In articles I have written before, I have mentioned the importance of fairy tales as part of raising kids Pagan. In this article, I seek to explain that a little more in depth, and from a little more of an ADF Druid perspective.
All kids benefit from fairy tales on a psychological level. In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim explains it this way: “By dealing with universal human problems, particularly those which preoccupy the child’s mind, these stories speak to his budding ego and encourage its development, while at the same time relieving preconscious and unconscious pressure.”
The author makes a compelling case for the importance of reading fairy tales to children. His main idea was that when children hear about the gargantuan problems faced by the characters of the fairy tales, then they are given vital information for the planning of their lives, the importance of the struggle, and the formation of their personalities. Fairy tales so thoroughly fulfill the purpose of storytelling; to define who we are, make sense of the world, and to find meaning in life. In addition to this, they enliven the imagination like no other type of story can.
Being familiar with the stories of one’s own culture is important. The stories I’m talking about here are the classics known to English (-speaking) culture; mainly the tales of the Brothers Grimm, of Hans Christian Anderson, and some of Joseph Jacobs. In ADF, one usually picks a hearth culture from the Indo-European melange. Naturally, one would seek out fairy and folk tales from one’s chosen hearth culture to teach one’s kids. Though, if your original culture (the one you were brought up in) is English or English descended, consider starting your kids out with the classics I mentioned before. They are not all particular to English culture, one the contrary, they actually come from all over Europe. In Graham Anderson’s Fairytale in the Ancient World, we find that themes from many of our culture’s fairy tales can even be traced back to the classic mythology of the Greeks and Romans, as well as other ancient cultures. So starting with these is actually a very good initiation into the common themes that run through wider ancient Indo-European thought and beyond, not just the culture of the English and nearby Northern Europeans.
I like to read (or tell) the fairy tales in their classic form (as given to us by the Grimm brothers, for example). Yes, the original stories did include violence- the violence in those stories is a very appropriate outlet for feelings of anger and jealousy that all children have. When you go see a movie, isn’t is great to see the bad guy get what he deserves in the end? (If he doesn’t, then you know there’s going to be a sequel!) And yet, the violence in fairy tales symbolize much deeper things than does the violence on movies and TV. In shopping for fairy tale books for my kids, I came across a lot of watered down stories. Stories in which grandma hid in the closet from the wolf, no one got eaten, and the woodcutter just chased the wolf away. I even read a Three Bears story in which the little bear asked Goldilocks to come back and play. Alterations like these change the meaning of the story. You don’t get the desired psychological benefit, nor the true meaning of it. Watered down cautionary tales lose their punch. They become meaningless and devoid of the drama that makes them great.
The following reviews are of fairy tale picture books. Bettelheim emphasizes telling the stories, not reading them. For the most part, that worked for my older kids when they were little, but my youngest is very visual-oriented and he will not listen to a story unless there is something compelling him visually.
So, the following are our favorites so far. I found the first three at a local library, and the forth I found at a thrift store.
The Fairy Tales by Jan Pienkowski
I just love this book. It’s magical and captivating. The stories include Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White, all translated from original German texts. It is so beautifully illustrated in black silhouettes, touches of bold color, and some marbleized backgrounds. For the most part, the stories appear as the Grimm brothers initially recorded them, the details quite different than how most people think the stories go, and a little grizzly here and there. This isn’t Disney, y’all! The drawback is that there are only four stories in the collection. Yet this gives room for a good balance of text and pictures on each page. Each story is the full classic story.
The Random House Book of Fairy Tales adapted by Amy Ehrlich
This book contains nineteen classic fairy tales; most of them from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. The illustrations are very lovely pencil drawings, most of them in color and some of them just beautiful. It is not as strongly nor abundantly illustrated as Pienkowski’s Fairy Tales, but there are enough pictures to keep most kids interested. The stories themselves stay close to the original and very well written; a treasure. The stories include: The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Rapunzel, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, The Valiant Little Tailor, Red Riding Hood, The Real Princess (The Princess and the Pea), The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Snow Queen, and Thumbelina.
The Random House Book of Nursery Stories retold and illustrated by Helen Craig
This one is a fairy tale collection without the darker element. Yes, the gingerbread man still gets eaten, the big bad wolf still gets boiled in a pot, and the troll gets tossed over the bridge- but, Red riding hood and her grandmother don’t get eaten, and the wolf doesn’t get split open with an axe. (I’ll tell you a little secret; sometimes I don’t read what’s on the page. I re-insert the lost bits from memory. It’s worth it if your kid really loves the book for the pictures.) This collection includes three stories I think of as being essential for early story telling; The Three Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The collection in this book also includes: Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, The Magic Cooking Pot, The Little Red Hen, Lazy Jack, Chicken Little, and The Shoemaker and the Elves. The illustrations are very nice and abundant throughout the book. The cover has little colorfully bordered boxes depicting scenes from all the tales within. Your child can have fun picking out which story to read from the pictures on the front. It’s very cute. This one is great for younger kids.
Favorite Tales from Grimm: A Treasured Collection retold by Kit Schorsch
The pictures in this book are not as beautiful as the ones in the books I describe above, but they are colorful and reasonably plentiful, with several stories having full page illustrations. What’s special about this book is the inclusion of some of the lesser known Grimm stories. I especially love the inclusion the story “Mother Holle”. This volume also includes: The Frog Prince, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Sleeping Beauty, The Fisherman and His Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Spindle Shuttle and Needle, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, The Golden Goose, Rapunzel, and The Bremen Town Musicians. These stories remain true to the classic originals.