Fairy tale. The term conjures ideas of classic nursery rooms filled with the baubles of childhood, and stories so saccharine they make your teeth hurt. But the truth is more interesting … and perhaps darker. Fairy tales were never originally intended for children, and despite their simple forms and style often tell stories directly interested in the spectrum of human experience, from love and loss to greed, betrayal, murder, and incest.
The question for those of us who would follow in the footsteps of novelist and medievalist J.R.R. Tolkien is this: How and what do we learn from fairy tales? How do they apply to “real life” here and now? Fairy stories occur in realms vastly different from our own—what could these tales possibly have to tell us about our world today? According to Tolkien in his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories,” quite a bit. It is through the well-wrought fairy story, precisely by means of the “escapism” that fairy tales are often accused of cultivating and encouraging, that we might find what is most real and true—not only for us today but for all people through all time.
We will begin with Tolkien’s essay, where he explores his idea of the “eucatastophe” which is essential to the fairy tale genre. We will also consider what stories do and do not make the cut in being categorized as fairy tales and why. Finally we’ll turn our attention to the tales themselves as a laboratory and read versions of four classic stories: “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “Bluebeard.”
Read more in our guest blog post Three Questions for Real Life, Brought to You by … Fairy Tales!
Image courtesy Anne Anderson/Wikimedia Commons
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.”
– C.S. Lewis