Fairy Tales: Frightful Fiction or Wise Words?

By Lindsay Carson, Pre-K Teacher

If you were to do a Google search for articles on fairy tales and the modern child, many would argue that these stories are too scary for our little ones. The sentiment is understandable: remember the wolf eating grandmother and then a little girl? Or a giant threatening to grind human bones to make bread, and even a witch who wants to kill four siblings to retain her power? As scary as these stories might seem, I want to invite you to consider this quote from G.K. Chesterton:

“Fairy tales… are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already.

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

The Truest Fairy Tale

Let me tell you another fairy tale: “Once upon a time, a perfect Prince leaves the King and goes to live among His people as a servant. He lovingly heals, encourages, corrects, and trains them. However, there is a darkness the Prince has come to battle, as dangerous as any dragon, monster or beast one can imagine. This shadowy entity comes “to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10),” leaving no human soul in peace. There are no earthly places serene enough, no fortresses strong enough, no people wise enough to keep him away. His only objective is to destroy that which the King has made, all goodness, truth, and beauty.” How terrifying!

The End?

“Unrelenting as ever, it seems the darkness is able to overcome the Prince’s undeniable light, for He dies a gruesome death on a cross. How hopeless and horrible it seems, as even the light of the sun ceases to reach the earth’s surface.” Read on, because this is not the end! The words keep coming, and goodness keeps charging through. 

“Three days after the worst day anyone can fathom, the Prince rises from the dead, still bearing the absolutely real scars from His battle with the darkness. What seemed to be a fatal blow is turned on its head! The Prince and His light have overcome the darkness!” And, yet, I still cannot type “the end,” for we live on in this very story. The war still rages on. But now I know who will be victorious, and we who believe in Jesus Christ will indeed “live happily ever after.”

Is the Light Beautiful without the Darkness?

At Augustine School, even our youngest students enjoy fairy tales. What value would the story I told have if there was no darkness? The Prince would still be good, but would His love seem as fierce without the fight? Would His faithfulness be as evident without His sacrifice?

Recently, in West Tennessee, we had day after day after day of rainy, grey skies. One of my pre-kindergarten students looked out the window and asked, “Why is it like that? When will it be morning?” We did seem to be stuck in a perpetual evening. But days later we enjoyed the sunshine, playing on the playground well beyond our scheduled time. It was so much more blissful because of the days of darkness we experienced before. 

Saying “Yes” to Happily Ever After…

In these valuable stories, our children and students see righteousness pitted against evil. They feel the need for the great fight that ensues, and they rejoice when the champion (always being the virtuous) shows us that there is nothing to fear because our God will win. That’s why we read fairy tales. We re-enact them. We focus on their monster-squashing heroes, not the monster. We breathe sighs of relief at the thrilling end of each battle. Ultimately, we long for the day when the final Victor will overcome every bit of darkness with His light, and we will live happily ever after. 

Read More In These Resources:

  • Michael D. O’Brien, A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind (Ch. 1 “Encounters with Dragons”).
  • Douglas Wilson, Future Men (Ch. 12 “Giants, Dragons, and Books”)