Make this your New Year’s resolution: Author Katherine Reay calls for more reading of fairy tales in 2019.
A recent article in Quartzy noted how little Bill Gates reads fiction, and the writer made a solid case for the scientific benefits of reading literature. I’d like to up the ante and suggest that among all genres, fairy tales may be more important to us now than ever before.
I confess I’ve always adored fairy tales. I read them as a child, read them to my own kids, and even invented a few along the way. My son still talks of Filbert, the good-hearted dragon I sent into battle each bedtime against his nemesis, Peroxio.
What is it about this fictional world, where good always triumphs over evil, which keeps us reading or watching night after night? After all, the tenets of the Marvel world remind us of the schema and structure, and the pitfalls and triumphs, found within traditional fairy tales.
The swoonworthy, sensitive men of action certainly have something to do with it. And imagining ourselves in the roles of these beautiful women of action—not the passive damsels in distress of the past—entices us as well. Who wouldn’t want to save the universe as I suspect Captain Marvel just might? I wouldn’t mind Black Widow’s roundhouse kicks either. But high stakes drama and outstanding computer graphics don’t tell the whole story.
I believe the answer in our loyalty to traditional and to new fairy tales lies in the story behind the story. In our fast and shifting world, we instinctively search for stable ground, and throughout the ages, fairy tales have provided just that: something pure and moral and comforting to cling to. These stories give us glimpses of truth in a society that often distorts right and wrong. We may adapt the plots, the characters and the fantastical settings, but the core remains the same. There is good and evil in the universe, hard choices need to be made, daily living requires courage, and there will always be consequences for the wrong actions.
The Brothers Grimm instinctively understood this and first published Nursery and Household Tales in 1812, codifying and uniting German culture and oral tradition. And this desire for stability, community and common ground is no less needed today than during Napoleon’s sieges. Our lives suggest this, and we ask ourselves, Will right prevail? Can dreams come true? Does true love exist, and can it withstand anything we throw at it? These are large and looming questions, and simply because we don’t chat about them over coffee doesn’t mean they don’t dwell in our heads and in our hearts. We yearn for the faith that good will triumph and the conviction that true love lasts.
The clarity that fairy tales provide instinctively feels right to us, but such truths are rarely witnessed on a daily basis. C.S. Lewis describes in his essay “Myth Became Fact” that the rich, imaginative atmosphere provided by fairy tales and myths is a perfect conduit through which truths flow and are found. They provide a context for the unknown and, to our linear and limited minds, the unbelievable. There is an experiential quality to myths that marry thought to experience.
So perhaps I can use this line of thinking to justify my love for myths, fairy tales and everything Marvel creates—after all, I am intimately involved in one, and should bring to that one all my wonder, gratitude, imagination and awe. And there’s a little left over for the other for the other fairy tales, too—as, and I stand with Lewis and his assertion: “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.” (From “On Three Ways for Writing for Children.”)
With every story read or movie watched, I’m reassured by glimpses of truth and clarity, standing apart in the daily wave of propaganda directed at us. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way, for clearly my sole adoration cannot have made them so popular and numerous. We trust good will prevail, love will last eternally, and some things in life are worth fighting, even dying, for. We trust, stepping into the imaginative experience, that we, too, can defeat the villain.
Make sure you add some fairy tales and retellings to your 2019 TBR list. Check out these wonderful adaptations, and don’t forget to revisit the beloved original stories:
Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet
(Little Red Riding Hood)
Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball
(The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl
(The Goose Girl)
Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory
Melanie Dickerson’s The Silent Songbird
(The Little Mermaid)
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape and The Printed Letter Bookshop (May 2019). All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and is a wife, mother, former marketer and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, Illinois. You can meet her at www.katherinereay.com; Facebook: KatherineReayBooks; Twitter: @katherine_reay; or Instagram: @katherinereay.