Over the course of this semester, I learned a lot about fairy tales. I had no idea that there were so many benefits to reading fairy tales, for people of all ages. As a child, I grew up reading fairy tales which fueled my love for learning and reading fiction for pleasure later in life, but I never realized that the content of the fairy tales were teaching me life lessons. Fairy tales matter deeply in the world, so much so that the entire Disney franchise has become an international corporation based around redesigning and creating new fairy tales. The success of this company has not only proved how fairy tales excite children’s creativity, but also how adults have been impacted by fairy tales from a young age, watching Disney’s fairy tales, and sharing them with their children. By bringing adults to Disney World and Disneyland, magic meets real life and people who have regular 9-5 careers are able to relax and enjoy the getaway from reality. It is not only Disney that has created this impact in our lives, but the Grimm Brothers who seem to hold the “classic” versions of our favorite fairy tales. The Grimm Brothers created these fairy tales that hold morals, life lessons, and advice to share with adults, and have themes that most children would not understand. This proves that fairy tales were not originally meant for children, rather to educate the public on ideas like the dangers of greed, beauty, poverty, and marriage, and are still relevant today.
Continuing with the idea that children benefit from fairy tales, I find Bruno Bettelheim to be a helpful theorist. Bettelheim is a psychologist who studies the Freudian perspective and uses these ideals to connect meaning in childrens’ lives. Bettelheim expresses that in order for a story to hold a child’s attention, “it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity” (Bettelheim, 270). This shows that children are not only engaged in fairy tales for their enjoyment, but also because it is mentally stimulating for the child. A child reads a fairy tale and can relate to the feelings that the main characters feel, they become curious by the way the magic in the stories work, they understand the lessons they are being taught. If a child were to read “Little Red Riding Hood,” a child might see Little Red afraid of the wolf, and remember a time when they were afraid. Or, the child will wonder how the wolf was able to speak, because animals cannot speak, they might also learn to not disobey their parents because they saw how Little Red was attacked when she strayed from the path.
One of the most surprising ideas we learned this semester was that original fairy tales were meant for adult audiences. I think this was most shocking to all students, because we grew up reading fairy tales and stopped reading them as we became older, not the other way around. However, when doing my research for my paper, I found multiple variations of “Snow White” which were disturbing to me and would definitely have terrified a child. In fact, the version we read in the textbook states that Snow White’s stepmother was forced to dance in hot iron shoes until she burned to death. In addition, the version of “Little Red Riding Hood” where the wolf repeatedly tells Little Red to remove her clothes and get into bed with him shocked me, and I know I would have been horrified if I read that story as a child.
While the most surprising part to me was the adult themes in the fairy tales, it is also what interested me the most about this class. I found it extremely interesting as well that these fairy tales had such patriarchal values and how since being written, the values in our society have changed so much. I had lots of fun in class debating about how the men who wrote the stories viewed women as inferior to men, weaker, and valued only for their ability to do household chores and for their beauty. It was also interesting to see how the stories could differ so much between the versions, such as how in one version of “Cinderella” it is not a fairy godmother that helps her for the ball, like in most other versions, but a magical tree.
I do think that we could have watched a movie or two of the tales that we read about, as opposed to a movie that was completely unknown to the class. However, I still think that the movie “Spirited Away” was a good way to show how there are traditional fairy tale themes found in contemporary movies as well. I do not think that there was much that we missed. I think this class did a great job of keeping us interested in the curriculum. In addition, I enjoyed the way we sat in a circle everyday, it helped us become comfortable with speaking in class since everyone could see each other.