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Fairy Tales — The Stories We Love To Hear

Ah, fairy tales — the classics! Stories of bravery, treachery and magic, where true love saves the day and the good guys live happily ever after. We all know the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio, and countless others. In fact, I was recently rereading Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book — part of a wonderful collection of fairy tales — when this question hit me: Why do we know these stories? 

The answer seems simple on the surface. Humans are storytellers at heart. After all, we are children of the Great capital “S” Storyteller. Even putting religion aside, as far back as ancient times, people told stories; stories to soothe frightened children, pass the time at work, or just cure a bad case of boredom. These stories are changed with each new telling, with each person giving the story their own unique spin. Parts were taken out, added, twisted, and changed until we got the editions we know so well today, complete with that classic opening of “Once upon a time.” But of the thousands of stories that survived to present day, there are millions more that didn’t last, fading forever from our memories. So what’s so great about fairy tales? What made us deem them worthy of survival compared to countless others? Turns out, there are a lot of reasons people love them — most of which are the same reasons I love them. But one of them, to put it simply, is that they are the sort of stories humans have always loved to hear. 

I know, right? “Of course they’re lovable stories! Haven’t you seen any Disney movies?” Well, if you pick up any fairy tale and examine closely, it will surprise you with how many elements of storytelling we still use today, spanning across entirely different genres. 

Let’s start with power fantasy. Take one of Andrew Lang’s tales, Soria Moria Castle, for instance. It tells the story of a young man named Halvor. He is, to put it kindly, an unemployed loser. Halvor does nothing but lie around all day, still living with his parents at an age when he should be moving out and getting a job. Then, on a whim, he decides to take a voyage leading him to a faraway land, where he proceeds to kill three trolls, wield three powerful swords, and gain the affection of three beautiful princesses. Halvor goes from “zero to hero”, as they sang in Disney’s Hercules, showing all those who laughed at him before what a success he is now. That is every element needed for a power fantasy — a genre made up of wish fulfillment, where the protagonist is often a stand-in for the reader, performing amazing feats and living beyond the dullness of life. Modern examples of this genre include the animated show Dragon Ball, the Rocky series, and about a billion others — many of which of which are, as you likely know, incredibly popular.

Not a fan of power fantasy? Maybe you’d prefer a romance story, of true love and magical things. Fairy tales have got you covered. There are, of course, countless examples, but my personal favorite is the story of Graciosa and Percinet. Graciosa is a beautiful princess marred by tragedy — her mother dies and her father marries again to a wicked woman called Grumbly (yes, that is her actual name). Grumbly despises Graciosa for being so lovely and kind while she herself is wicked and hideous. Fueled by hatred, she does everything in her power to harm the girl. Thankfully, Graciosa has quite the ace up her sleeve — a fairy prince named Percinet, who is desperately in love with her. Together, the two of them conquer Grumbly’s wicked machinations. Their love is not without trials, of course — Graciosa is afraid to trust a powerful fairy prince, and Percinet does not understand her ties to the mortal world. But in the end, they get married, living together in paradise forever. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Twilight, Howl’s Moving Castle, Stardust, heck even the MCU Thor. The main hook is a beautiful, good-hearted protagonist falling in love with someone magical and powerful, who uses said abilities to make the protagonist’s life better. The couple has their share of ups and downs, but eventually they are spirited away to a world of light and peace. That is not only the genre of romance, but the genre of escapism — the desire to leave the ordinary world behind for a world of magic, adventure, and happiness. That is the core of every fairy tale — the core of every story we have written before and since.

These are only a handful of examples, of course. Children’s fantasy such as Harry Potter — kids doing amazing things in the face of danger — show themselves in Hansel and Gretel. Tragedies such as the show  Arcane have elements to be found in The Wonderful Sheep, showing off the awful bitterness that comes from regretting what could have been.

I will leave you with this quote from Albert Einstein, a genius mathematician and inventor: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” They are one of the oldest expressions of who we are and what we love, all set in a magical backdrop — showing the world in its truest colors while still taking the imagination to faraway places. While they may seem surface-level, they are some of the most important pieces of literature to read, especially in that crucial age of childhood. If you want to rock your children, there are many good ways to do it. But for the love of all things good and beautiful…read them fairy tales. v

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