"Daddy, will you read me a story from Perrault?"
Albert Einstein reportedly once said, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."
Fairy tales remain an important part of our development as social creatures. Many hold a sacred place in the hearts of readers all over the world. These stories of courage, fear, romance, and morals transcend the boundaries of culture, and influence our formative in years in ways more profound than most of us realize.
Throughout the centuries, the fairy tale grew into a genre of its own, and by the late 1600s was firmly rooted in the literary traditions of countries like France, in particular. And of course, they weren't just for children. In the fashionable salons of France, intellectuals gathered to read and tell magical tales that borrowed from the ancient originals. One author of such stories, Charles Perrault, introduced iconic works to new audiences through "Stories or Tales of Times Gone By, with Moralities." It included such now-familiar stories as "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Little Red Riding Hood."
Strong throughout all fairy tales are themes such as good versus evil, models of right and wrong, and the power of enduring hope. Collectively, these stories help all of us learn to navigate the complexities of a big world filled with uncertainty.
And regardless of the ethnic/national origin of a given fairy tale (the Chinese had a story involving a humble girl, a cruel stepmother, and a golden slipper), such elements have remained rather consistent over time -- even in those collections that supposedly had nationalistic themes such as the Brothers Grimm (pictured above) and their early 19th century anthology of German folklore.
The fairy tale is where reality meets the incredible; where the complex is easier to understand; and where all of us can gain practical perspective through fantasy.
Einstein, for one, certainly saw the real-world value of such advantages: "When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking."
-Michael G. Williams