Getting to be in Folktales and Fairytales for freshman year seminar this fall, helped teach me why fairytales are so important and why they matter to our society. They play a huge role in exploring common themes and portraying messages to all readers and listeners alike. They do this while teaching important moral lessons to young children while retaining their attention through the use of personifications alliteration and even using colorful images that help short attention children stay invested in the story. They also help power imagination and creativity in children, who dreamed of escaping poverty for a better life. We also learned about how these stories evolved overtime and changed from their original forms into what is more familiar with our culture. This is largely due to Walt Disney’s work with fairytales, for better or for worse, as the theorist Jack Zipes article “Breaking the Disney Spell” describes how Disney adapted these classic fairy tales for a new generation to remember them by, which is how most of us got to know these fairy tales. This actually became one of the most interesting parts of the class, seeing how these stories were different from the Disney versions we were used to watching growing up.
Many theorists like Jack Zipes, helped us learn and understand why fairytales are so important throughout the semester. For example, the theorist Bruno Bettelheim observed how fairy tales explored the imagination of childhood and how it helped children find meaning in their own lives. In his article, “The Struggle for Meaning,” Bettelheim stated, “In order to master the psychological problems of growing up – Overcoming disappointment, sibling rivalries, becoming able to relinquish childhood dependencies and gaining a feeling of selfhood – a child needs to understand what is going on within his conscious self so that he can also cope with that which goes on in his unconscious.” This means that for children who struggle with the implications of childhood and growing up, finding self-meaning can be a challenge. Bettelheim claims that one-way children can find meaning is through reading relatable fairy tales, where young children escape poverty, or finally outsmarting mean and evil stepparents. These stories can help them deal with the reality of their situations and can help guide them by making the right decisions in tough situations. Bettelheim’s analysis here helped us understand how important fairytales are to childhood development and how they were designed to be relatable and help guide children through rough experiences.
As I previously mentioned, what surprised me the most in this course was finding out how different each fairytale is from the more modern iterations that we are used to in our current media. Jack Zipes perfectly highlighted this in his article, “Breaking the Disney Spell.” In it he states, “The power of Disney’s fairy-tale films does not reside in uniqueness or novelty of the productions, but in Disney’s great talent for holding antiquated views of society still through animation and his use of latest technological developments in cinema to his advantage.” What Zipes means here is that Disney would change many elements of the fairy tales he would adapt into films by using new modern technology, and by adding common themes of modern culture to the plots of the stories. This is how Disney made the versions of fairy tales we are all used to know, and getting to read about how different these fairytales were before Disney changed them for our generation, was the most surprising part of the class. Examples of this can be seen in the fairytale, “Cinderella” where the stepsisters cut off their heels and toes in order to fit in the glass slipper. This is a dark part of the story that was filtered out for our current society, and learning about these different versions in class was very fun.
The most interesting part of fairy tales in my opinion was learning about how animals got portrayed in some of the stories we read. These animals had many different meanings and symbolized many different themes. In some stories, the main protagonist and antagonist are portrayed as anthropomorphic animals that symbolize many different character traits. For example, the cat in “Puss in Boots” and the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” symbolize the character traits of being slick and clever to try and trick those around you. Animals are used to portray these traits to be relatable to the reader which can help young readers feel more engaged. This helps readers know what type of animals each trait can be associated with in a story. The Book written by D.L. Ashliman called, “Folk and Fairy Tales, A Handbook” also makes this claim as he gives examples of animal traits linked to certain animals. In his first chapter he states, “Different animals have observed or purported qualities that lead to symbolic interpretation; thus, lions represent courage, owls’ wisdom, foxes’ cunning, and eagles’ nobility.”
To conclude, I really enjoyed the class and learned a lot about fairytales that I didn’t know about before. I feel maybe we could have read a few more tales in class, and maybe watched the Disney versions also to compare and contrast them, but all together I feel the class was very informative and fun.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Struggle for Meaning.
Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Disney Spell.
Ashliman D.L. Folk and Fairy Tales, A Handbook.