Are you reading traditional Fairy Tales to your children ?
I have been working my way through so many picture books from the library with my boy over the last years, I thought it was time to get into some heavier reading now. A collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales caught my eye with this beautiful cover :
Now I have been reading A LOT as a child, and – since I have grown up in the land of dark forests and unhappy princesses – of course, the Fairy Tales as collected by the Brothers Grimm were part of what instilled my interest for literature of all kinds. In the 70s in Germany, indeed, your parents had quite a choice : Very progressive stories of independent and strong kids that were smarter than the grownups were as much available as humoristic sexual education books or translations of foreign books for children, but the fairy tales were still around and read to children at bedtime.
Then came the 80s and I remember a discussion breaking out, whether it was pedagogically responsible to tell your children today those stories that partly had their origin in pre-Christian legends and tales. Some of them were basically more intended to deal with very grown up fears or problems, others were obviously thought up to drum lessons into children’s heads. It’s safe to say that the language and even objects sometimes need explanation, and certain professions or royal positions have come a bit out of date in our society.
Most of all though – they are full of evil people, death and gruesome details! Now I have already posted about my son’s curiosity of death and my very own problems with it. But many people ask : Is it really good for innocent children to get their head filled with those kind of horror stories ?
Say, a story where children are abandoned in the woods because the new wife of their father did not want to feed them, where an old women wants to eat them and the girl then has to burn her to free herself and her brother !? (I don’t need to name the title, you ALL know it) This is about as horrible as a child could imagine ( just think of all the patchwork families today!) how could they possible deal with it and not be traumatized for life – or at least end up with nightmares?
Well, because like generations before them, they understand the stories as they are intended : Fairy tales teach us about life. Although there are princesses and magic, talking animals and houses made out of gingerbread, they are not all roses and no thorns. Just like life is. There is good and evil, people have problems, there are the consequences of your actions, and the moral of it all is that it ends well for those who deserve it and bad for those who don’t. (And ideally, life is like that too, or let’s just say it is) I could also mention ‘stranger danger’ which is obviously still a message we all want to get across…
Admittedly, I was a bit taken aback when I read some of the stories of the book those where the titles did not immediately ring a bell with me (and the English translation is sometimes a bit vague to be honest). The story “The Girl With No Hands” had me hesitate sometimes while I read (about the father cutting off his daughter’s hands for starters, then it gets sort of worse!). But my son urged me to go on. He was genuinely interested and while his face was serious and concerned he did not seem as horrified as me.
In the end, as you would have guessed, it all turns out alright, the poor millers daughter and the king live “happily ever after”. Like so many other heroes of classic fairy tales, though, they go basically through hell (in the version of the book, the devil was indeed involved, so I told my son it’s some other ‘bad person’). But of course, they are reunited in love, even the hands grow back and my son went to sleep with the feeling that there is order in this world. And happy endings.
At almost 5, Tornado still gets scared when a G-rated movie has a scene where the screen gets darker and the music laden with suspense. Still, I have not, so far, noticed anything that makes me think I am giving my son more than the thrill of a complex mystical story with a strong message of morals when I read him a Fairy Tale.
The discussion about the good or bad of Fairy Tales is ongoing, from what I see, and maybe it depends on the individual sensitivity of a child (or yours!) whether or not you want to ‘go classic’. But I think reading or telling Fairy Tales is still part of our culture (definitively of mine) and these stories should have their place in our children’s life as much as Dora and the Wiggles or the happy monsters from ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’ and all the other modern heroes that come in loud colours and with happy, giggly songs.
I’d love to read what experiences you have made or had yourself with classic ‘gruesome’ Fairy Tales and if there is any in particular that you recommend…or not, because you still dream about it.