I like a good fairy tale. There are some people who don’t. They don’t want to perpetuate the “myth” of the fairytale and things like Cinderella dreaming about a prince or anyone dreaming to be rescued or swept off their feet. It seems that people don’t want their boys to treat girls like “princesses,” either. Because girls don’t need to be rescued by some guy. I’ve studied a lot of fairy tales and here’s what I found out:
- The princesses didn’t seem to be very well developed characters usually, but most characters are never really developed. Probably because it was a short fairy story, more than likely made up by tired parents who just wanted their little medieval toddlers to go to sleep. Remember, this was before iPads and television and even Gutenberg.
- The princes were always doing a lot of work that I would rather not do and going through all kinds of hoops just based on seeing a portrait of a pretty girl, or the promise of money or power (and a pretty girl). On the other hand, there were seemingly just as many stories where the prince was tested to see if his love was true or just based on appearance. And if he wasn’t true, he suffered. Badly.
- Most of the princesses were portrayed as morally stronger and mentally superior. It appeared to me that in most fairytales, the prince had the most character development because he started out so shallow, and then, through trials to “get the girl,” he came to understand morality and real, true love.
I tell my girls (and sometimes my boys), made up fairytale stories at night before they go to bed.
And they are often filled with unrealistically happy endings, princes, weddings, unicorns, rainbows, sparkles, and lands made entirely of candy. I actually think it’s good to daydream a little.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with sometimes needing to be rescued. Whether it be a fairy godmother or a prince or a genie, sometimes it’s fun to imagine being rescued and being secure enough in your own value that you don’t mind accepting help when it is needed or just offered and not needed.
And sometimes, it’s okay for a boy to pretend that he can conquer monsters for someone he loves all by himself. And he can overcome any challenge simply because someone needs him.
And, just putting this out there–why in the world can’t a fairytale be simply that? A fairy tale. “Fairy” implying whimsical and “tale” implying a flight of fancy?
Couldn’t they just be stories someone made up at the end of a long day, when the sun was turning golden in the sky, and the bees were humming around the cherry blossoms and the stars were first twinkling and–for a moment–everything seemed magical?
Even though I know that there are a lot of monsters out there parading as good guys, I still allow myself to fantasize about a dashing prince who rides in on a beautiful horse and carries me away from more dishes and laundry and cooking and cleaning. I am a very liberated woman, but even in a perfectly equal society, dishes still get dirty and clothes still need washing, and eventually I would have to do it at least some of the time, anyway. It’s good for me to see a similarity to my husband, who sometimes rides in on his valiant Toyota and grabs the dirty cups and knives and spoons and kisses me on the cheek and rescues me.
I think that fairy tales help us to see the magic in ordinary life.
And even if no one ever can truly have the “fairytale” life–and even if some people don’t want it–why do we have to quash fanciful dreams?
Why do we have to put aside our silly girlish or boyish fancies?
I mean, I know I am “man enough” to take out the garbage, but my husband and sons do it and I’m not complaining. It makes my heart turn to butter just thinking that my husband will protect me. I like the feeling of him keeping me safe.
I like feeling warm and cozy in my husband’s arms. There is nothing to me in the world that feels safer or more…happily ever after.
When we alter the story so that the girl would sooner open her own dress shop after working in indentured servitude for years rather than accept help from a prince (and yes, that is an actual plot of a post-modern fairytale I read a few years ago), we’re teaching our girls that even slightly abusive situations are better than accepting help from a man.
And we are teaching our boys that there is no use for them. They are not needed or wanted.
Maybe we might be meddling with something beautiful and innocent about childhood–something beautiful about trusting other people and relying on each other. Because in actual real life, sometimes we do get ourselves into situations where rescue is needed. Are we somehow dispossessing our kids of a place where dreams can come true, even if only in their imaginations? And even if it is just plain silly, don’t we all need a little bit of that now and then? Walt Disney, in “Saving Mr. Banks” expressed it better than I could:
This is what we storytellers do…with imagination. We instill hope again, and again, and again.
And isn’t that what the best fairytales do? They instill hope in the face of a dark, sometimes unfair and often tragic world. Fairy tales offer a glimpse of magic again and again. And that is what we need a lot more of in the world.