Scary Tales

Glen’s away at the moment, so I’m seeking solace in the arms of another man.  He’s called Mr Hesse and I picked him up in the library. Herman’s not here in person, but he wrote some stonking fairy stories. Proper ones: with giants and goblins and elves and all the rest. I can hardly put ’em down.

All of life is here.

Unrequited love. Family feuds. Friendships and quarrels.   Anger and malice and grief and greed.

The beauty who can’t get out of bed. (Depression? Or just too many late nights?)

Fashion victims with crystal slippers and red Prada hoods.

Jack and his magic ‘beans’. Snow White and the apple detox. Ugly ducklings. Wolves in (Granny’s) clothing. Little boys who won’t grow up. Rapunzel and her dodgy hair extensions.

However, according to a recent survey, one in five parents have scrapped telling fairy tales on the grounds that they are unrealistic and unsuitable.

Here’s a few comments;

1. Hansel and Gretel – ‘ likely to scare young children’

2. Jack and the Beanstalk –  ‘unrealistic’.

3. Gingerbread Man –  gingerbread man ‘gets eaten by a fox’ … the Horror

4. Cinderella – anti-feminist story about  young girl doing all the housework.

7. Rapunzel – terrifying  kidnap saga

8. Goldilocks and the Three Bears – sends the wrong messages about stealing


I’m not convinced.

Pick up any magazine and it’s selling you some version of the fairy tale.  The royal wedding. X-Factor redemption. The love rivals, vying for glory. The ‘monsters’: be they footballers or bankers.  Quests: for youth and fame and wealth.  The princess rescued by her plastic surgeon.

How many of us are waiting for our prince? The ball dress that’ll transform our fortunes? The decor to make our home a castle?

Who hasn’t moaned about an ugly sibling? Or dreamt of vanquishing an evil boss?

What heart doesn’t harbour dragons?


Sorry guys, but the Big Bad Wolf’s not confined to the library.

13 thoughts on “Scary Tales

  1. Very true, but giving up on fairy tales is a symptom of something far more disturbing – the giving up on parenting. Apathy towards pretty much anything that doesn’t really go beyond self-seeking is a very troubling malady. We all need more than we’re getting when it comes to real love, not the caricature creature we like to define as our good genie.

  2. That’s a lovely post, Emma. I loved fairy tales as a child, and now, but my own children couldn’t tolerate them. They found the ones I read (anderson, and wilde) too sad, and I know they wouldn’t have liked Grimm. They only liked the happy tales!

  3. Thanks Anita – it’s probably a sign that your kids are far more well-adjusted than we were!

  4. It was something that came in a Radio 4 interview about the issue last Friday in relation to the Government’s initiative to provide loads of ‘downloadable’ materials so we can create parents that don’t fail. It’s the answer, apparently to everything (- education, but I’m not sure it is here), and one MP noted that the only reason such action is needed is because there’s a far deeper problem, people (and this is a generalisation), can’t parent well because there’s no context for this (no prior reference point) because the very fabric of family culture has become so disassociated. I haven’t been able to really think it through, but there may be something in this.

  5. I remember G K Chesterton commenting about a flight from fairy stories a VERY long time ago. I think he saw it as a culture’s denial that true evil does exist, the fallout of a trend towards a very humanistic worldview. Fairy tale is, as you noted, a very powerful medium (see any rack of glossy magazines) to change perception. If the symbolism is correct, fairy stories are incredibly effective at relating the Truth (good vs. evil, etc). I admit I did hate fairy tales as a child. I was drawn to the sanitized Sally Dick and Jane, or TV Land re-run version of the world (not realizing that too was fantasy). There were a lot of ugly trolls under the real bridges of my life and they haunted my dreams. I had to work very hard not to see them! Today my own children love fairy tales, especially those of Goerge MacDonald and those concerning CS Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. However, we are pretty selective about the source and particular worldview of writers, There is a trend in some modern tales to switch the symbolism around and have good and evil as equal and all the Bad Guys merely “misunderstood”. Not really what I wanted to teach my children. So I am not sure what parent category I would fall into!

  6. I love fairy tales!
    These are questions I’m also pondering as I think about what to read to my son. Does sleeping beauty/Cinderella et al convey the wrong messages about the role of women in society as passive, needing a romantic saviour etc? What about the role of men as fighters (even fighters against evil?)
    I’m in two minds.

    The feminist liberal in me screams no, but the child who actually quite likes romance and imagination says yes…

  7. Caroline wrote: “There is a trend in some modern tales to switch the symbolism around and have good and evil as equal and all the Bad Guys merely “misunderstood”.
    It’s always troubling when this happens, but thankfully, there are plenty of popular stories where the ‘good guys’ win through, not because they are ‘better’ than everyone else, but because they know they are flawed and are reaching for something higher than themselves (honour, justice, rescuing those in need, etc). It’s not a classic fairy tale, but I enjoyed how they’ve been using this idea in some of the screen renditions of comic book heroes of late.

    Tanya wrote:
    “Does sleeping beauty/Cinderella et al convey the wrong messages about the role of women in society as passive, needing a romantic saviour etc?”

    I’m sure that there are plenty of modern renditions where women come across as strong as men – the manner in which Arwen’s character was used in the Lord of the Rings films springs to mind – so long as we don’t lose sight of the idea of romance being at the heart of the universe, which it – Christ is the bride-groom, Creation (and especially the new humanity) is His bride.

  8. Hi Caroline
    I can see why you’d dislike fairy tales because they were too close to the struggles going on in your own life.I feel like that about sad stories or films — though the darkness of fairy tales I find reassuring.

    Great point too about how modern fairytales relativise evil and reverse roles. I guess as a parent the challenge is to give your children the tools to read critically – sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing.

  9. Tanya, I agree. Half of me longs for the romance and half of me laughs at it. But I’m inclined to think that Disney is more frightening than the Brothers Grimm.

  10. Thanks Howard – good reminder that the gospel is the ultimate Romance and even better, it’s true

  11. Emma wrote “I’m inclined to think that Disney is more frightening than the Brothers Grimm”.

    Very true!

  12. I love fairy tales, they are just amazing.
    Gingerbread man shows how pride can makes us blind and also stupid enough to get eaten so easily.
    And in the Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen’s), I think the splinters on little Kay’s eyes and heart are kinda like how pessimism works taking away our energy and in another sense like our sins keeping us from seeing God’s glory.
    It made sound weird, but most of the time, I am deeply minister by the classic fairy tales.

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