The Power of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales have been around for centuries, yet somehow they’ve never lost their power to enchant us. What is it about these stories that continues to capture our imaginations?
Some scholars have made attempts to dissect fairy tales down to their basic elements, labeling characters and situations as particular archetypes and distilling the whole thing down to a single plot called The Hero’s Journey. While these discussions may be interesting or even useful for some people, I find them dry. Examining a fairy tale this way takes most of the magic out of it for me.
But there is something to be said that these stories, if not perfectly universal, do have elements that many people can relate to. The longing to find someone to love, the fear of monsters in the woods, the darker emotions of greed and jealousy and hatred. In versions rewritten for children, fairy tales are molded to teach moral lessons and always end with good rewarded and evil punished. But many of the original versions of fairy tales are much darker, and sometimes even the good heroes are killed or scarred by their ordeals. It’s not surprising that fairy tales inspire not only modern children’s movies but also terrifying horror stories.
I think the thing that draws me the most to fairy tales is the otherworldly atmosphere that they create. From the moment we hear the words “once upon a time”, we know that we’re in another time and place where the normal rules don’t apply. It’s not unusual for animals to start talking or a girl to learn how to fly. We get the sense that anything could happen, and it opens the realms of imagination.
The fun thing about fairy tales is that it seems I will never run out of new stories to discover. There are always new modern retellings and imaginings of the favorites, while there are also thousands of old fairy tales and folk stories from virtually every culture in the world. There’s everything from light-hearted children’s versions to dark originals and adult-oriented new versions, and even humorous parodies. It seems they’re not going out of style any time soon, and that suits me just fine.
It’s my hope that as a writer, I can capture some of what I love about fairy tales in my own stories to inspire others. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always liked “The Princess and the Glass Hill”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Little Mermaid”. Do you have a favorite fairy tale?