Our View: The Importance Of Fairy Tales

by The Cape Cod Chronicle

What does something as silly as the story of a boy who trades a cow for a magic bean have to teach us? Or a girl myopic enough to mistake a wolf for her grandmother? You’d be surprised.

The classic fairy tales, especially those codified by the Brothers Grimm, are part of our DNA. They infuse the culture and media, spawning endless riffs ranging from innocuous — any number of Disney films and TV programs — to the dark and disturbing (see “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” a slasher film released last year after the bear from the One Hundred Acre Woods entered the public domain). In fact, trace the Grimm tales back to their origins and nearly all of them are “grim” and not necessarily for children, unless you want to frighten the bejesus out of them.

And that was the original idea behind fairy tales and their origin stories, before they were Disnified. They presented clear messages about morality, dealing with others, and life in general. Sometimes you have to dig a bit or crack open the sugar coating to find them, but the lessons are there. Most of us ingested them at a young age and know them so well that they are embedded in our unconsciousness.

So it was with some surprise that we learned that kids today haven’t necessarily had the same experience. Many don’t know about the adventures of Jack or Red or that trio of oinkers and their tiny houses.

Martha Jenkins at the Orleans Elementary School noticed that and did something about it. She coordinated the school’s Folklore Fairytale Festival, which includes trivia and reading aloud to students. Whether it’s competition from screens or lack of time leading to less reading to kids, many are not acquainted with the tales that for a lot of us formed a childhood mythology, a basis to understand not only human nature but story structure and how to tell the good guys from the bad.

Ensuring kids get exposed to these formative tales is a laudable undertaking, and one other schools should emulate. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that a grounding in fairy tales is just as important as early exposure to history, language and math. After all, understanding human nature is the most basic of educations.