Why Read Fairy Tales?
by Lisa Ripperton
April 23, 2016
Today’s post is an excerpt from Introduction to the Use of Books and Libraries by Fay and Eaton. It attempts to answer the question “Why Read Fairy Tales?” Fay and Eaton offer seven compelling reasons for why children should read fairy tales. These reasons span from cultivating the imagination to teaching by parable, and more. In addition to these reasons, Fay and Eaton also offer examples of stories that illustrate each principle in question. Many of these stories are ones we have published online at Gateway to the Classics. Some are classics that you likely have already have heard of. Others, however, are more obscure titles.
We wanted to share this excerpt with you because we ourselves have found it to be helpful and thought-provoking. Most of us know that reading fairy tales is important for children. We also know that most children seem to adore reading or listening to fairy tales. But we may not always consider why it's so very beneficial for children to read them. Fay and Eaton do an excellent job in this passage of articulating exactly why that is the case!
The excerpt begins below:
First, fairy tales cultivate the imagination.
Imagination enriches, adding a never failing charm to the dullest and most sordid surroundings and giving us the means of escape from the commonplace.
Second, fairy tales broaden the mental horizon.
Many a child whose daily life seems of the narrowest and most prosaic kind, has found through the fairy tale all the wonder and mystery of
"Songs the sirens never sung
Shores Ulysses never knew."
Third, fairy tales deepen and enlarge a child's emotional experience.
He thrills with pride as the little tailor gets the better of the giant; he holds his breath in suspense as the last mantle is thrown over the eleventh swan brother, he shudders before the locked door in Bluebeard's Castle; and as a result, he is all his life more sensitive to the appeal of "brave romance," wherever he may find it.
Fourth, fairy tales develop a sense of humour.
Some children possess this sense in a much higher degree than others. This is apparent to the story-teller who often finds one child listening without a smile to the tale that has drawn a series of appreciative chuckles from others. For the child who takes life seriously, perhaps a little anxiously, or for the stolid youngster, such stories as the The Three Sillies, Lazy Jack, Mr. Vinegar, or Hans in Luck are all excellent training in the perception of humour. Nearly all the old folk tales, and, in particular, the Drolls (to which class belong the four tales mentioned) are full of a vigorous and spontaneous humour. Uncle Remus's genial fun awakens a ready response. The literary fairy tale, when really excellent, is invaluable.
It is often said that a child cannot fully appreciate the clever fooling of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but while he is eagerly following Alice's adventures he is laying, unconsciously, the foundation for an appreciation of humour in literature. Kipling's Just So Stories, have a similar value. Howard Pyle's fairy stories in The Wonder Clock, and Pepper and Salt, are full of humour and are told with a delightful drollness, irresistibly appealing. Stockton's stories, The Bee-man of Orn, The Clocks of Rondaine, and others, are full of a humorous fancy.
Thackeray's The Rose and the Ring belongs to the older children, who are leaving the fairy tale age behind them. They can appreciate its delightful absurdity without being puzzled by its burlesque quality. Of this book Andrew Lang said that he thought it "quite indispensable in every child's library, and that parents should be urged to purchase it at the first opportunity, as without it no education is complete."
Fifth, indirectly and without preaching, fairy tales teach the child many priceless lessons.
Teaching by parable is a time-honored method. Children especially need concrete examples, not abstract generalizations. Many are the lessons of truthfulness, temperance, courtesy, and generosity which the fairy tale brings home, while the qualities of greed, cruelty, and laziness are held up to ridicule. To a child there are no shades in conduct, bad is bad, and good is good; hence, the clear black and white of the old fairy tale is peculiarly satisfying. The prompt dispensation of reward and punishment appeals to his sense of justice.
If the adult has forgotten how he felt as a child when he came to the end of the fairy story, let him reread the conclusion of Martin Chuzzlewit. Mr. Pecksniff, with "a disconcerted meekness on his face . . . enormously ridiculous," Mr. Pecksniff completely unmasked by the old man he would have tricked and wronged and, moreover, laid flat on the floor by a blow from this same irate old gentleman's stick, while Martin, Tom Pinch, Mary, Ruth and Mark Tapley stand by as witnesses of the discomfiture of hypocrisy, gives us the same pleasurable sensation, as did the summary disposal of the wicked step-mother.
Sixth, fairy tales counteract certain unfortunate tendencies of modern life.
The constant bustle and hurry, the daily papers with their glaring headlines, the theatrical bill-boards and moving picture posters, the moving pictures themselves, all tend to make the modern child more sophisticated than the young person of an earlier day, and to keep him living at a high tension. He will crave the dramatic fairy tale, therefore, but however full of giants and ogres and exciting rescues of princesses this tale may be, the atmosphere is a healthy one, neither morbid, nor vulgar, nor encouraging precociousness.
Seventh, there is no better introduction to poetry.
In the letter to Coleridge quoted above, Lamb says: "Think what you would have been now if instead of being fed with Tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with geography and natural history!" The atmosphere of the fairy tale, its "high hill among the trees of the forest, where the fox and the hare bid each other good night"; its talking beasts and flowers; its lakes and mountain caverns prepare a child for the magic of the great poets. "We cannot all hope to be classical scholars, but all may be steeped in folk-lore and heroic romance in childhood, when the imagination is fresh and keen and so acquire a share of the old-world culture."
An excerpt from Introduction to the Use of Books and Libraries
by Fay and Eaton
Share your experience
Why do you read fairy tales with your children or students? Why did you read them as a child? Can you think of benefits to reading fairy tales that we didn't include on this list? Please share your experience with us know in a comment below. We love hearing from our readers!
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