As part of his holiday homework, my son was asked to read a few fairy tales, and write a review about each, specifying the moral of each tale. For example, honesty, perseverance, courage, humility, patience and so on.
What struck me on re-reading these tales and trying to find a moral in each, was that, quite simply, there really wasn’t much of a moral in any one of them. I’m referring of course to the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen variety, (and not to Aesop’s fables and the Panchatantra variety) many of which are quite blood-curdling! Even when my son was 3 years old, he never liked all the talk about witches in gingerbread houses, blood-thirsty wolves that gulp down grandmas, beanstalk-residing ogres, evil stepmothers and the like. He seems a little more tolerant now, but I still have to tone down the nasty bits for my toddler daughter. Present-day parenting practice seems to dictate steering away from violent themes, of which there are plenty in the fairy tales. And what about all those gender stereotypes, and racial connotations? Even the great Enid Blyton didn’t escape all that controversy about sexist and racist overtones in the “Noddy” series.
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It’s a known fact that the original fairytales as penned by Messrs Grimm and Andersen were a lot more bloodcurdling/violent than the versions in vogue for the last few generations. So, when I tone down the stories in order to make them more age-appropriate for my kids, I am actually sanitizing the sanitized version!
My son asked me what the moral in each story was. He couldn’t find any! I wanted to tell him that the moral of the story is that they ARE reality. Evil exists. Stepmothers CAN be cruel. It’s highly likely that the beautiful girl will get the handsome guy. Children should not be about walking in the woods alone, lest a big hungry wolf eye them. There is no free lunch. To me, it seemed that these fairy tales provided sufficient fodder for a wealth of teaching moments.
But I let it go. At 5-going-on- 6, I felt he was too young to go down that road. I know a few years down the line, he will read and interpret these stories by himself. Maybe then he will truly “get” the moral of the story!
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