"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 (1909).A variation of the above quote closed "Seven Seconds," the most recent episode of Criminal Minds (the one about the 6-year-old girl who was abducted at a mall): " Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
It caught my attention because 1) I work with kids and want them to expand their imaginations; 2) I was a kid who loved fairy tales (still do); and 3) I write stories about kids, dragons, and heroes, and characters who are sometimes all three.
Oh, and 4) G.K. Chesterton is cool.
He's the guy who wrote things like this:
The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem. --Tolstoy (1903)
If you'd take your head home and boil it for a turnip it might be useful. I can't say. But it might. --The Man Who was Thursday (1908)
Deep and funny.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
There is a power in fairy tales that goes beyond mere entertainment. A child will listen to a story when he will not listen to a lecture or a lesson plan. I "heard" the truth more clearly in a book than I ever could from my parents. And then life, of course, with all its realities and hard edges, taught me even more. Those experiences sent me deeper into the escape of fiction.
Borrowing once more from Chesterton, "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."
I am not saying teachers and parents and other adults are not necessary. By all means, we are necessary! We shape character, spur dreams, spawn heroes--and we can do so more effectively, if we will but learn to tell stories.