Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Article: Are Fairy Tales Too Scary for Children?

(From Culch.ie) 

Due to the recent popularity of fairy tales, there has been a growing discussion about how appropriate fairy tales are for children.

From the Telegraph:
"The survey of 2,000 adults was commissioned to mark the launch of the hit US drama GRIMM, which starts tonight at 9pm on Watch, and sees six gritty episodes based on traditional fairytales.
The poll found a quarter of parents polled wouldn't consider reading a fairytale to their child until they had reached the age of five, as they prompt too many awkward questions from their offspring...
... Steve Hornsey, General Manager, Watch, said: ''Bedtime stories are supposed to soothe children and send them off to sleep soundly.
''But as we see in GRIMM, fairytales can be dark and dramatic tales so it's understandable that parents worry about reading them to young children.''
''As adults we can see the innocence in fairytales, but a five year old with an over active imagination could take things too literally."
1. Hansel and Gretel - Details two kids abandoned in the forest and likely to scare young children
2. Jack and the Beanstalk - Deemed too 'unrealistic'.
3. Gingerbread Man - Would be uncomfortable explaining gingerbread man gets eaten by a fox
4. Little Red Riding Hood - Deemed unsuitable by parents who have to explain a young girl's grandmother has been eaten by a wolf.
5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - the term dwarves was found to be inappropriate
6. Cinderella - Story about a young girl doing all the housework was outdated.
7.Rapunzel - Parents were worried about the focus on a young girl being kidnapped.
8.Rumplestiltskin - Wouldn't be happy reading about executions and kidnapping
9.Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Sends the wrong messages about stealing
10.Queen Bee - Inappropriate as the story has a character called Simpleton" (Full Article)

From Slate:

"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this summer argued that California shouldn’t be permitted to ban the sale of violent video games to kids because the games were no more violent than fairy tales. But his words could just as easily be an argument against the old folk tales—not against selling them, but certainly against treating them as bedtime fare for little ones. “Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven,” Scalia wrote. He’s not the only one who feels that way. “I'm 51,” writes one parent at the Huffington Post. “I remember my parents telling me many of these fairy tales at bedtime and it scared the bejeebus out of me." A commenter at the New York Times writes, "They were creepy when I was a kid, and now seem creepy and inappropriate as an adult.”
There’s a tendency to jump to the conclusion that because modern parents are squeamish about violence in fiction we must be wussy and overprotective. But is it also wussy that we don’t spank anymore, or tell our children that they’re wicked? We don’t look at violence in the same way as we used to; it is not a threat for bad behavior, nor is it God’s punishment for sin. I’m sometimes troubled by reading even the most modernized versions of fairy tales to my daughter, who is  2½. It’s not that Walt Disney didn’t do his best to excise the violence from these creaky folk tales; fairy tale scholar Jack David Zipes has called him “that twentieth-century sanitation man.” But the lessons these cleansed tales impart are not ones I wish to teach, even if they are canonical to Western culture. Little Red Riding Hood is to blame merely for being curious and veering off her path to pick flowers. Beauty leads to happily-ever-afters. We have a Cinderella book, a gift from a friend, and when I read it to my daughter, I try to soften the wickedness of the evil stepsisters and stepmother. I omit the worst things they say— “a simple washer girl like you is no fit for royal company!”—and I make it so Cinderella doesn’t cry. Still, there’s no way around the basic premise that passivity and tears are rewarded. (I’m convinced Cinderella syndrome is why not enough of us ask for raises; we’re waiting for our bosses to notice how great we are. And I’m not the only one who believes Disney princesses aren’t the best role models for little girls.)
If altering fairy tales seems like politically correct white-washing, I would counter that it is the tradition of these folk tales to be changed by the era they’re in." (Original Article)

While I do think that some children are not ready for the unsanitized versions of fairy tales, I think it is something every parent should decide for themselves. I do not think that fairy tales should be removed from their experience all together. The parents are free to edit and embellish as they choose. I think it might be a bit too far to completely remove the cruelty of the villains, or to make it so the characters do not cry (as the Slate article hints). There are plenty of strong female options out there, either in different cultural versions of the same story (like in several of these versions of Little Red Riding Hood where she saves herself) or modern retellings of the story.

I heartily agree with C.S. Lewis, who defended fairy tales in his essay "Three Ways of Writing for Children" (found in Desiring God):

"Objection 3: Fairy tales will frighten children.
Lewis: We must carefully define what we mean by “frighten.” If we mean that we must not instill “disabling, pathological fears” in children, well and good. The trouble is that we often don’t know what will trigger such phobias in children (Lewis notes that his own night-terrors as a child centered on insects, something which he received from the real world and not from fairy tales).
But in making this objection, some mean that “we must try to keep out of [the child’s] mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil.” But we are born into a world like that, and hiding it from children actually handicaps them. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. . . Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book” (39-40).
Indeed, Lewis argues that exposing children to the second type of fear can help them to overcome the first type of debilitating phobia. “I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones. . . It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.” (Full article)

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Copeland's knowledge of fairy tales is not extensive as she thinks it is. The moral of the first edition of Charles Perrault's "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" (which he explicitly spells out at the end) is not "obey your mother and the stay on the path or you'll die" but "beware of violent and dangerous men" -- not least because the part about staying on the path was actually added by the Brothers Grimm. In other words, it's not le petit Chaperon Rouge's disobedience that dooms her, but her naïveté. The tale ultimately shows a very cruel, bleak, and unjust world.

    On a related subject, her own reworking of "Cinderella" is not free of Unfortunate Implications, like she seems to think it is. By not allowing Cinderella to cry, you could just as easily say that she's teaching her daughter that it's not OK to be sad or upset when people treat you badly (which they will inevitably do).