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Monday, October 24, 2011

Fairy Tales for Today

On Saturday, Erik and I took Faramir, Artemisia, and Kalliope to Kings Mountain State Park  and National Military Park in South Carolina.  This is the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain (a Patriot victory - Oct 7, 1780) in which one of our ancestors, Robert Young of Tennessee, is credited with the fatal shot that killed Major Ferguson (the Loyalist commander).  We went to enjoy the fall colors and maybe get a little history.  We definitely got BOTH.

On my way to run an errand recently, I popped on the radio to our local NPR station where a panel of very ardent women were discussing the evil that is the Disney princess empire. One panelist explained her concern that girls get stuck with a princess mentality: looking for a man or money or just really long hair to solve life’s difficulties. They were also quick to point out that the male figures in these stories didn’t fare much better.  What surprised me was that their concern wasn’t just with Disney, it was with the fairy tales even in their original form.

Faramir looking decidedly like a teenager.  Next year, my boy, next year.  We sat in the leaves and enjoyed a picnic lunch. Oh, look!  You can see a tiny corner of someone's sandwich down at the bottom of the picture!

Now, I don't like the disney-ization of fairy tales either, but these women were ready to strip all children's stories of anything that diverged from their political agenda.  We'd be left with stories in which no children lose their mother.  No children are  in any danger.   No ugly creatures are transformed by another's love. No princesses ever need rescue.  No strangers ever offer a poisoned apple.

Artemisia and Faramir race off to explore the homestead at the Living History Farm.  We decided it would be worthwhile to come back when they have the interpreters in the buildings.  (It is "self-guided" most of the time with a few weekends of the year which feature the "farm family".)

It would be safe, I suppose.  But how anemic.  How boring.

These chickens were NOT boring.  Kalliope was particularly interested in these guys.  They clucked and fussed at us.  I think one may have been trying to intimidate us into feeding her.

Fairy tales present opportunities for a child to confront some of their biggest fears, for example being small and helpless in the face of bad people.  Once can see this most clearly in the persistent absence of mothers in fairy tales (only dead mothers and mean stepmothers).  Is this not the epitome of vulnerability to a child?  Fairy tales allow a child to enter into those deep fears, without them being too realistic for comfort, and imagine themselves triumphing by kindness, wit, bravery, and love.

I loved the grey roughness of the wood and the rusty chain contrasted against the clear beauty of the autumn day.

A view across the field toward the barns and pastures.

I know this is not revolutionary thinking.  JRR Tolkein has written about fairy tales. Bruno Bettelheim published The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  William J Bennett has compiled volumes of stories that display virtue. GK Chesterton commented on fairy tales in Orthodoxy.   More recently, Vigen Guroian, a theologian, author, and professor of Religious Studies at Univ of Virginia, examined the importance of fairy tales in developing a child's "moral imagination."(a great essay, by the way)

Me and my girls.  That pacifier was becoming Kalliope's best friend by the end of the day when this picture was taken.  She had woken up with a cold and was pretty worn out.

Fairy tales are also just good story-telling.  A good story has a dynamic power which can fire a child's imagination.  When we feed our children’s minds on good stories, those that present Goodness (not just niceness), Truth (not just honesty) and Beauty (not just prettiness), they grow up to be adults who seek those virtues.  Fairy tales are all about Truth and Beauty and Goodness.  Captain Underpants, not so much.

Faramir, Kalliope, Artemisia and Erik watching the cows come home, literally.  

I understand those ladies were just trying to do their best to provide their daughters with "strong role models."  But I would remind them that generations of daughters were able to love fairy tales as children and still manage to grow up to be wise and good mothers, hard workers, and faithful leaders in so many aspects of their lives.  There are more to those fairy tales than just princesses with beautiful dresses and long, flowing hair.


Amy said...

I agree!! Look forward to reading your links.

Here is also the recommended articles from Ambleside online (the Charlotte Mason curriculum we use) on why to read Fairy Tales--
rom Charlotte Mason's original Parent Review magazine:



Also, in the Christianity Today article on why one mom has banned books like Narnia, even Little House, and Christopher Robin, the comments in response are great: