“We learn from the characters in stories, even as adults. They help us because we connect to our own lives, dreams, anxieties, and consider what we would do in their shoes. Fairy tales help children learn how to navigate life. “(Bruno Bettelheim. Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.)
Fairy tales stretch the imagination, encourage creativity in small children. They foster a sense of wonder, and, in many cases, a sense of optimism that difficulties can be overcome. Childhood is a time of transitions, and fairy tales can help provide a road map for navigating those transitions. In fairy tales, the weak can become strong, the powerless gain power, frequently through cleverness rather than feats of arms.
G. K. Chesterton said “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” In my book, Dragons and Dreams, I show that not all dragons need to be killed, but that some can be negotiated with. Dragons are only scary when they’re part of the unknown. When we face the unknown, a dragon can become not an enemy to be overcome, but can become a protector. In fairy tales, evil can be turned to good. In my story “A Princess for Tea” (part of the Dragons and Dreams collection), the bold princess learns that a dragon can become a friend, with a little bit of understanding.
The theme of monsters as protectors is also brought out in my short story Heart of Rock. In that story, the gargoyles become not only something to be overcome, but ultimately can be enlisted as guides and protectors of a human kingdom, at the price of only a little kindness.
Many fairy tales focus on the quest. In the story “The Three Precious Things,” another story in Dragons and Dreams, we see that, when you quest for one thing, you might find something else of even greater value.
For me, one of the best things about fostering a love of fairy tales in children is that they can become a gateway to a love of stories in general. Andrew Lang’s colorful fairy books can lead to an appreciation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Stories don’t have to teach a moral, but can be appreciated simply because they’re fun. Whole genres, like mysteries and romance, are basically optimistic in their outlook. Justice can prevail, even if through non-typical ways. There can be a happily ever after ending, even after heartbreak. Mankind, through striving, can find the stars.