From The Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog:
An email arrived in my inbox recently. I was in the midst of planning a visit to a rural elementary school to share “A Tale Dark and Grimm,” my adaptation of Grimm’s fairy tales. The email arrested my planning:
“I am afraid I have bad news. My colleagues and I are afraid we will not have administrative support should a parent challenge your wonderful book… As you might guess, this is a very conservative community and while we have your book on our shelves and can stand by it 100%, we are fearful that asking some of our teachers to read it aloud will be met with resistance… I feel like I am not defending the First Amendment by declining to have you visit … but this is not the year to borrow trouble.”
Scared off by fairy tales? Indeed.
. . . .
While adults wring their hands over whether children should be exposed to the real Grimm, young people themselves have no such ambivalence. In my visits to schools I have witnessed the introduction of Grimm tales to thousands of children—elementary students in urban London, middle schoolers in rural Texas, high school students in suburban Baltimore—and the reaction is always the same: enthusiasm that borders on ecstasy.
. . . .
Why, contrary to adults’ expectations and apprehensions, are fairy tales so perfectly appropriate for these children?
There are a few answers.
The first is the simplest. The real Grimm fairy tales enthrall children because they are bloody. Kids, boys and girls alike, love bloody stuff. Horror is among the best selling genres for children. Violence, from “Tom and Jerry” to “GI Joe,” has always sold well. The children I meet literally cannot believe that Cinderella’s step-sisters dismember themselves to get the slipper to fit. And they really cannot believe that adults have been peddling the sweet, anodyne version of the story all this time, when there was another version that was so much cooler.
. . . .
In fairy tales, as in dreams, we are every character. Cinderella is so enduringly popular not because of her clearly delineated character traits, but because every child has felt neglected or belittled. She is not a character you would recognize on the street, or want to have a play-date with, like Huckleberry Finn. Details are scarce and carefully chosen. We may hear about the color of Cinderella’s gowns, but we will never hear about the color of her eyes. Cinderella is an empty box that the child puts himself in.
. . . .
In most fairy tales, the great wide world takes the form of a forest. Bruno Bettelheim, the great psychoanalytic interpreter of fairy tales, explains, “Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious.” Forests are where our fears turn into wolves, our desires into candy houses, where our fathers turn us loose to fend for ourselves, where the emotional problems we face at home are physicalized, externalized, and ultimately conquered. Where tears are transformed into blood.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)