Updated: Aug 13
Snuggled up in a warm blanket, low light filled your room as your father pulled up a chair right next to your bed. Open book in hand, his deep-toned voice began to read off another classic tale. Tonight it was the tale of Hansel and Gretel and you listened intently as he told the tale of an evil witch that would lure children into her house with candy. Your eyes widened in response. “I love candy!” you thought to yourself, frightened at the prospect of getting eaten by a wicked witch.
The next day, your mother had a special day planned. Popcorn, candy, and blankets to keep you warm on the couch. Your mother chose to pop in the remastered edition of Cinderella and your day was spent eyes glued to the screen, just as enchanted by the entire tale as Cinderella was with Prince Charming.
We all grew up watching, reading, and listening to fairy tales. On the surface, a good fairy tale is simply a tale to capture our imagination and entertain us for a while. Deeper down, fairy tales impart important life lessons that as children we absorb and reminiscence on for the rest of our days.
What makes fairy tales so popular? Even in the modern day, fairy tales are continuously retold and re-spun. Every year, new modern re-tellings of classic fairy tales are released as literature, movies, and TV shows. We cannot get enough of fairy tales. They continue to be passed on from generation to generation - studies show that some fairy tales can be retraced to thousands of years. There are no signs of fairy tales dying out now - they remain very popular. So why is that? The reason fairy tales continue to be popular is because of the morals, familiarity, and nostalgia.
The Moral of the Story is...
Fairy tales taught us how to be human. The lessons in their pages teach us about society, relationships, and emotions. These lessons were tucked away between pages and pages of books, capturing our imaginations and never letting go. Using magic and fantasy, the themes in many fairy tales laid down the framework for our morals. The thing is, as we were ingesting these stories as children, we were never aware that we were learning essential life lessons. We simply got caught in the whirlwind of a good story.
As an example, let's use the Little Mermaid. On the surface, the Little Mermaid is about a young mermaid who wants to explore the world above her aquatic kingdom. She willingly gives up her voice in exchange for the chance to walk on two legs to traverse the world above. There are many lessons one can learn from the Little Mermaid - but the most important being the power of your voice. Ariel did not realize how important her voice was until it was gone. The message to kids is to not underestimate your voice. As shown by Ursula transforming into Vanessa, the beautiful human version of herself, it does not matter what you look like - your values, your personality, your voice are what draw people to you.
The Little Mermaid also has a lesson for adults. As demonstrated by King Triton, who destroys Ariel's cove of human treasures once he discovers it, quelling your children's dreams through unsympathetic tough love can push your children away. If he had been supportive of Ariel's dreams to explore land and interact with people, she would not have encountered Ursula. The morale of the story is to support your children and their dreams!
"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." - Einstein
The variety of lessons taught is ever-expanding, demonstrating that the story and fables we grew up with are more important than we give them credit for. Their lessons on how to deal with human conflict, emotions, and relationships are critical for development. It's too easy to brush off a fairy tale as another form of escapism instead of contemplating the poignant lessons they teach about life and how important they are for human development.
This Sounds Familiar...
Fairy tales stimulate the imagination and offer us a relatable, familiar story. This quality is one of the reasons fairy tales are popular and why even in the modern age, fairy tales will continue to capture our imaginations and remain relevant.
Consider the structure of a classic fairy tale - an archetypal hero/heroine comes across an obstacle and against all odds overcomes the obstacle. Many characters in these fairy tales lack a distinct personality and unique details of the story are scarce. Themes in fairy tales are simple; for example, "good vs. evil" or "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".
Archetypal characters and simple themes allow for endless rewrites and re-tellings, giving fairy tales the ability to persist through time. Authors are able to use their creativity and imagination to explore fantasy worlds from a never ending amount of angles. For example, "Seriously, Cinderella is So Annoying!" is a book written from the point of view of Cinderella's stepmother. It is a unique, comedic spin on the classic fairy tale.
All in all, the simplicity and adaptability of fairy tales give them the ability to persist through time. Being able to re-imagine fairy tales for a modern audience keeps them fresh and relevant to modern ideals.
The Nostalgia of Childhood
Humans are creatures of habit. We enjoy repetition. The article began on a nostalgic moment because the reading of fairy tales was a shared, now nostalgic, experience. The majority of us as children read or were read fairy tales.
Thinking back to a fairy tale, we are transported to a time in our life when we felt wonder and excitement. Fairy tales teach us lessons that in adulthood seem to fall flat. Life doesn't deliver the happy endings we expected from reading fairy tales. As a consequence, nostalgia wins out. It's a way to transport yourself mentally back to a time when life still seemed as magical as fairy tales portrayed it to be.
There is no danger of fairy tales dying out - they will remain popular because they capitalize on the nostalgia that has adults wishing they were kids again. Adaptability, morality, and nostalgia will make sure fairy tales remain a popular staple of our culture for the foreseeable future.