Fairy tales are more than stories. Fairy tales teach children ways to view their world. They provide schemas for understanding the world. After analyzing the importance of fairy tales, it appears their impact touches on more than children, adults too, gain lessons from these narratives.
As a child, fairy tales consumed me. I don’t mean I consumed stories of dragons and fairies, I mean, their world enveloped me. I saw the hidden realm all around me. My fear of dragons kept me safe in the caves (subway tunnels).
While bedtime stories consisted of European folklore, growing up in Japan exposed me to kappa – the turtle-like creatures with beaks, living in waterways, drowning children. Tales of kappa taught us to only go into the water when my parents were around.
Impact of Stories for Children
“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
So what is about fairy tales that foster this intelligence? The main characters in these stories are often faced with incredible challenges and manage to keep their wits about them. They decide to climb the bean stock, face down giants and ultimately succeed.
This pattern of overcoming adversity provides children with the concept they are able to think through a problem and beat the odds.
Sheila Kohler, a professor at Princeton sees value in repeating these narratives to our children. Children easily distinguish good and evil, and fortunes reverse in satisfying happy endings.
Fairy Tales Increase Resilience
These stories feature downtrodden protagonists kiddos can identify with. Most understand what’s it feels like to be lost making the concept of the woods understandable or face oppression, like Cinderella. These situations present children with opportunities to identify with the characters and explore how they navigate problems.
Hansel and Gretal use bread crumbs to mark their path, unaware the woodland creatures would eat these markers. After Hansel and Gretal realize they’re lost they band together determined to make it out of the forest and back to their loving father.
The duality of good and evil represented by Snow White and the Evil Queen allow children to place frustration and anger at evil characters, emotions they might struggle with placing on caregivers.
As the main characters experience complete reversals of fortune, children see characters overcome insurmountable odds; dragons are slain, villains are beaten, and families are reunited.
These happy endings reinforce safety and comfort when told by trusted adults in a home. Repeating these narratives soothes kiddos with their consistency.
Fairy Tales Inspire Literacy
Storytelling taps into using imagination. Stories inspire and build on a child’s imagination, taking them to new heights. This desire to learn and experience more, leads them to pick up books and gain more narrative experiences to inspire their journeys.
It’s the simple act of reading to children improves their vocabulary and once children begin to read on their own, they begin to take ownership of their own literacy.
The Impact of Fairy Tales for Adults
Children aren’t the only ones to benefit from these narratives, adults also seek the release from the frenetic pace of life. Myths and fairy tales continue to encircle us as we age, whether we can’t help but envision ourselves as young Frodo Baggins in front of Smaug as we stand before a professor or new manager.
We imagine ways in which we conquer these fears and experience the complete reversal of our current situation. This offers ways in which we can unpack and shape our experiences.
When interviewed on his inspiration for American Gods, Neil Gaiman talks about the craziness of immigrating to the United States. As Gaimen unpacks the reality of daily life in the US, the concept of the country as a melting pot of gods and creeds hits him. These gods he imagines have crazy experiences as they interact with different peoples and cultures.
As we grow, digest diverse concepts, our ability to understand others also develops. Stories aimed at adult audiences contain gray areas, allowing for more complex characters, we understand flawed heroes and identify the virtuous impulse of Thanos conquering over-population.
Importance of the Darkness
Complex characters and storylines aren’t reserved for adults. There is value in exploring the feelings and motivations of bad guys. Previously, I wrote on the value I saw in children playacting as villains. Through this exploration, we are able to tap into our darker side.
After all, even the best of us have a less-than-virtuous streak. By reading narratives acknowledging this duality of our hearts we heal inner rifts integrating the darker parts of ourselves into our whole being.
Like children, our imaginations allow us to unlock problems and give us resilience that we can withstand our current struggles. We too enjoy the concept of directing frustration and anger at evil characters, which in real life we lack the ability to allow our feelings full vent.
Perhaps then, fairy tales, while primarily used as a vehicle to pass down familiar narrative continues to inspire all of us, regardless of age. Sure, kappa are still important to remind us of water safety. Dragons continue to influence our safety in cave-like structures.