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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Children: A Plea For Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 20th 2011

Friends and family recommended I read the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games." I was told it was written for adolescents but that adults enjoy it as well. It came at an interesting time for me when I was contemplating writing an article about the importance of fairy tales, myths and legends for children.

The timing was interesting because, in my research, I found some controversy about whether fairy tales and other myths should be read to our kids. It seems that some people are convinced that fairy tales are too violent.

These same critics object to the tales being politically incorrect. They site the fact that mothers are never present, only evil step mothers and witches. "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" is found to be offensive because the 7 are called "dwarfs," and not "little people." I guess that means it should be entitled "Snow White and The Seven Little People?" Somehow, that doesn't have the right ring to it, at least, not for me.

If you want validation that many parents are eliminating fairy tales because they are politically incorrect, go to this web site:

http://www.thebabywebsite.com

So, this brings us to Suzanne Collins and "The Hunger Games?" This novel, directed at kids, is filled with violence. If this book is not too violent for kids, why are fairy tales? In fact, I just learned that it is being made into a movie. Well, we have lots of violent movies, television programs and super heroes. Is there really any difference?

Actually, there is a very great difference between the events that happen in these tales as compared to the things kids read and view today. Fairy tales have stood the test of time because they appeal to something deep within ourselves. The Brother's Grimm did not create the stories in their collection. Instead, they put into book form stories from all over the world and dating back to pre-history. These were were handed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition. The most diverse societies from every culture have remarkably similar stories and myths.

As Bruno Bettleheim, the great twentieth century child psychologist, discusses in his book, "The Uses of Enchantment,"  fairy tales allow children to grapple with their fears about abandonment, death, witches, injuries and body intactness, in remote and symbolic ways. These fears would be too threatening for kids to deal with directly. The characters in these stories live in mythical and distant places and that actually prevents them from being overwhelmed.

If you think about it, these tales not only describe death but rebirth as well. The prince kisses sleeping beauty who then reawakens and lives happily ever after. This and other aspects of these stories stimulate kid's imaginations. Bettleheim asserts that, left to their own thinking and imaginings, kids work out the meaning of fairy tales for themselves.

It's important to add that the struggles depicted by Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderalla and others, represent the struggles that go on in all families. Sibling rivalry is a well known family dynamic. Competition between emerging beautiful daughters and their proud but jealous and aging mothers is another familiar dynamic. Then, the fears and angry impulses that are aroused within children, have a safe and creative outlet through these tales.

It seems to me that the violence found in kid's novels, such as "The Hunger Games," video games, movies and television, are all too real for youngsters. The characters look very real while the action takes place in very familiar places. There is very little left to the imagination.

As far as political incorrectness goes, that has little or nothing to do with this mythology. The "Seven Dwarfs" are not real people and, if anything, may represent the small child himself. The image of the mother is protected for the child by having the "step mother" become the target of the child's anger and frustration instead of the treasured real mother. These are just a few examples.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
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    As Someone That Grew Up With Such - Cathy - Sep 21st 2011

    As someone who grew up with fairy tales and thinking this through as I read it, I could fall back and do fall back on those in troubing times.  As I look at that current villain in my life, I might imagine she is the witch in Little Red Riding Hood and tell myself "Someone is going to push you in the oven and I'll just stand there and smile."  This makes me feel good slightly sadistic but, at least, it tides me over until I become rational again.  I was told a couple of weeks ago that "you really can hold your cool" because we were at a heated discussion and I wanted to slamdunk the subject but I see things in a comic sense.  In my busy head, I convert a lot of things to cartoons and fairy tales and it does allow to me to just glide through situations.  On a bad day with the husband, I can look out the window to see if my prince on a white horse has yet arrived.  I'll have to admit though that I use the Roadrunner cartoons a lot when I am angry and they amuse me especially the dynamite.  So, perhaps, my salvation has been a couple fairy tales and a cartoon or two.  On "politically correct", it has been taken too far just like so many other things as they start out with a good idea, say terms you call a certain group of people because I do not want to call you by names that you find offensive, but everyone just keeps distorting the original purpose until it becomes a bad thing. 

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