Hans Christian Anderson and The Grimm Brothers bore a favored spot upon my bookshelf when i was growing up. I preferred the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, they were more romantic, less violent, and their messages seemed - somehow - more palatable. My favorite of his was Snowdrop. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes because of its familiar, unchanging message of hope. On the other hand, in the 1800‘s, the Grimm Brothers took famous German folktales, repackaged them, and gave the public Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel and over 100 more. These fairy tales have enjoyed a long history. Today, I heard that very few parents read the Grimm tales because of their sinister and sometimes terrifying nuances. Parents do not want to frighten their children. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if some of the valuable messages that these tales carry might be lost if the tales are not handed down.
My mother was a strong devotee of afternoon naps. It was her habit to send my sister and me for afternoon naps all the way through grade school. It was off to bed for us whenever she deemed that we were overtired (as evidenced by a sassy attitude) or if we had big plans for the evening (an 8pm choir performance or a sleepover at a friend’s house). She allowed that nap time could be spent reading or sleeping. It was these nap periods that allowed me to become so closely familiar with the tales of the Grimms and others. By sixth grade, I rarely read the books, but I had dissected the tales so I knew what it took to tell a good fairy tale. The heroine, the dilemma, the proptagonist, the evil element that stood in the way of the heroine’s happiness, the clever solution, the summary truth, in case you missed what happened.
It wasn’t until I was in college when someone mentioned that she was taking a course in Fairy Tales for English that I realized there was an entire study pertaining to these tales.
My basic understanding of the plot served one important function in my adulthood.
When my children were little, one of the most common night time cries was, “Tell me a story.” They cherished the stories in which they were featured as the heroines. Following a template that was laid down for me over 200 years ago, I knew what to do.
1 .The familiar words to begin the tale (and end it). Once upon a time...Then, later, And they lived happily ever after.
2. The protagonist who is on a quest of some sort
3. The antagonist - who can take almost any form- that impedes our hero's efforts.
4. Royalty and wealth versus poverty are generally represented.
5. Elements of magic. Anything is possible due to enchanted features.
6. A tip: repeat a number, an element or a phrase to draw the tale together.7. A Lesson learned. There is usually a universal truth that reflects the best values in humanity.
I bequeathed my daughters with mystical powers, gloves that granted healing, shoes that could carry them wherever they chose to go, and hats that granted them infinite vision. My fairy tales used the template I learned so well during my afternoon naps so many, many years ago.
I reflected upon all of this today because it occurred to me that my life might well be rewritten as an instructive fairy tale. It has the necessary elements: love, loss and a journey filled with unexpected obstacles. The power of universal truths will assure a happy ending, of this I am quite sure.
Ultimately, I am quite certain of the conclusion....
They lived happily, ever after....