The Magic of Fairytales

Last night, my beloved said, “Where is the bus!” and I whispered in his ear, “and four white mice are easily turned to horses.” He just look at me like I was crazy… and I told him he made me happier than ever. We walked home talking this and that, but in my head I was thinking Cinderella! Let’s face it in my mind I’ve always been Cinderella.

As a child I would to bed, but sneak a flashlight from under the bed and read fairytales. I had several books that had belonged to my mother; they were various colors, “The Red Book of Fairy Tales, The Blue, The Yellow, The Green, etc, in addition to Grimm, Anderson, and Perrault. Many a night, my bedtime reading included beautiful princesses, noble princes and kind fairy godmothers. Oh, and it included dragons, ogres, witches, evil spells, wicked stepmothers, magic, and murder. I dreamed of a love eternal and one touched by magic.

One of the joys of fairy tales is their diversity and universal truth. Like magic, they are transcendent of culture. While some are more action oriented and others are slow-paced and thoughtful and many include a romantic angel, we know every culture has its own flavor, they all hold a human experience that is the same. They all seek love, they all seek redemption, they all hope, they all believe. Be it Arabian Nights or knights in shining armor the arc of the story is a tale as old as time.

The timeless tale has taught moral longer than most wisdom traditions, and is a compass that started as an oral one. What is truest for me is fantasy can be a very efficient vehicle for truth. While fairy tales entertain us, they also teach us about love, honor, sacrifice, hope, courage, hard work, and justice. Empowering us by being detached from our everyday world; they free our minds to see intangibles with special clarity.  I find that that special clarity can be like window, the same type of window that provides magical compass.

For example, in Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, the mermaid chooses magic and makes a deal to become human. Her sacrifice proves in the end to be her downfall. She doesn’t think fully on her choices and in the end dies. It’s not a pretty story, she doesn’t get the prince, but it parallels real life. We do not always get the prince, and in the end have to reap what we sow. This is either good or bad, but simply moral. The same can be applied to how we practice our magic. The choices we make in the present must be thoughtful and come from a place of integrity.

Some argue that Fairy tales are seldom politically correct and by today’s standards this may be true. However a story written in 1697, the earliest version of Cinderella will certainly not fit today’s cultural paradigms. However I argue, I would rather teach a moral based on that story’s sexism or racism then a version by Disney.

In general, though, most fairy tales don’t contain graphic violence and we cannot contain ourselves to a world that’s scrubbed clean of all darkness. We must acknowledge that darkness is real, in order to fully embrace the light. Fairy Tales in addition although they’re fantasies, can help introduce children to realities about the world; they can also help all of us encounter the light and the dark of Goddess. For example, in the end of the Little Match Girl, she encounters death, however she also encounters it beautifully and serenely in the embrace of her grandmother.

Fairy tales also contribute to our cultural literacy. A person who has never heard the stories of Rapunzel’s hair or Achilles’ heel is culturally illiterate. Fairy tales uniquely expand our vocabulary, develop our ear for rhythm, and prepare us to enjoy richer, deeper words and stories. These tools can make our rituals both public and private richer, deeper, and more profound. They can engage those whom we worship with and help us connect to deity.

I believe fairy tales truly are divine in that they endeavor a vivid imagination! They embody a sense of wonder and strong curiosity about the world both real, imagined, and unknown. A person who’s capable of imagining fairy wings and magic beanstalks are also capable of imagining other wonders. Wonders that transcend personal magic and occult magic but grow communities. The deepest value to fairy tales is that they don’t have to follow the conventions of the real world, and as such they are wonderful vehicles for conveying deepest truths.

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George McDonald each encountered deepest truths in fairytales and myths. Lewis was especially takenwith Baldur the Beautiful of Norse mythology, and while Baldur couldn’t be Jesus the known archetype of Lewis’ mythopoetic Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, it’s plain the interplay of Christian gospel and Norse myth in the story.

In his deepest truth, Tolkien used pure magic, like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. For Tolkein it was about creating a world of wonder. A world without wonder, a world without fairies, is sorely lacking in joy. As Tolkien said:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ―turn (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially escapist, nor ―fugitive. In its fairy-tale – or otherworld – setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy.

Joy beyond the walls of the world, or through the Wardrobe, when we climb the tresses of Rapunzel, or fight the dragon, what is apparent to me is fairy tales unlock mystery. They open our mind to a deeper truth. They explore and engage, and invite. They teach both the beautiful and profane, the light and the dark. People, may dismiss the Fairy Tale as children’s stories.  Some may be glossed into modern day popular commercial entities, and I love them too. Some folklorists may argue about the finest detail in what type of slipper the original Cinderella had, squirrel fur or glass. And that too has merit. 

But in the end Cinderella believed, with a perfect love and perfect trust… and LOVE is what manifested out of the cinders.

literatureErick DuPree