In order to explore the effects on children, it is important to see the origins of fairy tales. I was really interested to see how the Brothers Grimm came across fairy tales and what interested them about these stories. To understand where they come from helps one capture their importance. According to Christa Kamenetsky, in her book The Brothers Grimm and their Critics, she states, “On a popular level, the Brothers Grimm are best known around the world today for their folktale collection that appears in many languages and new editions every year” (Kamenetsky 33). She communicates that they began their collection of folk tales after Clemens Brentano, the originator of the collection of the stories, abandoned his project. It was due to the abandonment of this project that the Brothers Grimm decided to adopt the project and publish the tales (Kamenetsky 41). Through the recording of these tales from oral telling, the Brothers Grimm and other collectors of fairy tales were able to capture tradition and culture. Kamenetsky relates that fairy tales were not initially intended for children. They were targeted for older children and adults. Most folk tales were considered frightful and not appropriate for younger children. The Brothers Grimm, however, “…neither collected and edited folktales solely for children nor excluded children as contributors and as an audience” (Kamenetsky 6). Knowing the purpose of those fairy tales and of their backgrounds allows us to understand their elements that kindle intrigue, curiosity, and bewilderment. It is these qualities that make fairy tales unique. The fact that they have survived for so many centuries add to the importance of keeping them preserved.
In the book, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales, Jan M. Ziolkowski discusses the essence of the fairy tales. She agrees with the information that Kamenetsky stated about the origins of fairy tales. Ziolkowski added that “… the term fairy tale conjures up the orality of simple folk huddled around the hearth or children intent on bedtime stories (Ziolkowski 8). It is her belief that fairy tales are characterized by the different ways that they can be deciphered. While this is her image of a fairy tale, I must say that mine is quite different. They were enchanting stories that shaped my life. They shaped my life by making me desire to be part of those worlds. I wanted to be a princess and I wanted to be the heroine of my own fairy tale. I do think that my life will have a happily ever after ending. It is until reading them that one can see that their contents teach and help shape our lives. It is on this note that I would like to discuss how fairy tales are perceived and interpreted affect the development of a child.
Ziolkowski inserted the belief that although children perhaps did not become acquainted to fairy tales through reading the original stories from the collections of the Brothers Grimm, Anderson or other writers, they “have won favor separately as retold in individual illustrated children’s stories, other times in feature-length Walt Disney animations or other cartoon versions, advertisements, and other minor media…” (Ziolkowski 3). Through these movies and other media interpretations of these fairy tale stories Ziolkowski argues that “…sensitivities to literature, both oral and written, have declined, rather than risen, as the erstwhile dominance of word-based entertainments has yielded to the hegemony of mixed media, such as television, film, and video games” (Ziolkowski 9). I agree with this statement however, I also believe that it is due to the media that has kept fairy tales alive. Even though the media has distorted the true essence of the original folk tales, they have also kept their memory present. As a child, I grew up with the images of fairy tales. These images came from the movies I watched that were based on these fairy tales. I must be fair to say that not only fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm's collection were used to create Disney's successful cartoons. Hans Christian Anderson's stories made it to the big screen as well. The movies allowed children to develop an interest and has allowed them to connect with these stories with their real life situations and by allowing them to use their imaginations. It is thanks to Disney's movies that children have been able to understand the gist of fairy tales and their values.
Gayle Vassar Melvin, does not seem to agree with the belief that the media has kept fairy tales alive. In his article, “Once Upon in our Time”, Melvin stated that the media has done the opposite. He feels that the media has removed the significance of fairy tales. However, his belief does agree with Ziolkowski’s and mine that fairy tales are important to preserve. His argument is that due to new technological advancements and modernization children have become less interested in fairy tales. This article holds interesting information on how the media and modern technology are affecting children’s choice of entertainment. He feels that children are too caught up with the real world to care about these fictional stories. The article emphasizes all the good attributes to fairy tales and shows how important fairy tales are to the development of children. Melvin references Dr. Chester Aaron’s belief that “too many children are growing up without fairy tales. He was disheartened by the number of students in his classes who had never heard the classic fairy tales” (Melvin, 5C). Some might argue that fairy tales are too scary to tell children and thus are never told to them, but Melvin refutes this belief when he again cites Dr. Aaron who made an interesting point:
“Some of the criticism of fairy tales is true, but when you compare the so-called damage fairy tales might do to what is happening in the streets or on television, the fairy tales are pretty tame. You can do marvelous things in telling fairy tales, and you can’t do that with television.” (Melvin, 5C)
I agree with the idea that fairy tales should not be allowed to be replaced by television shows. These stories are very significant to children's lives. As I have stated, they allow children to learn from the messages. They also use their imaginations, something that really cannot be done when watching television. However, in order to preserve that existence of fairy tales, I do believe that Disney should continue to make movies of these fairy tales. This can also teach children the same values while maintaining them present in our lives.
The movie Tangled, a representation of the Brothers Grimm's Rapunzel, was Disney's last movie based on the original fairy tales. In an article of LA Times, Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller reference Pixar Animation Studios chief Ed Catmull and director John Lasseter who manages Disney Animation. According to them, "[films and genres do run a course. They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it… but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up" (LA Times). I do not agree with this decision. I strongly believe in the importance of fairy tales in children's lives and if Disney feels that fairy tales have no significance, fairy tales will begin to disappear. The reason behind their decision, according to Dafna Lemish, chairwoman of the radio and TV department at Southern Illinois University, cited by Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller stated, "By the time they're 5 or 6, they're not interested in being princesses. They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values"(LA Times).
Another reason according to Tim Grierson “[that] the studio is fearful of alienating young boys, who supposedly won't see something like last year's [The Princess and the Frog]” (Grierson). By focusing on these trends children are adopting, Disney is overlooking the deeper problem of what kind of values children are then learning. These children are used to seeing shows that do not influence them to form complex thoughts. What they see is what they want. This enforces what Dafna Lemish stated about girls following society values by wanting to be hot and cool. It is hard to believe that because little girls want to be "hot and cool" that Disney will make movies that will enforce this notion. Instead, by looking at all the positive influences fairy tales have, they should be encourage them through the media and make them more appealing to children. I can also say that Disney is mistaken when infer that children do not find fairy tales appealing. There have been studies that show that fairy tales are found to be more meaningful than other cartoons and stories.
The study, “The Impact of Hearing a Fairy Tale on Children’s Immediate Behavior”, made by William C. Crain, Esterina D’Alessio, Brenda McIntyre, and Leslee Smoke, analyses the immediate impact of fairy tales on children when they first listen to one. The study encompassed children of various ages and ethnicities who were then split into groups. Each of the groups was presented a fairy tale, a cartoon, or a different less meaningful story. By a less meaningful story, according to the authors of this study, they told “…an exciting but superficial and cliché-ridden account of a cowboy’s adventures…” which was equal in length to the fairy tale told and contained the same amount of violence (3). Their actions were then observed during a ten minute play period to find how each group reacted to the stories. I agree with their findings that fairy tales have a more immediate impact on children than the other story and cartoon. Fairy tales are crucial in the development in a child because they are more complex and deeper than cartoons and other stories.
The study was inspired by one of the authors of the study telling fairy tales in a summer camp. As said in the study, “After hearing the stories, the children, many of whom were overly active or aggressive, seemed moved and calmed. They seemed thoughtful, self-possessed, and ready to approach tasks with a new concentration” (2). This statement agrees with my perception of fairy tales. Fairy tales are meaningful to children and children are positively influenced by them. The fact that the children were more cooperative and were thinking of different ways to work on their tasks makes me believe that fairy tales do have an encouraging influence on them to learn to think and perceive the world in different ways.
To support their ideas, two experiments were done. The first experiment included one fairy tale, “The Juniper Tree” and the second experiment used “The Goose Girl”. The experimenters saw in the first experiment that the children after listening to the fairy tale were more pensive. The study stated,
“After the fairy tale, in contrast, there was a marked hush. These [children] were in no hurry to get to the play table, and when they played it was in a very quiet manner, showing little interest in the other children or adults in the room. They seemed lost in their own thoughts.” (5)
The results presented by this first experiment show that the children who listened to the fairy tales were in more thought than the children who watched the cartoon or listened to the less meaningful story. This agrees with my belief that fairy tales help children become more profound thinkers.
In the second experiment, that used the other fairy tale, the experimenters came upon similar results. The groups of children were observed again after listening to the stories and watching the cartoon. A meaningful observation made was that “[d]uring the 10-minute silence play period, the fairy tale groups spent a median of 7.16 minutes in silence, compared to 1.25 minutes in the film condition and 4.77 minutes in the trivial story condition” (7). These observations made by the experimenters suggest that children are not very significantly impacted by cartoons or other less meaningful stories. In a society composed of instant gratification these fairy tales are surprisingly causing children, the product of this society, to form complex strings of thought. I agree that fairy tales are more meaningful, as in stimulating complex thinking in younger children to, as the experimenters saw with this study because the stories are deep and more relatable.
I strongly believe that the use of more than one experiment in the study successfully showed the relationship between fairy tales and children. It detailed good observations to show that perhaps fairy tales are more meaningful to children than other types of stories and cartoons. Disney and other companies should not completely disregard the importance of these fairy tales since the study clearly shows how they impact children and are therefore appealing to them. Bruno Bettelheim agrees with my belief when he stated:
“By dealing with universal human problems, particularly those which preoccupy the child’s mind, these stories speak to his budding ego and encourage its development, while at the same time relieving preconscious and unconscious pressures...‘Safe’ stories mention neither death nor aging, the limits to our existence, nor the wish for eternal life. The fairy tale by contrast, confronts the child squarely with the basic human predicaments.” (Bettelheim 6)
His belief agrees with mine in that other stories, such as the ones that Disney wants to turn to, are not as significant and impacting on children. They are not as fulfilling as fairy tales are. The less meaningful stories may be entertaining but they are quickly forgotten and are not as effective. By effective I mean that they don’t make children wonder and think complexly.
Wanting to learn more about the original fairy tales written down by the masters of fairy tales, I sat down to read the Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. I was intrigued by the many differences I found when I compared it to Disney’s adaptation of it. I found that while Disney’s version had a happy ending I was content and didn’t think much of the story or it’s moral. However, the opposite happened when I read Anderson’s original version. I battled with the story’s plot, anguished that the Little Mermaid did not stay with her prince. I was angered and baffled by the thought that she departed Earth without having her true love realize that she was the one who had saved him and not the other princess that the prince ended up marrying. For a long time I was pensive, sorting out my thoughts regarding my feelings. I really wanted her to kill the prince, but I had to accept that she had done the right thing and that instead of thinking that the story was an unhappy ending it was in fact a good ending that taught a very important lesson. By not killing the prince, she won a soul that would allow her to live an everlasting life in heaven. It is this way that I can relate and agree with the study made. I can agree that fairy tales have this impacting affect. I can only believe that the children were going through the same internal discussions and untangling that I went through in my head. However, as conflicting as this may sound I must argue that I did come to learn a valuable lesson and it made me think and stretch my mind much farther than the movie did.
Bruno Bettelheim completely agrees with the belief that fairy tales are meaningful and important in the development of children. Fairy tales allow children to not only use complex thinking, they also allow children to connect to the stories. The fairy tales from the Brother Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson for instance can all be relatable to personal experiences in our lives. They offer children an escape from the real world while also learning real-life lessons. Bruno Bettelheim’s book Uses of Enchantment, explores how fairy tales have affected the way children develop. To do this, he takes several known fairy tales and myths and compares them. He also analyzes some of the well-known fairy tales to find how the uses of enchantment have shaped how people, especially children, think and perceive the world. Bettelheim argues that in order for a child to grow up to find meaning in his or her life the child must be exposed to literature such as fairy tales.
Fairy tales provide children with moral lessons and that is how they find this meaning. He claims that “In all these and many other respects, of the entire ‘children’s literature’ ─with rare exceptions─ nothing can be as enriching and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale” (Bettelheim 5). Interestingly, Bettelheim acknowledges that fairy tales do leave impacting effects such as the study “The Impact of Hearing a Fairy Tale on Children’s Immediate Behavior” and my own personal experience showed. His book has many passages where he supports his claim. One supporting passage states, “[t]he fairy tale is therapeutic because the patient finds his own solutions, through contemplating what the story seems to imply about him and his inner conflicts at this moment in his life” (Bettelheim 25).
As I have stated, fairy tales allow children to connect and relate to them. They contain important messages that children can find useful in applying them to their lives. For example, the Little Mermaid by Anderson teaches that taking the easy way out will not get you what you want. It also teaches children to distinguish right from wrong. There are many other lessons that can be learned by this story and the many other fairy tales. “This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence—but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and after unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious” (Bettelheim 8). This is why it is important for modern day society by any means to incorporate fairy tales into children’s lives. Children are able to connect more to these fairy tales because they are symbolical and contain many elements that children can relate to. Most importantly, children learn from fairy tales important life lessons, as Bettelheim suggested, by facing life’s problems they will in the end be successful.
Sheldon Cashdan also agrees that fairy tales are important for children to be exposed to. “Whereas the initial attraction of a fairy tale may lie in its ability to enchant and entertain, its lasting value lies in its power to help children deal with the internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up...Fairy tales, in addition to being magical adventures, help children deal with struggles that are part of their day-to-day lives” (Cashdan 10). It is evident that these stories are very meaningful for children and should not be repressed or forgotten since they are appealing to them and offer an escape of situations. Not only can they be seen as escapes with their fantastical settings and plots, but they allow children to discover strengths that will accompany them as they grow up.
To conclude, I have found the different views on the role fairy tales in a child’s development very interesting. I strongly believe that fairy tales play a very significant role in how children grow up. Due to personal experience and this research I have been able to deduce that fairy tales are not just stories without significance. Fairy tales should be incorporated into children’s lives. Therefore, Disney should continue to integrate fairy tales into their movies. By moving away from fairy tales, Disney is allowing fairy tales to become forgotten by children. They have much significance and their contents teach children how to use their imaginations and although they don’t realize it, are carried with them throughout their whole lives. Fairy tales have shaped my life in a very striking way. In my imagination, an alternative place exists where there are lessons learned every day and where nothing is impossible. Fairy tales allow us to take up any challenge with strength and wisdom. They are fundamental in a child’s development and should not be forgotten.