especially children’s development, so reading about the psychology behind fairy tales was very intriguing to me. I didn’t get to experience as many fairy tales in my childhood as I would have liked to, so getting the opportunity to travel back to elementary school and read a story with my class was very fun to me. I found this course to be a lighthearted break in my week, and I enjoyed refreshing my memory on fairy tales that I can now share with younger cousins and friends.
I don’t think anything was necessarily missed in our course this semester. I think we spent a fair amount of time on the theorists, authors, and actual fairy tales themselves. I think it was important to learn the background before reading the actual fairy tales and it was interesting to see where fairy tales originated from. I did feel like the course was very literature based, and I would have liked to watch more videos and movies relating to fairy tales like Spirited Away. I also enjoyed working with the other Honors Program students, and I think it would have been fun to work with them more and learn some of the things that they were learning. I enjoyed the group projects that we did, and I think more group projects would have been equally fun and more engaging with the material. I find that I learn and retain more about the topic when I’m working in a group, and it also would have helped us get to know each other. Overall, I enjoyed this course and feel that I learned a lot of useful information regarding fairy tales and their history.