Kids Fairy Tales, and a Critical review of Folktales for children

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Children’s Fairy Tales

Introduction to the Meaning and Function of the Fairytale to Children

 How the Fairytale Came to be Children’s Stories

When the Brothers Grimm began to collect fairy tales they did not intend that these stories would become children’s tales, they where instead trying to collect the wisdom of the Germanic folktales. It was the Grimm Brothers intention to have these stories help people feel cultural pride and to engender value based learning. As Zipes asserts in his book “The Brothers Grimm” they even made some major edits in order to make the tales fit their moralistic view of the culture at the time.
This changing of the fairytale to fit modern purposes is not new, nor is it difficult because fairy tales are motif stories. In other words the fairy tale stories are structured in a loosely based plot system which is easily changed. (For more information on the fairy tale stories plots system see Propp’s Fairy Tale Structures). Such changes the Grimm’s Brothers made at first where meant to speak to the adults of the time period, and so much confusion has risen up about the meanings of fairytales because it is often presumed they where children’s stories. However they where not.
So how is it that these stories became children’s stories? One of the biggest contributing factors to the fairytale stories becoming part of the children’s literature was that with so few stories geared for children the fairy tales where something interesting they could read that was relatively easy to understand in a basic sense. What’s more the fairy tales written down by the Grimm Brothers where intended to be a means of preserving the stories, morals, and cultures of the past. Fairy tales in general are good means by which to transmit a cultures values to children, and so they become children’s tales to do this. Finally fairy tales like much of children’s literature depicts more fantastic yet simple settings then books intended for adults normally do. We as a society associate much of the most fantastic and imaginative ideas with children, so fairy tales fall into the children’s category in part based on their fantastic nature.

What Fairy Tales Mean to Today’s Children

It is difficult to assert or presume any single meaning which fairy tales hold for children, for there are thousands of fairy tales each with their own messages and stories. Further each fairytale has many versions Disney’s Fairy tale movies are quite different from Paul O. Zelinsky’s picture books. However fairytales now are intended for children and so their meanings are often similar to those which adults wish to transmit to children. In this then fairy tale stories have become a means of socializing children into the culture which the story was written by (not the one it comes from).
This means that the messages of Cinderella is indeed that anyone even a poor girl can come to succeed. At the same time however the success within this story is not worked for, this in general is a serious problem moralistically, though within stories it is something we as a society seem to enjoy. Perhaps this is because most of us are average, but by being good and kind and dreaming we hope that success will in some ways come to us despite our being average. This then is what Cinderella and in a similar way Snow White teaches children, that no matter how horrible things might seem if they continue to be good they will get better. These then are not work hard stories, they are rather stories about not lashing out hatefully at those who abuse a person.
Little Red Riding Hood despite all its past meanings in modern times too is a means of transmitting the message that one should not be trusting of strangers. Hansel and Gretel strangely enough has come to mean the same thing, for the children where foolish to trust the witch. This story meets with complications however for these children truly were alone in the world, they had no choice but to trust someone, their survival depended on it. Though young children might not understand this as they get older they will begin to understand that these children had no options thanks to the fact that their parents banished them. In some ways we must come to grips with the idea of the evil stepmother in fairy tales, as many children now have stepparents. Certainly the children in fairy tales always triumph over their stepmothers, but is this necessarily a good thing? Many teens and children hate parents and stepparents wrongly, giving these children the opportunity to triumph over such stepparents could lead to social problems.
One could however make the argument that the evil stepparents within modern fairy tales show kids what an evil stepmother would be. In other words such stories could work to help make the stepparent seem less evil by comparison. Further the fact that in many cases the children find something worse away from the stepparent (such as the witch in Hansel and Gretel) or that the children must endure to make their dreams come true (Cinderella) the meanings of the stories could be that it is often better to endure and forgive, depending on the version of course.
Going beyond the more obvious meanings of fairy tales we find that fairy tales are in many ways a comparison between the evil of the villain and the main character. “In the Witch Must Die” by Sheldon Cashdan, Cashdan states that the witch or villain represents the evil parts of the protagonist or the potential evil of the reader or listener of the fairy tales. While much of what psychologists have said about this is exaggerated it is true that the villain is in many ways the meaning of the story for they are truly evil. The death of these villains helps to show that what they where doing was truly evil. The story of Red Riding Hood lets children know not to become a wolf as much as it teaches them not to talk to strangers. The story of Cinderella teaches children that by being wicked as the step mother was they do truly harm others.
Stories such as fairy tales such as fairy tales teach children empathy by asking them to step into another persons shoes. With this empathy comes an understanding how those who wrong the protagonist are indeed wrong. The moral of the fairy tale then is often not so much that which the protagonist shows, but the opposite of that which the villain does. In Snow White the moral is not to become obsessed with how one compares to another, that vanity is negative. For Little Red Riding Hood it is that selfishness and greedy forms of gluttony can cause harm, in the Three Little Pigs the moral can be not to take advantage of others weaknesses, as much as not to be lazy and have weaknesses.
Fairy tales ultimately are a way by which the adult world brings children up to think. Their meanings are crafted to be that which the adult who edited and rewrote them wanted them to be.