Bridgette Ramirez

When I Google ‘benefits of fairy tales,’ the first page of results have titles like ‘Why fairy tales are good for kids’ or 'Why fairy tales are important to childhood.'  Note the repeated reference to kids—despite my attempt to find reasons for anyone to read fairy tales.  In C.S. Lewis’ dedication to his goddaughter for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he tells her: ‘You are already too old for fairy tales… But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’

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Shoot.  I am twenty-one years old and a senior in college.  Should I not be listening to Disney music on Spotify right now?  Should I not have over a dozen fantasy novels on my bookshelf?  Should I not have taken a whole course on fairy tales my first year?  Maybe I missed the meeting in middle school where everyone decided that magic and knights and talking animals were stupid, but I doubt C.S. Lewis meant no one can appreciate fairy tales post-childhood until they’re old.  The problem is that few people do.  As a result, the in-between period of adulthood after childhood and before old age might actually be the most immature point of our lives.  That’s the nugget of truth that Lewis exposes: in adulthood you feel that you’re too old, yet also not old enough, to read fairy tales.

As you grow up, you don’t depend as much on your parents and you can think more for yourself.  Therefore, you can look more carefully at ideas you had once taken for granted.  That’s an important part of maturing, but not when your thinking becomes so critical that you act superior to anything too fantastical or ‘childish.’  If we eventually become old enough to read fairy tales again, what do we miss in the interim?

In Prince Caspian, Lewis offers insight to his fairy tale paradox.  Lucy is the first in her family to see the magical and mysterious Lion known as Aslan, whom they had all met in the previous Narnia book.  The scene goes as follows:

       ‘The Lion,’ said Lucy.  ‘Aslan himself.  Didn’t you see?’ Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

       ‘Do you really mean—?’ began Peter.

       ‘Where do you think you saw him?’ asked Susan.

       ‘Don’t talk like a grown-up,’ said Lucy, stamping her foot.  ‘I didn’t think I saw him.  I saw him.’

Lucy, the youngest of the group, dismisses Susan’s skepticism as ‘grown-up talk.’  Their interaction associates ‘growing up’ with doubtfulness and disbelief.  Of course, this isn’t new information.  We often associate children with believing the impossible—such as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy—while parents are too rational to hold such ridiculous beliefs.  I don’t advocate that we all start regarding fairy tales as scientific fact, but I don’t encourage treating them as something primarily for kids either.

Ironically, a lot of the original fairy tales—before Disney got to them—had more sexual, violent and/or gruesome characteristics.  They were not so much for kids then, but even their modern versions have a playfulness, creativity and relatability that everyone can acknowledge.  Understandably, Disney has to remove some of the original traits to make the stories kid-friendly, but Disney’s most widely acclaimed fairy tale films still appeal to people of all ages.  Fairy tales are full of imagination, a trait that’s always useful for new inventions or ideas.  The stories won’t necessarily make you the next Thomas Edison, but they will encourage you to think beyond what you can see in your day-to-day ‘real’ life.

Looking at fantastical stories, you can see all sorts of sensational creatures, lands and situations that can inspire the imagination and intellectual exploration.  In Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, the protagonists Polly and Digory end up in a wood that allows them to enter whichever world they wish.  They argue over whether or not to take advantage of this opportunity.  Polly ‘was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before,’ while ‘Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirk who comes into the other books.’  Digory provides an example of the natural curiosity and intellectual development that are sparked by the wild adventures he takes in the first chronological book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  Young and old readers can follow Digory’s lead to ask questions and picture a realm of possibilities for their lives.

Despite their magical elements, fairy tales have a very human element to them.  The hero/heroine faces the witch or monster or beast in near hopeless odds, and you root for them because you see yourself in them.  You see the classic moral struggle against evil.  You see the hope that motivates you to persevere.  The college course that I took applied a psychological lens to fairy tales that revealed many societal mentalities that still have a hold on us today—such as the silencing of women (Little Mermaid) or the one-day-my-prince-will-come mantra (every princess story ever).  If you ignore the tales for their magical elements or because you think they have nothing to offer you as a grown-up, you miss the ways that fairy tales reinforce gender roles, explore the human psyche, and portray the maturation process.  These topics make great fodder for intellectual discussion and analysis.

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We can then combine our self-awareness and life experience with ‘childlike’ imagination to read fairy tales with an open mind.

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We could dismiss fairy tales for being too idealistic (what with their happily-ever-after theme), but that’s where an appropriate amount of critical thinking comes in.  Are we going to reject something outright just because it’s guilty of being ‘too happy?'  If fairy tales have transcended time and culture (Cinderella, for instance, has thousands of variants across the world), they must possess something meaningful or appealing enough for humanity to tell them over and over again.

As we get even older, we realize that just because we know more, doesn’t mean we necessarily know everything.  Aging has a way of reminding us we’re not invincible or immortal.  As our mortality wears down our physical capability, we can recognize that our mental capability may not be so perfect either.  Once we shed the self-importance from becoming adults, we have the maturity to embrace fairy tales again.  We can then combine our self-awareness and life experience with ‘childlike’ imagination to read fairy tales with an open mind.

 

Bridgette is a hardcore nerd who hopes to find a wardrobe to Narnia, tap into the Force, and join the Avengers, but since she hasn’t yet, she writes to compensate. Originally from West Covina, California, she is a Creative Writing student at Scripps College.  She reviews books and movies on her blog here!

 

Comments (1)

  1. Meagan

Great post!

 

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