At the start of this course, I believed fairy tales were only stories we read as children. I had no idea about the impact they cause and how important they are in society. Fairy tales matter because they spread and change cultures, shape our thinking, and help people separate themselves from the real world. They teach children about the culture and beliefs of the society (Ashliman 4). They also allow us to understand and navigate through the negative aspects of the world, like bad people. Fairy Tales are important to our everyday lives as they promote creativity. They allow people to dream and escape from the real world. They show us that every day people can even become something grand (Bettelheim 272). They permit us to explore what could have been, what might happen or even will happen, and illustrate dreams possibilities we might never think are possible (Tatar 56). This teaches children valuable life lessons and develops an understanding of what is happening around them. It allows children to have freedom, which is something they do not have in everyday life. It also allows adults to have that freedom and an escape from their regular day-to-day activities. It opens up new worlds and therefore new possibilities. Finally, they are important because they stick with us. No matter how old we get, fairy tales are a part of our memories and the modern world. These stories are old, but with the new technology created, they are changed and adapted to still matter in society and still teach many valuable lessons. They show us that not everyone is good or bad, and sometimes bad people can be hidden under a mask.
One theorist who helped me understand fairy tales better is Bruno Bettelheim. He explained why fairy tales are so important and meaningful to children and why children seem to be immersed in them. I learned that children turn to fairy tales to help them cope with inner problems. They allow children to understand themselves and then cope with their hardships (Bettelheim 269). I never knew that these stories are so powerful, but I understand now how children use the imagination these stories possess, and they see themselves as the characters in fairy tales. They help children understand their inner pressures. In addition, Instead of belittling these pressures, they help children find an awareness about these problems and how to overcome them (Bettelheim 271). Another aspect of fairy tales that Bettelhiem explains is how they speak the truth. Many parents try to hide the truth about the world from their children to protect them. But children know that the world is not always a happy place. This helped me better understand fairy tales because it showed me that children are very bright. They do know what is going on around them and fairytales can essentially be a way to help them cope with it all. Because of this theorist, I learned that fairy tales help children find themselves, and daydream. These daydreams help them cope with their problems, giving a child some aspect of control. These tales are truly a way for children to develop cognitively and feel safe in the big world.
One thing I learned that surprised me was how violent a tale can be to parallel the real world and what all the different symbols mean. One example is The Little Red Riding Hood. There are many versions of this tale, and some have a gruesome undertone. I remember in class we discussed how there are some theorists who believe that the red riding hood represents virginity and fertility because this tale originally focused on predators. This I found somewhat disturbing, and I would have never come to that conclusion when reading this tale myself. I also never heard of the version where the girl was told to take off her clothes. This version was a surprise of its own. The original tale was told to the aristocracy as a satirical story to joke around about the male predators of society (Shavit 325). It ends with a moral that states that girls should not trust every man they meet. The Grimm’s version also has that same moral, that we must be careful of strangers, but in the end, the girl is saved. What surprised me the most about these stories is how scary they are for children, and after learning that children actually do understand that not everyone is good, this concept is even more surprising. In all, I never knew that Little Red Riding Hood is a story with undertones about a sexual predator, and this made me look at all fairy tales in a completely different way. These tales do portray the real world, and the dangers of them, which is something I never really thought about before.
I loved reading the different stories, especially the ones I knew only through Disney. I knew stories change and adapt over time, but whenever the idea of a princess came up, I always pictured Disney’s versions. I never heard about some of these original versions of these fairytales and a lot of them were very interesting. For example, in the Snow White version, we read in class there was no ‘true love kiss’, instead she woke up because the apple unclogged from her throat. I never knew that this was another version of the story. Disney’s version of this tale had a lot of changes, not just about love. In the version we read in class, the Queen did not come to her house only once, like in the Disney version. Also, another concept I found interesting was that the Queen wanted to eat Snow White’s organs as a way to take over her beauty and have it for herself. In the story, I know she only wanted her heart because she wanted the girl dead. Another original version that I found interesting was the tale of Rapunzel. Again it was missing the aspect of love that I grew up reading and watching in the Disney version of these tales. A lot of these original versions did not have the theme of love like it was depicted in Disney. Instead, love was based on wealth.
Personally, I do not think there was anything missing in this course. We went into a lot of depth into why fairy tales are important, where they came from, and how they originated. We also read a lot of these stories and deeply assessed them. One thing that came to mind was maybe having a project in which groups go in-depth and compare a Disney/Modern version of a tale to the original. We could watch a Modern adaptation of these tales (like Spirited Away), and then compare that to the old stories. We definitely did this after reading Snow White And other stories, but I feel like we could do it more. This topic was super interesting to see the different parallels and themes and how they evolved. The contrast of the new versions of the tales adapted to the modern audience is something fascinating. Overall I loved getting to know everyone in the class through all the group works, and I feel like I have a better sense of the fairy tale genre because of this class.
Zohar Shavit. The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales
Bruno Bettelheim. The Struggle for Meaning
Maria Tatar. Why Fairy Tales Matter
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Snow White