Why I Need Fairy Tales

4042-fairy-tale-castle-1920x1200-fantasy-wallpaperHaving watched the one zillionth romance movie on the Hallmark Channel the other day, I thought about fairy tales. After all, with plots like (1) an office worker bee gaining a promotion to vice president of her company after pitching her great idea to the right person (yet while failing to notice the scrumptious guy in her office who has a major crush on her); (2) a woman winding up married to a famous actor (who turns out to be wonderfully grounded) after she gets drunk one night; or (3) a woman whose adorable son is dying to match her up with his hot soldier pen pal, you’re looking at the modern equivalent of a fairy tale. Yep. Sounds like Once Upon a Time all right. And I don’t mean the Once Upon a Time show based on fairy tales.


444388I’m not going to get all Bruno Bettelheim on you with an in-depth study of fairy tales, so congratulate yourself on dodging that bullet. (Bettelheim, a noted child psychologist, wrote a seminal work on fairy tales. Read it awhile ago.) I’ve said it before on this blog that I grew up reading fairy tales. So I naturally gravitate to stories with a fairy tale bent. But lately, with friends and family members going through tough times, and finding myself in the same boat, I crave fairy tales even more.

Some might see this longing as escapism. I can see the point. Maybe you can too when the bottom drops out of your life or when trust is broken in some way. At those times, life is more of a horror story than a fairy tale.

Speaking of trust, I recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Some view superhero movies as the modern equivalent of fairy tales, since fairy tales encompass more than just stories about fairies. But this movie was hardly a fairy tale. The theme of trust was hammered home throughout the film. I won’t give any spoilers, so you can stop cringing. If you’ve seen the movie (I recommend it), you’ll agree. Maybe you’ll also agree that there’s something appealing about a guy who just wants to do the right thing. (I won’t say who that is, so you can stop glaring at me since technically this is not a spoiler.)


Yet when my friend and I left the theater, still discussing how much we liked the movie and how hot Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson in the film) are (and my goodness, they are), I still felt a bit somber as I thought about the issue of trust. But my mood had more to do with the breaking of trust which happened recently in a family I know. Since they’re close friends of mine, I hurt because they do.


Anthony Mackie (left) and Chris Evans just chillin’

So, yeah, I think about fairy tales. Sure, some of them seem contrived or formulaic. But it’s nice to know that some stories have a happy ending. And on a hard day, maybe reading a fairy tale is just what the doctor ordered.

620574I found a quote at this site, which expresses how I feel. Fairy tales

awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life & to evoke profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that most people experience.

The quote comes from a book I haven’t yet read, which was edited by Jack Zipes. (See reference below.) I can relate to feeling powerless in certain situations.

Fairy tales remind us that life can be better. In fairy tales, good triumphs and evil is vanquished. Peasant maids are found by wandering princes. Younger sons who are belittled by villanous older brothers wind up vindicated and worthy of the hands of princesses. Sad circumstances are overturned. J. R. R. Tolkien developed a term for the latter: eucatastrophe, which means “the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom” (Wikipedia).

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little eucatastrophe in my life. It doesn’t have to wait till the end of my story though. In the meantime, I’ll read fairy tales or watch them unfold on the screen. Like chocolate, sometimes I just need ’em.

What, if any, is your favorite fairy tale? Why is it your favorite?

Zipes, Jack. “Cross-Cultural Connections and the Contamination of the Classical Fairy Tale” in The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ed. Jack Zipes. New York: WW Norton & Co., 2001, 845-868.

Book covers from Goodreads. Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie photo form tmiblogger.wordpress.com. Captain America: The Winter Soldier poster from Wikipedia. Fairy tale castle from desktopwallpapers4.me. Once Upon a Time logo from abcallaccess.com.

53 thoughts on “Why I Need Fairy Tales

  1. My favorite fairy tale? Oooo, I haven’t thought about that in such a long time. But, films function as fairy tales for me. I mean, I probably relate to them as such. I love a love story where the falling in love is between two complicated people, where they maintain it for a bit, then experience the pain of having it go awry (b/c of course they loved each other). Have you ever seen Velvet Goldmine?

    The love story between Ewan Mcgregor and that other guy was incredible I thought.

  2. My favourite is the Little Mermaid, but the original, by Hans Christian Andersen. I think it’s really interesting to see the shift in fairy tales from then to now – essentially the change that Disney made to the interpretation of fairy tales. Taking the Little Mermaid, nowadays most people will be thinking of the Disney version with the happy ever after ending, when the original is quite dark and very sad. I guess maybe the change in fairy tales reflects the change in what people need from them.

    Oh and Ever After is my favourite film fairy tale. 🙂 I watched that so much when it first came out, was going through a bit of a tough time and it was so nice to lose myself in that story.

    I think escapism is really important and it shouldn’t be something that gets judged, we all need it from time to time. As Andy says every book and every film is escapism really, some are just more upfront about it than others and that’s no bad thing!

    • I remember seeing Ever After at the theater and loving it. It was so lush. The costumes were beautiful.
      I like Andersen’s version of The Little Mermaid and understand why he included that ending. But I also like the song “Under the Sea” and other aspects of Disney’s version. 😀

      • Oh absolutely, and the “Les Poissons” song by the French chef! That’s so funny – as is everything Sebastian does 😉

        Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Walt Disney cartoons, it’s just so interesting the cultural impact they’ve had.
        Speaking of, have you seen Saving Mr Banks? I absolutely loved it….

  3. I agree with Andy and cfjeanjean. I see escapism in reading as something positive. We all–children too–lead incredibly stressful lives. To be able to slip into a story and be so intrigued that we are insulated from the pressures and unhappy aspects of our lives is a gift and wonderful aspect of books and films and–yes, Linda–fairytales!

    • So true, Sandra. I’ve been completely stressed lately, so I’m all for escapism. And when I see how stressed kids are with homework and other demands on their lives, I say, long live fairy tales!

  4. There’s fairytales and then there’s farelystales (you see what I did there) I find most Disney stuff a bit too ‘sanitised’ but I suppose they make up for it with all their wonderful songs. (No, I’m not joking, Under the Sea etc) Yes, it’s all escapism, but I think that the Grimm tales for instance, had some substance to them, whereas Disney keeps retelling the same happy ending story.
    Take The Fisherman and His Wife, a great moral tale about greed, power, corruption and sexism (his wife was such a nag!) Where’s the escapism there? Maybe as we’ve become more ‘self-aware’ (ha-ha) as a society, we don’t want real life lessons in our fairytales and maybe that accounts for the proliferation of ‘happy-enders’?
    To answer your question, mine is Hansel and Gretel. Child abduction, magic and witchicide. Great stuff. Did you know that those two kids grew up to be scientists, invented a time machine and travelled back through history killing witches? The Inquisition was their finest work. But it all ended happily ever after when the Catholic Church discovered their time machine, accused them of witchcraft and burnt them at the stake. I love a happy ending.

    • I meant fairlystale, as opposed to farelystale! (I told you I read this blog before I get out of bed!)

    • Oh John. You make me smile as always. I love the story of the fisherman and his wife and “Toads and Diamonds”–a story where a woman has two daughters: one lazy, the other industrious. One daughter had a less than happy ending.
      Yes, Disney totally changed “The Little Mermaid.”

  5. Never really thought about my favorite fairy tale. I grew up on the Disney versions, which had Robin Hood and Sword in the Stone as the favorites. The funny thing about the ‘happily ever after’ ending is that I’ve met a lot of people who hate those. I’ve heard people say that we shouldn’t tell such stories to children because the real world isn’t like that, which seems to miss the point of fairy tales. I don’t really understand the mentality going that far. It’s always nice to have a story that ends happily because you can take something from that. Even fiction can brighten a person’s day.

    • I agree, Charles. Kids will have plenty of time to discover that the world is often a harsh place. We don’t have to beat them over the head with stories that purport to tell it like it is. All they have to do is start going to school. They quickly discover that life isn’t always easy.

      I love both of those: Robin Hood and Sword in the Stone. But I love The Once and Future King.

  6. We must be related, Linda! I’ve seen every one of those Hallmark movies that you described. The one about the little boy with the soldier pen pal, I’ve probably seen 4 or 5 times. 🙂
    I agree with your thoughts about escapism. I see and hear so much bad at my job and on the news, then add in the personal struggles of family members and friends, I need to see some happy endings. If my cable provider ever decides to cut the Hallmark Channel, I might have to move. 🙂 Happy Monday!

    • Happy Monday to you too, Jill. We’re definitely related!! I can’t help recalling your post about the soup your mom would make for you. I think I also would be ready to sue if the Hallmark Channel disappears. The soldier movie is my favorite. I thought they made the sweetest couple!

  7. Awesome post!! My favorite original fairy tale is “The Little Mermaid.” I was fascinated with the fairy tale as a child I think partly because it didn’t have a happy ending, meaning she didn’t together with the prince. It offered a different kind of happy ending. If we’re talking Disney versions of fairy tales though, my favorite is “Beauty and the Beast.” I think it’s much better than the original fairy tale because it feels more real (the love between Belle and the Beast grows). Personally, I think fairy tales do offer escapism, but I also think they offer messages that makes them realistic and connect us to real life. That includes the original fairy tales and even the Disney versions. By ending with a happy ending though, it gives us hope, which is what fairy tales strive to achieve. I think that’s why I love and need them too. 🙂

    • Glad to make your acquaintance, Brittany the White. (Love that.) Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were my two favorites until Tangled rolled around. Love all of those. My favorite fairy tale (written) is “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” It’s such an odd story, but I love it. I love Robin McKinley’s version of it in The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley.

  8. It’s funny, I have a love-hate relationship with fairy tales. More often than not, they bring me joy, hope and escapism. There are times however, when the infuriate me! My cynicism comes out with a vengeance and I find myself yelling at the book/movie about how fake it is and giving it a lecture on the false hopes it creates and how reality is so much different and how dare it ‘lie’ to me and how life is not all “tutus and sugar plums”! Phew. Let me take a deep breath here. 🙂

    I prefer the first reaction above. It’s a lot more fun to imagine, hope and dream! Great food for thought as always, Linda. 🙂

    • I totally hear you, Maria. And I get to the point sometimes when I think that way, especially about relationships that seem to come so easy on screen, but are extremely trying in real life. And let’s face it: we never see what life is like after the whirlwind courtship when bills and kids and illnesses happen. So yeah, I hear you!

  9. Sorry to hear about the tough times, Linda. Stay strong. I know what you mean about escaping into something comforting and I think we all need to have that when the seas grow rough.

    So far as my favorite fairy tale, I’m really not sure. The first one that pops into mind is Three Billy Goats Gruff though. I remember loving that one as a child.

    • Hey, Phillip! Thank you. I’m trying.
      I love that one too. The first time I heard it was when I was in kindergarten. We performed a little skit in class. I remember wondering if I would see a goat under a bridge someday.
      How’s your wife feeling? She must have had a few ultrasounds by now. Do you want to know the sex of the baby, or would you prefer to be surprised?

      • She’s doing well so far. We have another doctor appointment today to get the latest update on our situation. And we DO know the gender. It’s going to be a boy! I don’t mind surprises but my wife can’t stand them and it makes some sense for planning I suppose. 🙂

  10. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride……which comes from a fairy tale. I think we need fairy tales to believe that life really can work out the way we dream. I think they’re simplistic. They leave out the hard work and missed opportunities, the luck and disappointment. But, I really, truly believe everyone can have their fairy tale, if only they will reach for their dreams.

    • I also love The Princess Bride. Such a classic! So many great lines. “Mostly dead.” “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

  11. I love fairy tales too–and Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are two of my favorites. I like both Disney and the originals for very different reasons. Disney, for the music and humor–and Ursula in The Little Mermaid. We do need that sense of magic. I like Robin McKinley’s rewrites as well, though I haven’t read The Door in the Hedge. Will have to look that up. Have you read Angela Carter’s dark reworkings in The Bloody Chamber? Pretty wonderful stuff.

  12. My favorite fairy tale on film/tv is Sapsorrow from Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, a TV show from the late 80’s. It has a strong heroine and a prince with a whole character, as well as cameos by the British comedy duo French and Saunders, and is narrated by John Hurt.
    I agree that the Hallmark films are forms of modern fairy tales – places of happy endings, and sometimes with magic – especially the Christmas movies. As for superhero movies, I feel they are more like Greek legends than fairytales. Fairytales involve more of the everyday with a twist of magic, whereas mythological legends go for big, broad, world-changing stories, and sometimes dark endings.

  13. Oh, I looooove fairy tales. I used to be embarrassed to admit that but yeah, no. I’m not sure I have a favorite… I will pick up any well recommended story with a fairy tale bent to it.

    • I’m glad you’re no longer embarrassed to admit that! And even though people might pretend they don’t like fairy tales, the fact that superhero movies are so huge right now proves they do!

  14. Yes, the fairy tales do have that utopian side, and it’s also interesting, I think, to look at their darker (or perhaps cautionary) side, as embodied by many of the Grimm tales, where someone is usually getting maimed, killed and/or eaten (Hansel and Gretel being probably the most well-known examples). The Russian fairytales I’ve read are even more, well, grim.

    • Yes, the Russian fairy tales are grim. But I can’t help thinking about those Hans stories, where he’s always sitting at the back of the stove. He’s usually the family clown. But Baba Yaga is pretty creepy.

  15. I have to confess, I love the Hallmark Channel, too. Love. And my favorite fairy tales? The Light Princess by George McDonald and Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque. They’re both poignant and beautiful and cynical and funny. Just the perfect classic fairy tales.

    • Those are both beautiful. I think I wrote an annotation on Undine. In fact, you might have been the one to mention reading that. I have it on my now defunct Kindle.

  16. Love this post. It makes me think of that G.K. Chesterton/Neil Gaiman quote: “Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

  17. Like you, I could use a eucatastrophe in my life. Between waiting for a guru to come out of the mist and trying to pick the path of passion myself, I’m spinning in circles! (Writing a lot, but spinning in circles, nonetheless.) ,

  18. Pingback: A Public Declaration in Favor of Fantasy | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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