Musings on Fiction and Tropes

Why Fairy Tales are Important

Fairy tale fighting dragon

Fairy tales, and their modern counterparts, teach us more than unrealistic expectations about love and the chance of being hidden royalty. They teach us about courage and bravery, about the importance of using your wits, about dangers and evils and tragedy. They teach us that the monsters can be fought and dreams can be achieved.


“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Neil Gaiman


Fairy tales keep alive the hope that there is such a thing as true love, and that it’s almost part of your destiny. In a world where the path to love is frequently bumpy or long, and loneliness is all too common, stories promising love as destiny, love as the Happy Ending, help us hang on to hope. Sure, they sometimes might set us up for unreal expectations too, but whats a little unreal expectation between friends!


Fairy tales often include a character who helps and guides the hero. They can teach our children that even in the darkest times there are people who will love you and look after you, who will help you.


This is more important than perhaps we sometimes realise.


When my son was about 5, a friend of his from his kindergarten was nearly kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night. He became aware for the first time of the concept of being unsafe. He adored Santa Claus and said confidently that Santa would look after all the kidnapped children. I struggled with this because I felt he needed to understand that Santa only did presents. He didn’t understand why Santa, who was so kind, would not help children in danger. So I told him it was because Santa didn’t need to because there were people who were helpers. I told him that not only would I and his whole family never stop looking for him if he was stolen, but that all of our neighbours (who he knew) would also look for him, or look after him if he ran to them. The police, the lawyers, any people I could think of to name I told him would help. That the man in the shop who he said hello to all the time would also want to help him, to look after him. He was greatly reassured by this. Children need to know that it is not just their family who they can rely on, but the kindness of their community, and of some strangers.  Fairy tales can help with this.


There are many virtues or morals that Fairy Tales teach, which is why I’m all in favour of new ones being written and old ones being updated. I have a great collection of stories published in 1979 – The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay WilliamsThis group of stories that attempted to create a new take on classic tropes was a great collection for a little girl in the ’80s and still has great little morals for my sons in 2017.  The power of Fairy Tales to teach kindness and compassion as well as bravery, is one of the things I like best about them.


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Attributed to Albert Einstein


fairy tale love

Fairy tales are all about the endless possibility of magic or action or a change in your situation if only you are brave enough to open the door.  We all have had that moment where we wished we were brave enough. We get to live that bravery through stories, through fairy tales. They show us that bravery and courage are most often rewarded. That virtue and kindness are rewarded. Curiosity too, is rewarded in some tales (the best ones). One of my favourite stories, The Bird of the Golden Land by Robert Nye, has a hero who does the different and brave things even when he doesn’t feel brave or special.  This is an important message for children, who don’t usually feel capable or brave all the time, and who are facing lots of new doors in their lives. We all need a reminder of the possibilities that doing the brave thing brings from time to time.


fairy tale opening door


Fairy Tales are the stories that we play, that we keep in our hearts and imaginations. All stories allow us the chance to escape, to be someone else for a while. To live through another’s feelings, thoughts, actions. Fairy Tales help keep that magic of imagination alive in a way that all of us who share the common stories can hook into.


I leave the last word to C.S Lewis, whose stories enchanted me when a child and have enchanted my own children:


“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

C. S Lewis

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