Functions of Children's Fairy Tales
by Ty Hulse
Fairy tales have been considered children's stories for a long time, yet the original meaning of them was very dark and fairly brutal. These where often stories of cannibalism, wicked parents, and brutal punishments, hardly the types of stories one would want to read to their children. Little Red Ridding Hood is for example a little bit of a horror story building tension before the girl is devoured, Jack in Jack and the Bean Stalk is a conniving greedy thief. Yet these problems only exist in the original telling of the stories. Children's fairy tales, are a new phenomenon and they are quite different from the stories of the past.
For many people Disney's cartoons are the only versions they know, though many still will have heard the stories from nursery rhymes and children's books. These stories then have different meanings then they did in the past, meanings which modern tellers have chosen to portray. It does not necessarily matter what the meaning was, what is important often times is what people see.
So these stories still have many of the same functions they had in the past despite this changed meaning. These are to entertain, and to pass on thoughts ideas and culture. This last function is what has made myths and other such things so successful as children's stories. Fairy tales in general are a means by which a society can socialize and grow its young people to be as it wants them to be. By the same token children's fairy tales have been used as a way to change society and alter the thinking of the new generations. This is especially true in modern societies where there are many thoughts and cultures within one group. In such a setting the fairy tale is a means of communicating these ideas to each other as much as within ourselves.
This last function of them as a means of communicating new and unique ideas of a person or group is a newer use of such stories. Though we have grown to accept other cultures much more readily then much of the past the idea of acculturation, and altering values is still important to us, perhaps more so as there are so many thoughts and ideas in the world. An individual writer and picture book illustrator has ideas about what is good and important, ideas which then make their way into the books for children which they create.
Though many do not consider different ideas between groups in the US for example as being different cultures they often are, for the beliefs, ideas, artistic representations and many of the other aspects of a culture very greatly from group to group. These things are often passed down, however as a society we have entered an interesting time, one in which many of the children change their cultural values greatly as they grow older.
The fairy tale today then is not only a means to pass on ideas to groups children but to change the other people's ideas.
About the author: Ty Hulse has degree's in art and psychology with both with a children's and a cross-cultural focus. He is currently working to create the site Zeluna.net which discusses Children's Literature and Picture Books, as will as Children's Fairy Tales and Fairy Tale Stories.