“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G.K. Chesterton (one of my favorite authors)
Nick was busy building something with Legos as I read aloud. He stopped, however, and leaned in toward me when I got to the part about the bloody shoe. His eyes grew big as he blurted out “why would she cut her own toe off? That’s just dumb!”
I pause reading for a moment to tell him that sometimes people do really dumb things to get what they want and sometimes they get so greedy they make decisions which make absolutely no logical sense. He agreed.
I continued reading. Next, we learned of a sister cutting off a chunk of her own heel. “What is wrong with these people?” he demanded to know. “They are crazy to cut off pieces of their feet!”
At this point, he abandoned his lego building and excitedly plopped down on the sofa next to me and anxiously awaited what would happen next.
And when the same two girls have their eyes pecked out by pigeons at the end of the story, he blurted out “They shouldn’t have been so mean to her!”
Punishment for evil? In this culture of political correctness, tolerance, acceptance and excuses for every kind of behavior and (yikes) teaching not to judge, I think of all we read in our original version of “Cinderella” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
I took an informal survey on my Facebook page about fairy tales. I got some public comments and many personal messages and found it very curious the number of people who avoid fairy tales because of the “scary” content. Someone even said they didn’t want to read stories that talked about death. I can understand the desire to protect our children from death but death is reality for all of us – including our children. Many of these same responders mentioned that they allow their children to watch television. I think television shows, news and movies are more scary than fairy tales and real life is even scarier.
Last week, I attended many wonderful learning sessions taught by philosphers, ministers, professional educators and subject experts at the “Great Homeschool Convention” in Greenville S.C.
” Fairy tales and the Moral Imagination“, presented by Andrew Putewa (founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing), was one of my favorite sessions.
In his session, we learned about the four story types we need to know in order to select stories for our students and children that will nurture and grow a moral imagination.
He explained the “whole” story where good is good and bad is bad, and good wins in a victorious, triumphant way. In a “healing story”, good is good and bad is bad, and good still wins, but in an unexpected way. Fairy tales fall into this category and they are wonderful lesson teachers…
“Kings can be good.”
“Evil is bad, and must be destroyed.”
“Good triumphs over evil.”
“It is possible to live happily ever after.”
“True love exists.”
“Thinking about death is okay; it reminds us of why we’re alive.”
He went on to talk about two other types of stories. In a “broken story”, good is good and bad is bad, but bad wins in the end. These types of stories are best saved for when your child becomes a mature reader and you can both read it with profitable reflection, discussion and guidance. (think high school).
In the “twisted story”, the line is either so blurred between good and evil so they they are indistinguishable from each other, or evil is glorified and traditional archetypes are reversed. These are books that we obviously want to avoid with our students and children. And in today’s culture these books are everywhere and then they make movies about them.
He reminded us that “What goes into the mind and soul impacts – especially adolescents.”
In reading Cinderella with Nick, I found myself looking at the true theme of the story. The real message of the story is that justice will prevail, even when it appears the unrighteous are prospering from their evil deeds. The theme is a Christian theme. God has said that the wicked will not always prosper.
“Books are the windows through which the soul looks out.” – Henry Ward Beecher
It is not enough to just give your child any old book and think you have done your part in cultivating their moral imagination. We must be discerning teachers and parents and recognize these four types of stories and give only the best to their children.
If you would like to hear more, you can purchase the audio download of Andrew Pudewa’s “Fairy tales and the Moral Imagination” at
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein
Award winning physicist, the man who came up with E=mc² – recommend reading fairy-tales? Was he joking? All the evidence suggests he was deadly serious. We all know he believed “imagination is more important than knowledge” and he also said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
Meanwhile, find the joy in the moments of today and read a fairy tale (or two) with your child. And no matter how great they read independently – keep reading aloud.
Nick can’t wait to see what happens to the Big Bad Wolf today (in the original version)…