Angelina Stanford and I started our conversation with a showdown.
“I’m going to have to limit you to an hour,” I told her.
“You’re going to have a hard time with that,” was her reply.
Boy, was she ever right! I just wanted this conversation about fairy tales to go on and on and on. Fairy tales are a staple of many a childhood — I know I spent hours as a kid reading from Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Thanks to the influence of people like Andrew Pudewa I have been sharing original versions of fairy tales with my own kids for years.
But I have never looked at fairy tales in quite this way before — Angelina and I dig deep into the history, the objections, the importance and so much more. I have a new favorite episode of the podcast. You might too! Enjoy.
Pam: This is your morning basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone. And welcome to episode 41 of the your morning basket podcast, I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I’m so happy that you’re joining me here today. Well, sometimes when you’re podcasting, you have a conversation that you really wish would just go on and on because it is so absolutely fascinating. And that was exactly what happened to me. When I sat down to chat with Angelina Stanford, all about Fairy tales, it was such a good time. I learned so much and was just fascinated by what Angelina had to say. Now, in this episode of the podcast, we talk about exactly what fairy tales are, why you should be reading them to your children and the importance of fairytales to every Christian. It’s a great conversation and we’ll get on with it right after this word from our sponsor.
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Angelina. Stanford has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Louisiana, and is one of the costars of the CiRCE book club podcast close reads. In addition to homeschooling her own three children, Angelina has spent more than 20 years teaching in Christian classical education. She has a deep love for myths and fairytales, and she joins us today to chat about how fairytales can enrich morning time, Angelina, welcome to the program.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a, it’s a real pleasure to be able to talk to you today.
Well, I am so happy you’re here and I want to start off by kind of giving our listeners a definition of what we mean when we talk about a fairy tale, what is a fairy tale?
Okay. That’s a great question. Yeah. A fairy tale is actually more properly understood as a wonder story. When the Grimm brothers sat down to do their collection, the actual German word that they used was that it was a collection of wonder stories. And even while I’m going to Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he retails some of the myths and things, he calls his book a wonder book.
So a fairy tale is really any kind of story that has a sense of wonder about it. And you know, a lot of the stories that we consider fairytales like Hansel and Gretel, a little red riding hood don’t actually have fairies in them. So fairy tale has become sort of a shorthand phrase for really what is large, more largely understood to be a wonder story. And there are some specific traits of a fairy tale without which a story can not be properly considered a fairytale. And one of those traits is that it has to have a happy ending, a fairy tale by definition must have a happy ending. And if you ever read a fairy tale that does not have a happy ending, it’s actually a cautionary tale and not a fairy tale. And sometimes those will all be in the same collection, but those are actually cautionary tales.
Oh, that’s so interesting. And by a happy ending, is it, you know, always like the Prince marries the princess or does it sometimes just mean like redemption,
Both of those things are true. There’s a couple of different story patterns in a fairy tale. One is the Prince and the princess story pattern. So those are always going to end with the Prince and the princess getting married and having, you know, the happily ever after moment.
And the other pattern is very often a child separated from their parent. And we’ll go through the store with very obstacle, you know, various obstacles to overcome in order to return home. So those stories, the happy ending is usually a reconciliation between the parent and child, but it’s always some kind of happy resolution, some part what we’d call in literary circles, a comic resolution. So it would absolutely be a redemption of the orphan would find the home. The child is reunited with the parents. The princess marries the Prince, that kind of thing. Sometimes a story though, won’t have that resolution. And so I’ll give you an example of that. If I can, a lot of the fairytales that we are more familiar with as Americans or the French fairytales, the Charles Perrow fairytales, and now he actually, so he’s not like the Grimm brothers, the Grimm brothers were folklorist who went out and collected the folk tales of the German people and put them in these collections for us. Charles Perrow did not do that. He actually was a writer at the time of the court of Louis the 14th. And if you know anything about history,
this would be Versailles. This would be one of the most decadent, immoral periods of French history, terribly, terribly decadent. And so what he did is he took these folk tales that were already in existence, and he rewrote them as cautionary tales for very specific purposes, namely, to give a warning and morality to this French court that he thought didn’t have any moral.
So for example, a lot of people are surprised that little red riding hood actually has a redemptive ending in the Grimm version of little red riding hood. The woodcutter comes in and he cuts open the Wolf and out pops, little red riding hood alive, out pops the grandmother alive every, you know, everybody’s restored, but in the French version, the story actually ends with the death of red riding hood.
And that’s because he’s trying to make it a cautionary tale. And I just, I love this. This is just so hilarious to me. He actually puts a moral at the end of the story cause you have to consider what the audience was, right. He’s writing to the French court at Versailles. And the moral is when a young girl gets into bed with a Wolf she’s going to be eaten alive.
Oh. So that would be a cautionary tale version of little red riding hood versus the true fairy tale in the Grimm’s brother where they come back, they’re resurrected and you have the full redemptive ending.
Okay. This is fascinating because I’ve often wondered, you know, why are there different versions of the same fairytales? And it’s because an author would take the story and use it to suit their purposes, you know? And in the French versions it was for morality that’s so fascinating.
Oh yeah. I think it’s super, I think it’s super interesting too. I always find the stories are just so interesting in terms of cultural markers, because, you know, understanding the imagination of a people is in my opinion, one of the greatest ways to understand a time period.
And so it’s just really it, especially we talking about the same story and how it appears in different kinds of cultures and times and the different ways that it’s using it. I mean, actually it says a lot about our own time that we’re fascinated in twists on fairytales where the bad guy is recast as a good guy. You know, we can, we can really get going in that. But all of that is very fascinating to me in terms of like a cultural marker. Oh, that is interesting.
Well, okay. You obviously have a great passion for fairy tales. So why do you think kids love fairytales?
Why do I think kids love it? Well, I think that kids love fairytales for probably the same reason that I love them.
There’s a real sense in which a fairytale is the purest form of story. The famous child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book called the uses of enchantment and which he did a long-term study about fairytales and children. Because if you study the history of fairytales during the enlightenment fairytales, fell very much out of favor. It’s actually a combination of enlightenment thinkers and Puritan thinkers who were very anti fairytales.
The enlightenment thinkers were like moderns, right? Children need facts, hard facts, right. You know, and why are you filling their head with nonsense? And the Puritans kind of had this same position, right? Like we should be doing real things, Bible stories and not these fanciful stories. So very tells very much fell out of favor. And then over time, a lots of arguments came around. They’re too scary for kids. Kids need, you know, safer stories, quote unquote realistic stories, all the same sorts of arguments that float around today. So Bruno Bettelheim. This child psychologist did this very extensive study about children and fairytales and his insights are absolutely fascinating. He says that the inner landscape of a child is terrified already.
Like the whole world is just huge and scary to them and they have these fears, right? And they’re real since abandonment by parents talking to strangers, getting lost and not being able to find your way out. Like these are deep, deep fears that kids have. And so fairytales are not scary to the kids because it is a representation of the fears that they already have.
And so what they encounter in the fairytale is not a foreign, scary thing, but their own inner landscape. And in the fairytale itself, those problems are solved. The child is reunited with the parent. The lost person can find their way out. The orphan does find their home. The child who gets into trouble with a stranger is rescued. And so their fears are actually satisfied and they get this really deep sense of safety and comfort from these stories.
I also goes on to talk about how this is something that really always kind of tickles me. He says that it’s adults who have a strong sense of the need for mercy it’s children who like justice. And they really like the inner justice in a fairytale where good is rewarded and evil is punished. And they need these things because of their own fears, Chesterton, Gk Chesterton has a lot to say about fairytales. He puts it this way. If you don’t read your child fairytales, right? You don’t take away the fear of dragons. You simply take away from them. The promise that Saint George will slay the dragon and the child, that that’s what the child needs. The fear is already there.
So I think there’s a lot of answers to the question, why to children love fairytales. But I think that’s one of them is that the fairytale itself is deeply, deeply comforting to a child. And the older you get, I think you start to become disconnected with that part. Over and over. I get asked the question, well, what about the weird parts of fairytales?
Because yes, there are some weird stuff in fairytales. I have never ever run across a kid who finds any of it, weird. It’s the parents. And I’ve had this experience where I’m reading a fairytale out loud to my children and I’m thinking what the, this is nuts what is going on? And this could not be weirder. And I look at my children, they’re not even batting an eye, right? I mean, that’s like, it’s not weird to them at all. Because everything is weird to a kid, right? The fact that the grass is green and the sun rises and sets like the whole world is just full of wonder and mystery and puzzlement and in a sense enchantment. And so what they encounter in fairytales is not any weirder than any of the other things they’re encountering as a child. It’s really the adults who struggle with that weird stuff more than the kids. So I could go on about this. Yeah. I mean, I just think that kids find fairytales deeply, deeply comforting in a way that they can’t necessarily articulate, but definitely there’s a sense of satisfaction in their souls. And I think that’s part of the reason why they want to hear these stories over and over is that it’s new.
It’s not the plot and the suspense that’s driving the enjoyment of the story. There’s something else going on there, namely that there’s just a deep satisfaction going on in their soul.
Oh, that that’s such a great quote. I love that. Okay. But that does bring up a question for me. And we’re going to kind of go back to the history of fairytales for just a minute.
Now, obviously Perrow was writing fairytales. You said the morality tales for the French court. So that would have been like he was taking these stories and writing them for older people. Am I correct? Yes, absolutely. Okay. But what about the Grimm brothers in the original fairytales? Were those written for children or were those written for adults? Those were not written for children.
Fairytales historically have been stories for adults by adults, but at some point they, around the time they fell out of fashion, they became more considered children’s stories. But as we’ve studied it, children have done fine with the stories. But so that’s part of the reason why I said that my answer of why children, like fairytales is the same reason for why I like them.
Like, I think it does the same thing for an adult as well. We still have a lot of fears too. Right? I mean, any parent that’s ever lost sight of their child for a few minutes in a, in a grocery store, no knows that deep fear of, I just lost my child and my child’s lost, you know? And so we have a lot of the same fears and, and actually in literature, the archetype of being lost in the wilderness is a pattern you see in so many stories. I mean, it’s the, it’s the pattern that Dante uses to represent our spiritual loss, this, and it’s the same thing in a fairytale. It’s why you have a lot of people wandering around in the forest and I can’t find my way out.
And so there’s a lot of us spiritual themes that are in fairytales too. So, so you can talk about, you know, just sort of these like childlike fears and the universal stories that are being told in the fairytale, but then there’s also the whole other realm of the spiritual side of things. You know, one of the things that, one of the reasons that I think fairytales are, are so incredibly important now more than ever is because living in the modern age, we have a tendency to think of what is real as what can be experienced through the senses, right. What I can see and touch and feel, and hear and taste for us. That is what is real, the problem with that then is that when that becomes your definition for what is real, where does that leave things like God and justice and mercy and truth and beauty and goodness, right? We have lost touch as moderns with transcendent virtues and transcendent realities. And one of the things I like to say about fairytales, a fairytales are not just true. They are truer than true. They are realer than real because fairytales help to remind us of that, which is the realest reality, the transcendent right. Fairytales help us to remember that there is a mysterious reality behind what beyond what we can experience from the senses, right? That there is magic. This is an enchanted universe because God is in the universe, right? And it was a created universe, lovingly created. And there is meaning inherent in everything in the creation. And as moderns
We have lost touch of that so much. I mean, we get into conversations where people say, well, I don’t believe in God because I can’t see him. Well, we have gotten right to the heart of this question, right. Is the only thing that’s real, that what you can experience with the senses or, is there a greater reality that transcends the natural world?
And that is what fairytales constantly help us to remember and to stay in touch with is the greater spiritual reality that, which is realer than real. And so inherent in the very pattern of the story themselves is that fairytales, retell, the gospel, every single fairytale tells the gospel story. They tell a variation of the gospel story. And really, I mean, it’s just, it’s immeasurable variations. I am constantly confronted with yet a new variation. I get all excited and giddy as I, I see a new aspect of the gospel story unfolding in these fairytales, but it’s deep within the pattern of the fairytale itself. And that is because the gospel story itself is a fairy tale.
The two basic fairytale patterns are that there is a princess and the princess has been endangered in some way, right? Sometimes it’s the evil stepmother. Sometimes it’s a monster, but there are some obstacles that must be overcome. And the true Prince is the only one that can save the princess. So he overcomes the obstacles. He rescues her, and then he marries her. And very often in these stories, there’s some sort of death and resurrection moment like sleeping beauty,right, where she is asleep, which is a picture of death. And he kisses her and he wakens her. That is the gospel story because Christ is the bridegroom who comes to slay the dragon and redeem his bride from death. He resurrects her, his kiss brings her back to life. And the reason that these stories end with and they get married and they live happily ever after is because that is also the gospel story because the gospel story does not end with the resurrection.
It ends with the marriage, supper of the lamb when Christ the bridegroom marries his bride and they have a celebration. That’s why there’s that pattern in these stories. And that’s why it’s so deeply satisfying to us. We need the Prince to awaken the princess with that kiss. It has to happen. Our soul is longing for it because we know that’s what’s right.
And the other variation of that, that’s part of the gospel story as well, is that Adam and Eve in the garden are the children of God, and what happens in the fall, they are exiled, right? So you’ve got that story pattern. That’s that fairytale pattern of the parent and child have been separated. There’s an exile. That relationship has been lost.
And so you go through these fairytale stories and obstacles are overcome. And finally at the end, the child is reunited with the parent because that is also what Christ does, right? He comes to marry the bride groom and rescue the princess and slay the dragon. But he also comes to restore that lost parent child relationship. And so you see all of these variations of the gospel story in these fairytales themselves.
And it’s just fascinating. And so, and that’s why I think we feel that deep, deep satisfaction with that. And they lived happily ever after people will sometimes say, well, fairytales are so unrealistic. You know, they’re teaching kids terrible things. They’re teaching kids that once you get married, life is smooth sailing. No, that is not what a fairy tale is teaching because that’s not how fairytales work.
A fairytale is not a marriage handbook. A fairy tale is pointing us to the transcendent reality of the spiritual realm. And in that reality, the bridegroom is going to marry the bride and it is going to be happily ever after eternally. And so it’s not a marriage handbook, but it is absolutely pointing to those transcendent spiritual realities that our souls desperately long for us,
as I’ve said. And I think that’s why children and adults and everyone, I mean, I personally get teary-eyed at the end of some fairytales because it speaks so deeply to the, my own longings in my soul. And when you get to the end, you know, a truly satisfying story, when you get to the end, you feel, this is how it should be.
This is as it should be. This is right. That that’s the moment that you feel that satisfaction in your soul.
I am never going to look at a fairy tale the same way again. That was awesome. That was so awesome. And I do find it. I find it really interesting that backing up just a little bit to you talking about both them being the wonder stories and the kids really relating to what’s in the story.
Whereas the adult might be starting to look askance at it that they were written for adults, but then it’s the child in us, I guess, that it appeals to,
Jesus says you have to be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. And I always think about that when I read fairytales, right? Like fairytales help us to regain that childlike sense of wonder that the whole universe is filled with meaning and everything in the world is meant to point us to the spiritual realities is everything.
This is why Christ says, look at the mustard seed, consider, you know, considered the bee, right? He’s always pointing to nature to say, this is in nature because it tells my story. And that’s what fairytales do too. They’re constantly reminding us that the whole world is magical. And it tells us about this huge story in reality, beyond what we can experience with the senses.
Well, so I think we have to regain that sense of wonder and fairytales help us do that.
Nice. Okay. We’ll speak for just a minute. What I mean, you’ve obviously made a great apologetic care for fairy tales, but what would our kids be missing out on if we only read them realistic stories?
Honestly, if you have to, I mean, I think fairytales are so critical that it more important to read those kinds of stories than it is realistic stories. GK Chesterton also talks about this. Several, several of the, of the big writers Lewis and GK Chesterton and Edith Nesbith has a lot to say about fairytales. They all sort of make this point, that realistic stories are not realistic. That that is a misnomer.
And that’s, what’s so deceptive about it because oftentimes stories which go by the term realistic are really naturalistic and materialistic. That is that they present a universe that is only real in terms of being what matter is, what is real nature is what is real, what is real is what can be experienced through the senses. And they completely ignore the spiritual realm,
right? And so they are getting a deceptive view of reality because there is a reality, the eternal reality, the truest truth is beyond what we can experience with the senses. And so we must constantly engage part of that. And I think, especially in modern times where, I mean, it’s really a battle, the spiritual realm, the transcendent reality is constantly being denied.
So we have to work very hard to overcome that. And if you get caught up in these quote unquote realistic stories, it’s very easy to give into the deception that what you see is the only thing that exists. And so I think that if you only read realistic stories, you’re going to be giving your children a very skewed view of reality. And one of the things I like to say is, you know, as adults, we tend to think of the Bible as a work of theology and we’ve sort of thought through it. And we have all of these very rational, philosophical propositions that we’ve pulled down and that we believe to be true.
The truth is the Bible is just a really weird story, you know, and if you really get into it, sometimes we’re kind of shocked at some of the weird stuff in the Bible. And again, it’s for the same reason, right? Because the Bible is not a realistic story. You have giants being fought and defeated. You have dragons being slayed. You have all of these fairytale elements. You have people getting swallowed by whales. And there’s a lot of, you know, what we would consider to be fantastical elements. A lot of reasons why modern struggle with accepting the Bible as being a quote unquote true book, right? Because again, they’re going back to those definitions of what is real and what is true is what can be experienced through the senses. What can be verified in a laboratory, which is just another way of saying only the natural world.
It is what is, what is real. So I feel like fairytales and wonder stories in general have to be an essential part of education because we must constantly be reconnecting with the truest truth, which is at the transcendent reality. That is the real reality, much more so than anything you can get in a quote unquote realistic book.
Okay, well, I’m going to bring up some objections. What about the violence? What about the magic and the witches? Because the Bible clearly says we don’t, you know, we’re not to mess with those. So why would we introduce these stories that have, you know, Cinderella sisters like cut off their own feet to try to get them to fit into that and the crows come and pick out their eyes. And you know, why, what, what do you say to people who object, you know, on those grounds? Okay. So you got a couple of different issues there. You talked about the violence and then talked about the magic. There’s almost never actually any magic in a fairytale. If you read a true fairytale and witches, that’s often a word that’s interchangeably used with just a bad woman character, one of the archetypes you’ll see in a story in a fairy tale is that you almost have always all have a two opposing female character. So you’ll have a good mother. Who’s often the deceased mother, and then you’ll have a bad mother that is usually either going to be in the form of a witch or in the form of an evil stepmother. And in terms of the story, they have the same function that is that it’s a threat to the child. It’s the false mother idea. And you also have a lot of false home ideas in fairytales as well. So part of the obstacle that the protagonist in a fairytale has to overcome is recognizing the difference between false homes and real homes and false mothers and real mothers. It’s a way of having discernment about what is truly good and what is truly a deception.
So, withces is in fairytales, witches, are not, I can’t even think of a fairytale where a witch is performing actual magic, not in, not in the real fairy tale, at least not in the sense that that we speak of magic. And also, again, those characters are always representative of evil and are always condemned and always get their just desserts at the end.
So that’s just a matter of having a character, being able to represent evil, and you have to show them doing something evil, but there’s certainly never a glorification of magic or, or anything like that in these stories. The other issue is the violence. And again, that is a concern that a lot of moderns have. And so you’ll, you’ll run into a lot of cleansing, a fairy tale, shall we say the Disneyfication of fairytales, where they take out a lot of these violent elements. So again, going back to the work that the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim did, where he says, this is a huge mistake. This is a huge mistake that the children are not in any way put off by the violence because their own imaginations, you know, the kinds of things, kids are afraid of kidnappers. And I mean, I just remember being a kid and having so many intense fears right. In my own children, having these intense fears. And so he thinks that we do discredit to the fears that our children have when we don’t acknowledge how terrifying their own fears are, and then offer them a comfort for that, right? Like, you know, the sorts of things that we tell our children that God is watching out for you or your guardian angel, is watching out for you. I mean, in terms of storytelling, there’s not a whole lot of difference between saying your guardian angel is watching out for you or that, you know, fairies are watching out of you.
It’s the same sort of idea. And I don’t mean to put those on the same level, but I’m speaking metaphorically. And you know, one of the things that I think about is, you know, the children lie awake at night, scared about the monster in their closet, right? They’re terrified of the monster in the closet. And our temptation is to go in there and say, there’s no such thing as monsters. That’s not a real comfort to a child because the truth is the world is a scary place. It’s a scary place for adults. And while there might not be a literal monster in their child’s closet, right, there are monsters in the world. There is evil lurking around me. The Bible says, sin is lurking at your door,
ready to jump on you. And so metaphorically your child is right to be afraid that there’s something in the closet that wants to jump out and devour him. That is true. And so the comfort that we offer them is not to say, there’s no such thing as monsters, but should be to say, we serve a God. A God loves you,
who is greater than any monster. And I can promise you that evil will be overcome and that Jesus will slay the dragon. We can speak that way to it. So in terms of the violence, I point to all of these authors Lewis and Tolkien and Chesterton and Bruno Bettelheim, and the whole, the whole gang who have extensively said that, you know,
children are not negatively affected by the violence, quite, quite the reverse that they find it great comforting because they meet their own fears in there and they see those fears conquered. And so it ends up being a very comforting experience to them. And the thing about the violence in Cinderella, I’m glad that you brought that up is one of the variations on the gospel theme that Cinderella shows us is those are actually images of works righteousness.
So the Prince shows up with the slipper, right? And only the true princess can have the slipper. So they mutilate themselves in an attempt to earn that, to earn the position, right, instead of being true and virtuous of heart, which Cinderella is they try to fake it. And so that actually taps into some very deep story. Archetypes, Dante really gets into this as well,
about how any attempt to earn salvation is ultimately self-destructive. And so a lot of fairytales actually have a self-mutilation theme, but that speaks to a deep spiritual thing. That’s going on the way that we are constantly engaged in self-destructive behavior, trying to earn our salvation, right. We all have this longing for God and longing for a reconciliation with God. And we do a lot of terrible things to ourselves in the attempt to earn that right.
Instead of just accepting the gift that the Prince offers us. So, you know, again, part of what happens with the fairytale too, and part of the reason that we struggle with realism, I mean, we struggle with the violence issue is that we’re such modern. So we keep reading this stuff like it’s realistic. And we think that a child is going to read it like it’s realistic,
but a child was much more able to read metaphorically adults. We have to work a little more at that, but fairytales are very much meant to be read metaphorically sort of violence and evil that you encounter there is to be understood metaphorically. And I think the kids have a much easier time with that than we do.
Well, Poke back at you a little bit, because you know, I’ve read Cinderella a number of times, and I don’t know that I ever got that even when I was a kid. So this is like working at me on a subconscious level or some yes.
Yes. Because I give webinars a lot on how to understand the story archetypes that are happening in these fairytales. And I’ll go into all of these details about how snow white is deep,
deep in its understanding of the nature of original sin. And that’s all of what snow white is about. And we’ll get into Cinderella and works righteousness and all this, and all the time parents will say, you know, I never saw it before. Should I explain to my child that this is what it means? And the answer is always no, no.
That I believe the pattern of the story itself works on you, even if you cannot articulate the story itself is so powerful. Nope. Years ago, I remember Cindy Rollins telling me, and this was hard to swallow. She said, when you read a Bible story, don’t explain it. Don’t moralize. That was so hard for me because I gave my kids what I called the Monday morning sermon.
And I would just get going, man. I was like an old school Puritan preacher, like three hours could go by and I was just getting worked up. Right. And the kids are all dutifully sitting there paying attention. And that was so convicting to me when she said that, she said, you have to just tell the story and let the Bible story do its work on your child.
I actually think that is a true principle, about many, many stories, including fairytales, that there is something very mysterious that happens to a person’s soul with a story. And I think if we really think about the stories that we have deeply connected with, we know that that’s true, right? It has a transformative effect on us, even when we don’t really understand how these books that we go back to again and again,
and that are very special to us that we relate to in some way, I think that the story pattern itself has a transformative effect on the child. I don’t think they have to know that’s what’s going on to req, to be, I don’t think they have to articulate. And it’s some kind of sophisticated, scholarly way to recognize there’ll be, every child will recognize though,
that Cinderella sisters did something horrible and unnatural and it failed. They all get that. Right. Even if they don’t understand all the theological implications of it, they understand it doesn’t work. You can’t make your foot fit the shoe. You’re either the true princess or you’re not.
Right. Right. Okay. That’s so fascinating. So I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say, you would like not edit fairytales as you’re reading aloud to kids and you would frown upon their only exposure being the Disney versions of these stories. Very much so. And you know what, I’m going to tell this story because I love it so much. If you can imagine this when the Disney snow white came and this was the first Disney fairytale that they did,and they really, Walt Disney almost bankrupted the company and the money that he spent on this film. So this was a huge, huge project, a huge deal. So when the movie premiered, you never going to believe this because I just loved the, the vision, the image of this CS Lewis and Tolkien bought tickets and went to see this movie.
Oh my gosh. Right? Like I just like the image of the two of them, like headed to theater to go see snow white just blows my mind. So they went and of course they hated it. They hated it. And Tolkein as you can imagine, hated it because he didn’t like that the dwarves were buffoons. He was right. Because dwarves always represent wisdom in literature.
So it was just terrible. There, there are all these, they’re the comic relief of the story instead of being the wise protectors of snow white, that they’re supposed to be in the actual story. So they did not like it. And they both felt that it was not a true fairytale. And so I would agree with that. And so a lot of times when I talk about fairytales, people who are listening to me, their only exposure has been Disney. And so it’s very, very hard to see these patterns in Disney because they are so significantly changed. And especially older kids who, if their only exposure to fairytales have been Disney. A lot of times it is so fascinating to watch them be exposed to a true like Grimm’s brothers version of things.
They are shocked at how different it is, how gritty it is. And they’re usually pretty excited about what they encounter there. Cause it’s so different. I mean, Disney is, it looks little kid it’s cartoonish and it’s they just take the heart, right? They just take the heart right out of those things. I mean, so the Disney version of Cinderella, you would watch that and think that the reason Cinderella gets chosen is because she’s beautiful and the sisters are ugly, but in the Grimm version, the stepsisters are never called ugly. They’re not ugly. They’re very beautiful. What is ugly about them is how mean they are and wicked and jealous and self-centered. So what is ugly about them is their lack of virtue, not their physical appearance. That’s the kind of dangerous things that happen in a Disney movie. Right? Cause we don’t want look, I mean, think about the culturally when we hardly want our daughters to think that the message of Cinderella is be beautiful, right? The message is be virtuous, be good. That is what captures the Prince’s attention and heart is her good heart, not her physical appearance. So that’s just one small example of the danger of the Disneyfication a fairytale. So yes, I have have a lot of concerns about that being someone’s sole exposure to fairytales.
And all I can say is, I am just so glad that Lewis and Tolkien never got to see The Little Mermaid
Exactly. I think once was it Lewis it’s so fitting for their personalities.
Tolkien was just like, I hated it. And Lewis was like, I could tell it was made with a lot of artistry and skill. Like I appreciate the technology, but it’s not really a fairy tale. Like he’s trying to get this political answer. I just love it. It just makes me laugh so hard to think about those two guys, go into the movies and seeing that film,
Oh wow, goodness
Now you’ve kind of touched on this a little bit, but so you’re telling me that there’s actually an appeal to teens for fairytales. When you start introducing them to the new versions are to the original versions. They’re not going to necessarily sit around and rolling their eyes. That hasn’t been my experience. They’re usually very intrigued. And of course, you know, talking about boys, pick out some of the more violent ones they get into it them.
Well, give me some recommendations. If, you know, if we have some moms who are listening and they’re sitting here going, wow, okay. We’ve been a little derelict in our fairytale reading here in our household and I want to introduce it, but the kids are older. What are some that might actually peak their interest and get them involved,
It could be a lot of fun if they have seen the Disney version, to just start with those, just let them see. And you know, while I’m not a fan of just telling kids what they mean, I do think that you can ask really great questions about comparison and which will get the children to make a lot of these observations on their own.
So if they’ve seen the Disney versions, why not have them read the Grimm and then ask them what was different? And it’ll be really interesting to see the sort of things that they come up with. So I’ve been doing some consulting work with the school and they decided to introduce some fairy tales. One of the teachers actually just told me that that was her experience with the class that she was so surprised us.
So they read snow white on my recommendation and the kids only exposure before that had been Disney, snow white. And they were just shocked at the difference. And they, she said they had a fantastic discussion in class with a lot of the kids saying, well, this was different in that. And so this I think was showing us what sin does to us and the way it kind of ensnares us.
And lures us in, which the fairytales do a great job of that. I think fairytales do a great job of showing that the seductive nature of evil. That’s why you have a lot of those images like candy house. I mean, what is a greater temptation than that, right. So yeah, I think that would be actually be a really great way to start is just let them start comparing and see the sorts of observations they make and just see what they make of the difference.
And why is that in the original story? And one of the questions that I always like to ask about any story I’m reading is why is this lasted so long? Why do people keep going back to these stories? What is it about them that speaks to the human condition that people keep going back to these stories? And a lot of times the answers that kids come up with her are very surprising.
Kids can be really shockingly insightful sometimes. Well, you know, That really brings up. It brings up an interesting question in my mind, which is, you know, it’s so Disney obviously went back to these stories because he read them and he was speaking to him in some way and then to do what they did to them. Do you think they realized what they were doing or do you think it was an accident?
I really don’t know. I mean, I’m not one to think that they’re sinister plots behind everything. I mean, I know that, I know that he, I know that Walt Disney really loved snow white and that was a real passion to him. And some of the things about that movie are visually really quite stunning. I have a problem in general with visual representations of stories for a lot different reasons, because part of what needs to happen when we connect to a story is our imagination needs to be engaged. Like we need to be imagining what evil looks like in our own minds, right. Not what someone else imagines that it looks like, because the connection might not be as strong there. So I’ve got some issues with that too, but I doubt that there was like a plot about Cinderella doubt that they’re sitting in the meeting, you know, like let’s, let’s make well something that glorifies female beauty. I think it just, when they sat around saying, and this is difficult, right? How do we visually represent that these people are evil? Well, it was just, it was just easy to make them ugly, but that was just the easy way out of the storytelling.
You know, it was much more difficult to show them behaving in an ugly way. So I imagine that that’s the sort of thing that happened. And also that the, you know, you didn’t have a bunch of folklorist making that movie. You had cartoonists. And so they were much more interested in the visual representation side of things. That that would be my guess.
And probably also some cultural pressure at that time to remove a lot of the violence of these. I mean, obviously they changed the ending, it changed the ending of Cinderella. And so what is lost there is that while you have the happy ending of the Prince and Cinderella being married, what you lose is the final judgment element of the story pattern, right?
It’s not done enough that good is rewarded. Bruno Bettelheim tells us that a child desperately needs to see evil punished, which of course, that’s part of the gospel story as well. Right? Good is rewarded. The saved are taken by their savior, but then, you know, there’s the final judgment, right? There’s retribution. That’s also part of the story.
And Bruno Bettelheim says it’s an essential part of the story for children. And so they take that out of that Cinderella because in the Grimm’s version, of course I’m Cinderella extends forgiveness to her sisters, but then the birds come and pluck the sister’s eyes out. Which if you ask a kid, what does that remind you of probably they’ll tell you the verse in Matthew, where it says, if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. And the sin of the sisters was a jealousy. So there I did cause them to sin. They were jealous about what they saw and so their eyes were then plucked out. And so there’s this sense of final judgment and poetic justice. And you know, it all sort of works together and it’s important that it’s not vengeance Cinderella forgives, right? But in the cosmic sense, evil is punished, right? This is what happens. That is just part of the natural outlay of this story. You have all of those different elements, good as rewarded part of what good does, is it forgives those who have done evil to it. But then there’s a whole flip side of the story too,
right? Which is that evil also is punished in the end. So you have all of those different aspects playing through a fairy tale. And so unfortunately the Disney version, it takes away that element. And that’s part of the reason why fairytales, I think gets such a bad rap that you think fairytales are just about, the guy gets the girl, but there’s so much more, there’s so much more going on. We’ve just take, we’ve gutted them. You know, we’ve taken that out. I mean the original story of Cinderella has her going on and praying and the birds and you know, the animal helpers that come in, that’s really a representation of the Holy right? The bird comes down and that’s very scriptural and that’s part of what’s happening.
Why the bird plucks out the eyes? Cause it’s the bird that has answered the prayer of Cinderella. There’s no fairy godmother in the Grimm’s Cinderella, it’s she prays. And then the dove brings her the dress you see? And so it’s an answered prayer. It’s just the Disney version. Just guts it, guts, all that good stuff right Out of it.
Yeah. But the animals clean your house and the Disney version. Okay. I’m going to admit that. I would have told I’m totally for animal helpers coming to clean my house, then I’m fine with it.
Okay. Well, you’ve already touched on this just a little bit, but I want to go deeper and you’ve touched on it in that you’ve said, you know, don’t try to explain this to your kids, but if you’re sitting down in your doing morning time with your kids and you’re going to read them a fairy tale, what does that quote unquote lesson look like?
That’s a good question. I think you have a lot of different ways that you can handle it and you don’t always have to do it the same way.
I think sometimes you could just read the story. I think it’s totally appropriate to have them narrate. I think in fact, that would be really interesting to see what are the different elements of the story that the different children connect to. You know, you might have some that connect to the more happy ending elements you might have others that connect more to the violence who might have some that connect more to the judgment element, you know, evil being judged and conquered. And that would probably give you actually a lot of insight into your different children and kind of where they are. So you could do that. And I also think that it’s very useful to use questions of comparison, especially when you start asking what’s different, you know, you read snow white and you read Hansel and Gretel.
There’s almost nothing the same about those stories. And as you ask questions, though, you can begin to see that not every fairy tale ends with a wedding, right? Sometimes a fairytale ends with a child being reconciled to his parent. And there’s a lot of interesting discussions that can come out of that. So I think it’s fine to discuss them a lot, really, really good to ask comparison. And I mean, that’s just a really simple way to put a lesson, right? You just, you read the story and how is this fairy tale? Like the one we read yesterday, how was it not like that when we read yesterday? And then I think that the discussion would kind of flow organically from that.
I wouldn’t even be opposed necessarily to making like a chart, right. I’m opposed to like charting plot elements. I’m posted that. But if you wanted to ask them what was the same and what was different, and then as they said, it themselves kind of marking it, that could be a lot of fun to see how many different repeating things and fairytales they discover.
Right? So like the number three comes up hundreds of times and fairytales people always doing things three times. People are also often doing things seven times. There’s lots of biblical numbers that come up. Lots of images of the Trinity lots and lots of story elements that are repeated in fairytales that have very, very heavy symbolic, metaphorical and spiritual meanings. So that could be fun too, just to have them sort of keep a list of the things that they’re observing about these fairytales. And then from that you can ask why, why do things keep happening three times? It’d be really interesting to see what kind of ideas your kids would come up with for what is so significant about and number three, why are we always seeing the three obstacles,
the three attempts, the three, the three of the three, right. And where else are we seeing the three? And you could even relate it to maybe some of the Bible stories like, wait a minute. So David just defeated a giant. I mean, that, that actually that whole archetype is so fairytale, right? That there’s a threat to the land and the untested unproven kind of nobody warrior shows up and you know, he wants to his, I can do it. I can slay the dragon. I can kill the giant, everybody kind of laughs at. And then, then he does. And in a fairytale, anytime that happens, that character always becomes the King. That’s the reward for freeing the land of the threat. So, you know, there’s all those great fairytale patterns in so many of the Bible stories.
So that could be a lot of fun too, to pick up on a lot of those things. So yeah, I would say definitely use the comparison, and I mean that doesn’t require any prep work, right? Just how is this like this? And then we’ll also be really, I love fairytales because fairytales really tap into a lot of Charlotte Mason ideas, right? So you can develop that habit of attention by asking how is this like these other stories? And so there’ll be paying attention to the details. In fact, one of my favorite Bruno Bettelheim quotes going back to our child psychologist about reading fairytales or the reason that I love this quote so much is because I feel like he’s quoting Charlotte Mason, but he’s never even heard of Charlotte Mason.
He says, when asked, do you explain to a child what a fairytale means? He says this, a child will get from the fairytale, what the child needs. And so he does not think that you should explain it. In fact, he goes on to say this, which I think is fascinating that if a child reads a fairy tale and latches onto something, that’s meaningful to him, but you think, Oh, you got that all wrong. He says, be patient don’t correct it that eventually they’ll reread it and realize, Oh, I got that all wrong. And that is the moment when the child realizes I’m growing, I’m learning. I understand things now that I did not understand six months ago or a year ago.
And I love that quote because that is that’s true for me constantly as a reader. Right. I’m sure it’s true for you too. Every time I reread something, whether it’s a Bible passage or a novel, and I see something and I have that moment of, Oh, wait, I totally didn’t get that before now. And then you have that feeling of I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m becoming wiser. And so he thinks, you know, don’t Rob your child of that experience of realizing I’m learning and I’m becoming wiser that children need that too. So I just love that.
It takes a lot of pressure off of the mom too, to have to, if you, you don’t have to jump in there and explain everything, you know, right. Then you don’t feel like you have to be prepared to jump in there and explain everything. You can just read the story and enjoy it, your children, and let them take from it what they will. And so…
And it can be a challenge too, when they get something wrong. Okay. I’ll tell you this. This was,
I took this to heart after Cindy rollin said, don’t explain Bible story. So I read my, I think my son was seven at the time I read the story of Samson and Delilah. And when I was finished, I said, so what do you think that story is about? And he leaned back so confidently and said, never trust your wife.
And I didn’t say anything. and eventually he figured out that was wrong. And so he, he had his mother, but you know, that was an act of faith on my part, hearing him get that completely wrong. So you have to trust the process, you know, he’ll, they’ll eventually figure it out. Oh goodness. That’s funny. Okay.
So we know now why we should read fairytales and we have an idea of how we should go about doing it and which ones we should avoid, which versions we should avoid. So can you recommend a couple of anthologies or collections of fairytales that you think would be good to start with? Well, I’m a big fan of grim and I also really liked the Andrew Lang fairy tales.
He’s also a folklorist. So I tend to like the folklore. So the Andrew Lang the different color, you know, the red fairy book, the blue fairy book, those are really good. And you can start with the more classic traditional fairytales, you know, your snow white in your little red riding hood and Hansel and Gretel and all those kinds of, you know, ones that American audiences are pretty familiar with. And, but don’t be afraid to branch out into some weird ones that you’ve never heard before. And also don’t be afraid to jump into other cultures. You know, I’ve got friends whose, who love reading Chinese fairy tales and things like that to I’ve read some of those collections. They’re very interesting.
And that’s also really interesting too, to see the same stories in different countries and the way that they play out. I’ve got lots of different collections like that. So that’s fun too. So yeah, a lot of times people message me or something and say, no, so we’ve read Grimm and we’ve read Lang where do, where do we go from there?
There’s lots of other places to go. I’m a big fan of 1,001 nights and the middle Eastern fairytales. Those are a lot of fun. And so those are pretty dark, but those were some special favorites of mine when I was a child. So I’m very fond of those as well, but just jump in anywhere really.
Do you find that the fairytales from the other cultures point to the same truths that you’ve been talking about, the European fairytales point to?
I do, and that is, that is one of the fascinating things for me. It’s one of the ways in which I think that, that these stories are just imprinted in our hearts. I truly believe that this is the story that God is telling in the universe, right? The story of the child being reconciled to the parent and the child that the Prince is going to slay the dragon and rescue the princess.
This is the story of reality and it’s imprinted in our hearts. And so I think that every time we tell a story, we cannot help, but tell that story because it’s the story inside of us. And we just keep telling variations of that same story. And for me, that’s, that’s, if you want to talk about evidence for me personally,
that is tremendous evidence of the truth of the gospel is that it is inescapable. It is just inherent in human expression. And even when people try to not tell that story, they end up telling that story. And it’s absolutely fascinating to me.
Okay. And you’re actually working on a book on this very topic, Aren’t you? I am. Yes.
Tell us a little bit about that. Well, so my basic thesis is that, as I said, every story is a retelling of the gospel, even when it’s not, if it’s deliberately trying not to. So I go through every kind of story in this book, myths and fairytales, the Epic’s medieval romance all the way through nihilistic stories and naturalistic stories and postmodern stories.
And I show how each of these stories is inescapably telling the story of the gospel in some variation. So even if the author is trying not to, yup. Oh, fascinating. Inescapable. That is this absolute Fascinating. And we’re going to look for that book probably next summer. That is the expected Lord willing release date. We’ll have a launch for that in July of 2018.
I’m about halfway through writing it right now. It’s a lot, a lot of research. Oh, I bet. I bet. Well, we will. It’s a lot of fun. Look for that. Well, Angelina, you know, you warned me at the beginning, Here and talk to you all night long about this. This is absolutely fascinating.
And I just want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing your passion about fairytales and what these stories mean. So thank you very much. I appreciate that. It’s, it’s been a lot of fun talking to you and if your listeners want to get more in depth and they can go over to my website, Angelinastanford.com and sign up for my mailing list because I do give webinars where I go through a specific fairytale.
So I’ve done snow white and I won’t, by the time this airs we’ll have also done Hansel and Gretel. And I just go through and show you every single detail in the story and how it is telling the gospel story and a variation on that. So I’ve got a whole series that I’m working on. So I hope to do quite a few more of those.
Love it. We will put a link to that in the show notes for this episode, and I’m going to go over and enter my email address. Wonderful. Well, thanks so much. It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me. There. You have it. If you would like links to any of the books or resources that Angelina and I spoke about today on the podcast, you can find them on the show notes for this episode. And those are pambarnhill.com/YMB41. You can find everything you need over there, and we’ll be back again in another couple of weeks with another great your morning basket interview until then keep seeking truth, goodness and beauty in your homeschool day.
Links and Resources from Today’s Show
- SPONSOR: Lauri Toys
- Angelina’s Website
- Close Reads Podcast
- Grimms’ Fairy Tales
- The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
- The Complete Fairy Books of Andrew Lang
- The Thousand and One Nights
Key Ideas about Fairy Tales
- Fairy-tales are wonder stories, or stories that have a sense of wonder. One necessary trait of a fairy tale is one that has a happy ending. Common story patterns include prince and a princess getting married and living happily ever after or a child being separated from a parent where they are brought back together at the end.
- Originally, fairy tales were stories written for adults but over time they became associated with children’s stories, which may explain why some of the themes of the stories are often harsh or even violent. But, just because fairy tales contain scary themes, we shouldn’t keep them from children. Often children are not disturbed by them because the resolutions at the end of these stories often provide for the child a sense of security that all will be okay in the end.
- Fairy tales have deep spiritual significance. They contain the same themes that resonate with the human heart because they are all a retelling of the Gospel story or a portion of it. This is why the “and they lived happily ever after” resonates so deeply with us. When we are teaching fairy tales to our children, we don’t have to work too hard to draw out this deeper meaning. Read the story and let the fairy tale do the work in the child’s heart.
Find What you Want to Hear
- 2:44 meet Angelina Stanford
- 3:20 defining fairytales
- 7:56 the reasons fairytales are so loveable
- 12:31 original audience for fairy tales
- 16:22 two basic fairytale patterns
- 20:32 an argument for fairytales
- 20:30 dealing with violence in fairytales
- 35:16 getting older kids involved in fairytales
- 42:05 how to teach lessons with fairytales
- 48:15 Angelina’s recommendations for fairy tale anthologies
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