The Importance of Fairy Tales in a Child’s Life
Wisdom from Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment
I spent many delicious hours as a child reading fairy tales. Even today, many of the stories I devoured ring clear in my head, although I have not read them in perhaps forty years. Stories of dancing princesses escaping to an underground world of music and balls, the finding of a magic ring baked in a cake, the agony of a sister trying to free her brothers from a spell that has changed them into swans-these elements of fairy tales sank deep into my heart and imagination and continue with me today. Why is this?
As I pondered this question, I had a chance meeting with a woman who had run a Christian bookstore for years. She told me of the many parents who would come into the store looking for suitable reading material for their children. When offered fairy tales, they would shy away, fearing the dark and disturbing images that had the potential to frighten and traumatize their young ones. Their argument would go like this: “Fairy tales are scary and present the world dishonestly. They would make my child confused as to what is real and what is fabricated. They are full of ogres and witches and giants, so why should I allow my child to be terrified by things that aren’t even real?”
Because I write full-length Christian-based fairy tales, I decided to explore these questions and address these valid concerns of many parents. I thought back to a book I had read when my first daughter was born: Bruno Bettelheim’s famous book, The Uses of Enchantment. I remember the impact that book had on me, and because of its logic, chose to immerse my children in the world of fantasy and fairy tales throughout their childhood. Now that they are grown, I have asked them how these stories have shaped and affected their worldview and creativity. They have no doubt that their lives have been seriously enriched by this experience, and reading fairy tales has contributed toward their healthy and confident attitudes about the challenges and terrors of this life.
Bruno Bettelheim was a child psychologist, famous for his research on autism. The aforementioned book written in 1976 won him a National Book Award. I love what he writes in the introduction. “Wisdom does not burst forth fully developed like Athena out of Zeus’s head; it is built up, small step by small step, from most irrational beginnings. Only in adulthood can an intelligent understanding of the meaning of one’s existence in this world be gained from one’s experiences…