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Monday, May 10, 2010

A Fairy Tale = Violent Story Not To Be Told or an Important Story with a Lesson

We were studying Erte's Starstruck when our son decided to make his own version:   
Daddy's Heart Struck.

I never knew how protective I would be of my own son until he was born.  As a mother, I want to protect him from danger, from wrongdoing, from aggression and violence... and be able to hug him and keep him safe in my arms always.  But I've changed my mind now.  I think he would be better prepared for the world if I didn't shield him so intensely from the things some say will make him more aggressive and violent.  

Why did I change my mind? My mother.

My mother was here for a visit not long ago and it was a great visit - except for the part when we argued about what kind of story was appropriate for my son to listen to.  One day during her visit, I had overheard my mother telling my son whose eyes got bigger and bigger as the story went on:

"The queen asked the mirror...  Mirror mirror on the wall... Snow White.  And the queen was so upset because she wasn't the most beautiful in the land...  So, she hired a huntsman with an AXE and ordered him to KILL and CHOP UP Snow White in the forest..." 

At this point, I forced myself in their conversation and shouted "That is WAY TO VIOLENT!  Do you mind changing the facts just a little bit????" 

To this, my mother said "Why?  That's the story, why should I change it?  Besides it's not any more violent than those Greek Myths!"

Needless to say, the argument/discussion on fairy tales lasted for at least 2 days.  And when she found out our 3 year old son didn't know other 'violent' fairy tales, she would continue to tell them as elaborately as I had wished she hadn't.  As for my son, he was just as enthralled with those gory details.

I recently have re-read Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook and there is a section on What is the Purpose of Fairy Tales?  As I read it, I realized my mother was probably right after all.  Fairy Tales have lasted for so long for a reason.  Still, I would have wanted my mother to elaborate less on the killing methods and some other violent sections of the story.  Stories still need to be told according to age appropriateness.

In any case, here's what Mr. Trelease says:

"Stop for a minute and remind yourself how long the fairy tale has been with us... What distinguishes the fairy tale is that it speaks to the very heart and soul of the child.  It admits to the child what so many parents and teachers spend hours trying to cover up or avoid.  The fairy tale confirms what the child has been thinking all along - that it is a cold, cruel world out there and it's waiting to eat him alive... it goes one step further.  It addresses itself to the child's sense of courage and adventure.  The tale advises the child: Take your courage in hand and go out to meet the world head on.  According to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairy tale offers this promise: If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer any foe.  By recognising a child's daily fears, appealing to his courage and confidence, and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents the child with a means by which he can understand the world and himself."

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