“Once Upon A Time, In A Land Far Far Away…”

I don’t know about you, but even today, there is something about those words that entices me to listen on. Even now, it rarely fails to bring a smile on my otherwise worried and age-lined face; probably because I’ve always loved reading those fairy tales. These stories reinforce in me, a sense of community, comfort and togetherness, sort of like friends huddled around a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night, with a cup of hot chocolate.

once-upon-a-time-in-a-land-far-far-away

Being between jobs currently, I often have the luxury of sitting down with Little Ri and watching some amazing Disney & Pixar versions of classic fairy tales.  Since he isn’t all of 2 years yet, I spend time explaining the story out to him, one scene at a time. Not quite sure what he understands but his babbles sure sound promising.

This motivated me to get out some classic illustrated fairy tale books and read-act them out to him. After some initial minutes of feigned interest, he quickly went back to his other toys. Deflated I sat back upset. This got me thinking – Are fairy tales important to us?  Do they teach us anything?  Is it even worth reading out these classics, that we’ve grown up with to our little ones?

After a fair bit of research and numerous illustrated pages later, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a world of catch-22 out there.  As children, a fairy tale seems beautiful, straight forward, fascinating and even mesmerizing. As adults, with our inevitable need to over analyze everything, some of these fairy tales appear remarkably grim, misconstrued and have questionable ethical foundations.

Now, I’m a fairly optimistic and positive person. So for the purpose of this post, I’ve decided to only touch on the helpful aspects of these tales and the potential values that we can instill in our beloved off springs:

Emotional Resilience:

Most, if not all, fairy tales portray numerous difficulties and challenges that a protagonist faces in their quest for the ultimate goal, be it saving a princess, wining back a kingdom or just getting back home after being lost. They somehow find the emotional resilience to persevere on, overcome these obstacles and march ahead, come what may. They are able to laugh off their difficulties. Definitely a must-need in today’s stressful age.

Lessons in love, caring and togetherness:

It should come as no surprise that almost all fairy tales have varying shades of the element of love. From the romantic love in Cinderella, which leads her to Prince Charming to sibling love in Hansel & Gretel, which gets them out of the witch’s clutches. Clichéd as it may sound, it is this sense of love that instills feelings of brotherhood (or sisterhood), family, caring for each other and overly that sense of togetherness.

Lessons in diversity:

Probably one of the interesting things about fairy tales is their diversity in stories. You get a varied range of tales from outsmarting an evil witch to spectacular dragon fights. And as different cultures adapt these stories, they take on different flavors and tones, which further diversifies the story to new heights. It helps children develop their cultural literacy and appreciate the similarities and differences of other people, from another part of the world.

Lessons in Morality:

I’m probably treading on dangerous territory here, as I’ve often heard adults complain about “negative morals being installed in kids by the world of fantasy”. True as it may be, I am a staunch believer in the fact that most fairy tales and their spin-off Disney / Pixar versions do enable kids to nurture a moral compass. They encompass tales of honor, sacrifice and justice. They empower kids to identify right and wrong, well at least most times.

Unleashing the power of imagination:

This is single handedly the most important lesson that fairy tales provide. Like most other folklore, fairy tales are also usually works of fiction. Though the commercial worlds of Disney and Pixar have succeeded in “illustrating” some of these famous fictional characters, reading these fantasy tales or even hearing them being narrated, enable and empower kids to think out of the box.

It lets them paint an imaginary sketch of the characters, by giving them an empty canvas, where the images can be as vivid as their imagination lets them. The narrative helps them form their own perceptions about these pivotal characters, rather than following the crowd. I’ve even read that in certain countries, some schools encourage kids to draw or paint an illustration of a character from just a narration. As you can imagine, each one of them could potentially come with a unique version. Let their imagination soar I say 🙂

Lessons in “the real world”:

In every children’s fairy tale, as in life, there are always two sides to the coin. You have the good, brave, determined, resilient protagonist. And then you have the bad, slightly crazy, occasionally sadistic evil antagonist. Whilst the books may portray the antagonist as a “person”, the biggest takeaway kids can have from these stories is the idea of balance in real life.

The “evil” in the real world exists not just as people, but also manifests it as challenges and obstacles. It is unrealistic of us as parents, to expect our kids to grow up in a world where everything is right. Fantasy tales as they may be, these stories can help parents introduce their kids to the realities of the big bad world. After all, preparation is the key.

Lessons of Hope & Optimism:

Almost every fantasy tale (except for the actual Original Grimm brothers version) ends with the humble “Mr (or Ms.Good or even collectively The GOODs)” beating the crap (pardon my language)out of the baddies. And of course, it almost always ends with “…..happily ever after”. Now along with being an optimist, I am also a bit of a realist at times, and I agree completely that not everything always ends well.

But don’t you think it is possible that secretly we all have loved these timeless stories simply because we know everything turns out hunky dory at the end? I believe so. The realist in all of us wakes up every day to face the harsh realities of the brutal world, but its our hope and optimism that helps us see past those barricades and persevere to get to our happily every after. And surely that can’t be a bad quality at all 🙂

Now for a bit of a disclaimer of sorts:

  • As a yang to a yin, these fictional tales do have their many shortcomings. Depending on the version, era and sometimes country of origin, they may be at times racist, sexist and absolutely inconsiderate of minorities.
  • Fairy tales are an un-regulated territory. You know your kids; ensure they read suitable tales customized for their age group.

Finally, I appreciate that not all of you might share my opinions on these weird, wacky, and wonderful fantasy tales. I’d love to hear your comments. And to sign off, in the words of the brilliant yet eccentric Albert Einstein :

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. 

If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Sidharth Balachandran is a 30 something proud newbie dad who recently relocated back to India, after 7 years in London. He is a self-confessed techie, will-read-most-things-er, photograph-anything-er, love-to-travel-er and wannabe masterchef-er. He is the “carefree, relaxed and spontaneous” ying, to his wife’s “meticulous, practical and perfectionist” yangcharacter. Though academically an engineer and a product manager by profession, he strongly believes that eventually at some point his “creative” side will lead him to his true calling. He loves connecting with new people and you can catch him at www.facebook.com/sid.balachandran

  • I am glad somebody covered the fairy tales, that too a dad of a boy! I have only looked at the fairy tales as a magical word with one big lesson in courage and never say die attitude, be it Cinderella or Jack of the magical beans I just love when the underdog wins against all odds.

    • Sid Balachandran

      Thanks Prasad. This is a post led on from my Enid Blyton comment on your post 🙂 Absolutely – couldn’t agree with you more; Be it the movies or the books, love it when the underdog wins!

  • Gauri

    Lovely post, Sid :-). The point that I’ve found most pertinent while reading fairy tales to very young (2-4 years old) children is Point No. 5 in your post. Unleashing their imagination which is so very important because imagination is the beginning of abstract thought in a child’s mind. All the others too, for slightly more grown up little people, are very good points to take away while reading a fairy tale :-).

    • Sid Balachandran

      Thank you Gauri. Definitely, imagination is key to developing our characters. Without imagination, we have no progression…or in today’s age, no products 🙂 Thank you for reading

  • I pardoned the ‘crap’, really. As for the rest of it, my head is nodding in agreement faster than Noddy’s did on being asked if he wanted Googleberry ice cream by Diana doll. 😀
    I guess that should explain it. Would you believe my mother has a cupboard full of books she bought me and my kid brother ever since we were 2? Now, waiting for my brother to get married, have a child, and call me over for a fair ‘batwaara’ of our legacy. 😛

    • Sid Balachandran

      Thank you 🙂 Aah…good old Noddy! Perfectly sums up your thoughts.
      With regards to your “fair batwaara” – If you’re brother is anything like you (in terms of literary prowess and passion for reading), then we might be privy to a “maya-yudh” (kindly borrowing from the great “mahabore”). Let me know how that goes !

      • Rest assured you will be told how it went, @iwrotethose:disqus. 😀

  • Nischala

    Sid – Such a lovely post. Indeed there is great power in the world of fairy tales, and so many lessons not just for children, but even adults. Along the way we forget most of these life lessons, and may be that’s why we are blessed with children – to refresh revise and re-learn all of these, right? Now coming to this post, every point is so true and profound.. Was nodding right through, I specially liked “lessons in morality” – in today’s world where so many people don’t really get what morals are, how better to learn? And coming to Einstein, I don’t know if I’ll agree.. The most “intelligent” people I know have never really read a “fairy tale” in their lives. May be they were born intelligent, eh? 😉 Once again, lovely post. Nischala

    • Sid Balachandran

      Aww @nischala:disqus – You’re being too generous with your compliments. Coming to the crux of the matter, I reckon that’s it. We get to live again through our kids; Aloka’s post (http://www.parentous.com/2013/10/16/wow-look-moon-relive-your-childhood/) absolutely covered the senses, and I suppose we can use it to talk about the “bookish lessons” as well 🙂
      And come to think of it, if Einstein was brilliant as the world says he, might it be that he was cautious of the emergence of the “intelligent” species of people, and hence this statement could have been a curve ball, so to speak! Food for thought, eh ? Thanks again for reading