Parents often view many fairy tales and folk tales as cautionary tales for children. They read these stories ready to explain how the girl got into trouble by talking to strangers or how the boy ended up penniless because he made a bad business deal. The discussion might cover how faith and perseverance helped the young hero/heroine succeed against all odds. These tales are all about helping kids learn how to get along in the world.
Or are they?
I recently talked with my oldest about how hard it is to find kids who know the classic tales today. Parents don't seem to read these stories to their children anymore. Even among the children in my homeschool storytelling group there is a lack of knowledge of some of the most iconic stories. Are they irrelevant in our new age? Am I old fashioned in believing there is still a place for these stories?
I don't think so. These stories appeal to our basic human emotions and desires. We may not endure the same struggles as these fairy tale men and women, but we can relate to what they go through. The metaphor of the story is what draws us in. Who hasn't fought a dragon (obstacles) to reach their castle (goal)? Who hasn't completed menial tasks while striving for something better? It may not be a prince charming, or even fame and fortune, but the basic idea is overcoming problems by finding creative solutions, and learning a little about yourself along the way.
One thing we realized is that it isn't always the hero/heroine's fault that they are stuck in a situation. Sometimes the problem is bad parenting choices. Maybe some stories were actually cautionary tales for the parent, not the child. Here are some examples:
- Sleeping Beauty: Leave aside the bad social skills of not inviting everyone to your daughter's christening, now that she's cursed, you decide the best way to deal with it is to remove all spindles and spinning wheels from the kingdom. How about keeping a watchful eye on her and teaching her that sharp things hurt?
- Jack and the Beanstalk: Don't send your child out to sell his beloved pet cow to the butcher. They had a bond.
- Little Red Riding Hood: And don't send your child out into the woods alone! The poor kid didn't even have a bread knife to protect herself.
- Cinderella: If we base this on the original, the father lets his new wife do what she wants to his daughter. Lax fathering is a big problem in fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel also experience it,
- Rapunzel: The other end of the spectrum is the fathers who try too hard. You know your neighbor is a witch, maybe it's a bad idea to steal from her. Try asking. This is also true of the father in Beauty and the Beast, who stole a rose for his daughter. And the father in Rumpelstiltskin needs to stop being so boastful about his daughter's skills.