by Chara Kitsaki
We have all heard the stories, the wondrous bedtime tales of our childhood. The shoe fits Cinderella; Snow White comes to life with a kiss; the Beauty falls for the Beast. The fantasy of what our lives could be was based on these fairytales. A white dress, a knight in shining armour who would carry us away to a castle on a far away hill. I distinctly remember my mother reading me Cinderella by the Grimm Brothers. All the beautiful words, descriptions and images swirling in my mind. My imagination was never more vivid.
It’s an interesting coincidence that the day after April Fool’s, is the one we celebrate children’s literature. And while we might only devote one day a year, Children’s books have been admired, cherished and adored for far more than that. This is a day to give credit to all the stories that opened our mind’s eye to the endless possibilities of literature. And while few people may have read Milton, Spencer or Hardy, almost all of us have read Dr. Seuss, The Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. These are the books that showed us that there is much more to the world then our pink, blue, yellow or white painted bedrooms. They showed us that our parent’s dull back yard can easily turn to a magical kingdom. That the monsters under our bed and in our closets can simply disappear with the wave of a wand. These are the sources of our dreams. The invisible friends that kept us company through the most formative of our years. The ones that convinced us that nothing is impossible if we just believed.
However, things have now changed. The need to keep up with the times has faded the magic wrapped within those original fairy tales. Cinderella in the 19th century is a timid young girl who is eager to attend a ball. Cinderella in the 21st century is bold and proudly enters her high school prom. In the unprecedented adaptation of Snow White, the dwarfs are characterised as dorks, while Sydney (Snow White) is not hunted by a huntsman but university requirements and sororities. In a century where magical forests are turned into university campuses and romantic balls into high school proms, it stands to reason why my childhood queries have once again cropped up in my mind and made me question, where has the fairy tale gone? Is it the need to realise that love in real life is much harder harder than in the classical fairy tales? Or has the archetype of boy meets girl so rapidly changed since I was five?
To this perhaps the answer is that times have progressed. The modern day reader is looking for something different. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm and Hans Christian Andersen collected their first fairy tales over a hundred years ago predominantly from German women, the majority of whom were spinners, in a way of preserving the oral traditions of Germany and Scandinavia. The original texts were published without illustrations and were met without much fanfare, because the target audience was not young children but students of folklore. It stands to reason thus, that the 19th century Germanic audience bears little to no resemblance to the 21st century global one.
For many years, rather than mirroring our society, fairy tales have reflected a distorted view of reality. They present a beautiful utopia where anything and everything is possible. So, has perhaps the time come for people to get a better grip on reality? Do children have to learn the distinction between the make-believe and the genuine world from a very young age?
To that, I answer no.
These are fairy tales. Yes, they do not represent reality. And most of the time they paint everything in so pure and pale colours that when you look back at the dark world from your window, you cannot help but feel a little sad. Yes, in these stories people live happily ever after. There is magic, fairy dust, princes, princesses and even the worst of problems have a solution. These are the stories that comfort our fears and store our hopes. Their role is not to mimic reality. Their role is not to present the world we live in. Their role is to transport us. To take us to a magic trip in all the places that no plane or train can take us to.
So let’s all celebrate these stories. Let’s recognise that today, the 2nd of April is a special day. Dedicated to children, stories, imagination and the power of magic. And if you have not found your prince/princess yet, if you are overwhelmed by coursework, exams and have a hard time believing in everlasting happiness, don’t worry. Because sometimes, it is not important that it is happily ever after, just simply that it is happy right now.
Here is a list of my favourite fairy tales… Yes, they are all numbered 1 because I love them all (definitely not because I don’t know how to use this WordPress document…)
- Oh, the Places You Will Go! by Dr. Seuss “If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak “There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen”
- Matilda by Roald Dahl “You seem so far away, Miss Honey whispered, awestruck. Oh, I was flying past the starts on silver wings, Matilda said. It was wonderful”
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein “And the boy loved the tree…very much. And the tree was happy.”
- Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White “Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will”
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed”
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket “Reading is one form of escape. Running for your life is another”
- A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett “I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses.”