For my final year at university, we were required to produces a 10,000 word dissertation. aka the FYP (Final Year Project) I of course call it a dissertation because it sounds far more superior. After many fretful hours in the library I decided I wanted to focus on anthropological studies within literature, whether I fancied myself as Dr Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones, I don’t know but regardless this is what i wanted to do.
I narrowed this down more succintly to the gothic genre. dun dun dun! In particular the classics of Frankenstein and Dracula. In the end however I became stumped at what to study in particular. These novels are such obvious studies of the human detail that I thought I wasn’t pushing myself enough. So, over the summer holidays I researched fairy tales. The only reason for this is because I discovered, or more correctly my big toe discovered my huge anthology of fairy tales under my bed which I had long ago forgotten about. After flicking through, the tales brought such a smile upon my face I knew SOMETHING to do with fairy tales was what I wanted to do.
The writing of a dissertation is a fine production. One which requires many re-writes, rehearsals and refills of an alcoholic beverage but what became evident is how much fairy tales are not to be scoffed at. They tell us so much about our lives that we live even today in the 21st century that it’s uncanny and perhaps this is why the age old tradition of reading fairy tales to children before bed still stands as so important today.
We are all born perfect and according to some Indian cultures, as Gods. But the world we live in negates us of this perfection and we grow up dealing with life’s many hands. As children, we listen in awe and amazement as a Prince climbs Rapunzel’s hair and rescues her from the evil sorceress and we go to bed with it in our minds and with our innocence and beliefs reignited and redefined.
Like any beliefs we have to maintain them in some way, which is why the tradition of a bedtime read every night is so important. For that matter, I heartily recommend the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I studied this anthology over any else because it maintained the iconic storylines of each tale but announced itself as a grotesquely nineteenth century piece of writing for its new audience.
My dissertation is not one to be read by children, it is for adults only and could arguably make you question every fairytale you might ever read again. But what it also does is highlight the importance of the fairy tale to a childs youth as it draws the reader in to each stage of their own maturation.
So for the more mature reader like myself, please I urge you to purchase or dig out a copy of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, published by Vintage and dip in and out whichever tale you want to escape in. I studied four, arguably the classics Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White and Little Red Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) The stories are enriched in culture, tradition and wonderful imagery which you can’t help but get tempted into like poor Hansel and Gretel. The vintage edition is an accessible price but also has great illustrations within each tale and most tales are ensigned with a pattern header.
For the children, this is where a little more money should be spent as it’s an opportunity to give the kids a precious keepsake. A sturdy hardback book with gorgeous illustrations is in abundance in the fairy tale and gift section of any store but with the Grimm’s fables in mind, I love the Everyman Children’s Library Edition or another edition published by Bounty Books with very traditional illustrations. It’s currently reprinting but is available to order.
I continue to read fairy tales now and then and whilst the stories do adhere to certain idealised, archetypal stages as discovered by Vladimir Propp in his Proppian Analysis, there is something to be said about the neglected importance of the fairy tale in our lives. As German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote: “Deeper meaning resides in fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.”
Take the time to read with your kids, or read alone. But most importantly, take the time to remember that most wonderful feeling of possibility in obscurity.