People don’t understand fairy tales anymore

Here is yet another example of “fairy tales” being misunderstood.

From a local non-profit’s brochure:

If life were a fairy tale, no child would be abused.  The cold reality is that many children in Alaska are abused.

The team…helps provide the support and intervention the child victim and their family need in order… to have a chance to live happily ever after.

No offense intended to this well-meaning agency, but I don’t think anybody who knows traditional tales could claim that a fairy tale world is a safe place.  I’m always frustrated when I see this misconception perpetuated.

I don’t feel personally hurt so much as I feel these agencies (for example) and disillusioned individuals are closing the door on something that could be useful for the wounded children they are seeking to aid, or even themselves.

If humans are convinced they have to work without the power of Christ, I think they shouldn’t rule out any man-made help.  For all that the words of men will never substitute for the work of Christ, I think we can all agree there are words with greater and lesser usefulness. (If only because we have all encountered the less-effective stuff.)

To constantly mock and degrade the concept of fairy tale neutralizes its potential effectiveness.

Where is the harm in letting a beaten or neglected child see herself in the story of Cinderella?  Yes, there is the out-of-vogue reference to being rescued by a male consort, but viewed in the larger circle of folklore one could learn it is relationship, along with faithfulness and perseverance working as the means of freedom– not just finding the “right” guy or being the sweet milksop.

Aren’t those noble elements what we wish for our wounded self or wounded others?  Aren’t those the healthy elements we delight to see the wounded learn?

Eventually I will finish Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and learn if he’s got an actually useful suggestion for using traditional tales in therapy (it will take someone less-controversial than him, but more dedicated than me to create something systematically usable and coherent).

Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a fairy tale giving me just what I needed.

4 thoughts on “People don’t understand fairy tales anymore

  1. That’s interesting. Kids are always abused in fairy tales- usually by stepmothers.

  2. You write persuasively and accurately about what really happens in fairy tales — children are often abused and neglected in them, but stories like “Cinderella” can allow children to better understand their own troubles through fantasy and examples of survival.
    Hint on Bettelheim: The Uses of Enchantment is a fascinating book, but terribly Freudian — excessively so. Having said that, I absolutely think anyone who so obviously cares about fairy tales, as you do, would get a lot out of the book. I teach a class on fairy tales, and we always use some Bettelheim. There’s always a little something in that book that provokes insight for my college students.

  3. I was just thinking exactly what Bluestocking said. Life is never easy in the fairy tale. Never. It’s your little quote on your sidebar that makes all the difference in the world.

    I was watching Little House on the Prairie the other day at my mom’s house and they talked about the concept of hope. Should we really take away that hope in the name of realism. Sometimes I think that we need a little more hope and little less of whatever it is that people seem to think we need instead.

  4. Blue–I’ve mentioned earlier my guesses as to the real-world purpose of the Stepmother in tales. On one level I think it’s “too bad” they’re the consistent scapegoat, but on the other hand, the whole function of tales is to use the stock characters to convey the message, so variety would work against the “efficiency” of stepmother.

    E– if you figure out a name for that “other” I’d love to hear it.

    Katew– thanks for stopping by and the heads-up about B.

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