Friday, October 16, 2015

Storyteller's Journey

The Deeper Meaning of Fairy Tales

As a young child I was, thankfully, allowed to read all sorts of fairy tales and fantasy stories; my parents (and grandmother), to my knowledge, never thought to limit my literary appetite.
That freedom to read whatever I desired was an extraordinary gift they gave to me; it allowed my imagination to thrive and grow, and thus, gave me the tools to develop my problem-solving abilities for the rest of my life.

Bruno Bettelheim said in his book, The Uses of Enchantment - The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, "Fairy tales are important to the child's development because the main characters - many of them children themselves - demonstrate the tenacious ability to triumph over adversity in a world of giants and cruel parents." While the book is written from a psychologist's point of view, and is therefore a somewhat clinical look at how a child's psyche develops, one of its main points is that children use their imaginations more than logic when navigating through their personal problems.

Mr. Bettelheim went on to say that C. S. Lewis felt that fairy tales are "spiritual explorations" and hence "the most life-like" since they reveal "human life as seen, or felt, or divined from the inside."
(Many thanks to our friends, Tim and Pam, for loaning me this book!)

In a paradoxical way, traditional fairy tales are more truthful than most other children's stories; they reveal both good and evil in the world. However, no matter how violent the story, they almost always reveal a protagonist that, in the end, survives. That element tells the child, that they, too, can work through - and survive - the anxieties that they face.

As a writer one of the ways I like to engage young readers is to speak to them as an adult. That includes the vocabulary I use, the characters I develop, and the scenes (some including a death) that I write. That being said, I always include at least one anthropomorphic animal, magical elements, and whimsical settings. While the details of my stories are of a fantasy nature, the themes and subjects addressed in my books are as real as any human experience could be.

E.B. White once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

Fairy tales allow the writer to create a fantasy story that is full of life's complex truths, while being wrapped in a "once upon a time" existence in a magical, faraway land where imagination rules supreme.


  1. Ah, C. S. Lewis. what a writer and storyteller he was. I love fairy tales as a child, too, and had no restraints at home on reading choices. I like Bruno Bettelheim's take on fairy tales. I think they speak to the deepest inner wisdom in a person's psyche--and help develop it as well.

    1. Well said, Elizabeth. The quote by E.B. White is something I think all writers of children's books should keep in mind - I know I try to. Have a great weekend, Mitty! :-)