Giants and dwarfs, fairies and witches, heroes and villains, riddles and hidden treasures, and all the rest. This is the stuff of kid’s books, but does it have to be? Reading ancient fairytales makes me think they were not created for children, or if they were, only as a cruel and unusual punishment. Many old Grimm’s tales or classic Hans Christian Anderson tales appear to be more of horror stories than the light-hearted version we get from 1940’s and 50’s Disney fairy tales. They are hardly recognizable. For instance, the sweet, yellow-haired “Cinderella” known to America was a story full of self-mutilation and trails of blood to medieval children. I’m not saying we should expose children to more violence and terrifying ideas, but why should we banish fairy tales to the realm of children’s stories?
Well, there is the fact that children are more likely to be enamored with a fairytale than an adult. They are far more imaginative and impressionable. Yet, I am jealous of their ability to wonder and take delight in unimpressive things. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the thrill of getting to brush my teeth in the morning or being allowed to dip my hands in the warm, sudsy water to wash the dishes. Now, brushing teeth is a mindless process and washing dishes is an annoying chore. I miss waking up on an early December morning and feeling the unspeakable joy at seeing the world transformed into a giant sparkling snowfield. Now, I can only briefly admire it over a cup of coffee while I mentally brace myself to go outside and excavate my car so that I can casually risk my life on the perilous road to work. Thus we arrive at the reason fairyland is primarily accessible to children. They get to wash the dishes rather than have to wash the dishes. They get to look at and play in the snow, not drive in it.
It’s true that fairy stories are remarkable for their glowing enchantments and “happily ever after’s” that are so unfathomable to adults. However, there is plenty of bitterness to go around as well. For every charm there is a curse. Heroes aren’t heroes without villains. It’s sad that to mature a story someone just has to intensify the grief. Perhaps we need more wonder in our lives, though; to notice new experiences. After all, tales from fairyland always happen once upon a time rather than in a universe where life appears to be a series of vicious cycles. That’s why ‘happily ever after’ was ever possible, because this only happened once and then it was done and the characters could move on. Perhaps an adult can’t marvel at dragons and unicorns the way a child can, but they can marvel at the extratemporal powers of the realm. In fairyland, we remember that they only live each day once, the awful days of suffering curses and the good ones of slaying dragons.