“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only one.” ~ George R.R. Martin
Stories have always been a part of my life. Raised in the suburbs of Florida, there was nothing quite like taking a book out on to the patio to read—even better, the beach! I would prop up an umbrella and settle down for a day of reading. As I got older, my day reading turned into late night reading, snuggled up in my blankets with a cup of café con leche.
As an avid reader, you would be correct in assuming that I have read my fair share of books. I started collecting classic works in college to display on the shelves of my room. These are those books with leather, embellished covers that stay in the plastic. Even while living in Shanghai, I would send novels back to my family home. Of course, I have the paperback versions to read also, just in case. On my shelves, you will find works such as King Lear, Paradise Lost and Dracula. During my undergraduate studies, I majored in classical history; so, you will also find texts like Metamorphoses, The Iliad & the Odyssey, and The Aeneid.
From this literary assortment, there are a plethora of characters to love and books to recommend. While I do love my classical texts, mythology, and dramas, I must concur with Audrey Hepburn’s statement: If I’m honest, I have to tell you that I still read fairy tales and I like them best of all. They leave the reader in wonder and with new perspectives. The more fairytales you read, the more unique and refined your outlook on the world becomes.
Many would presume that fairytales are just for children. To which, I would beg to differ. If we were to take the modern day fairy tales influenced by the magic of Disney, sure, it would seem they are too childlike. However, even these relate more to adults, along with those classical tales that serve as the bones for many modern-day stories. Why is that? Well, for one, children are not writing these tales and classical tales were certainly not written by children.
While children are captured by the fanciful elements, like the creatures and magic, good versus evil, pragmatic content remains. These are those underlying concepts and themes that we realize later when we become adults; for example, themes of vanity (Snow White), identity (The Little Mermaid), and rape (Sleeping Beauty). Twenty-something years later and I’m still watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and applying new philosophical and psychological theories to it. This is due the oral nature of storytelling that later developed into a written tradition always intended to pass on something be it history, knowledge or lessons. Even entertaining tales are more than simple entertainment.
Compelling and intriguing, the teaching element of fairy tales doesn’t really hit home until many years later unless you’re a very astute child. It is the impractical mixed with the fantastical that keeps fairy tales relevant, even into adulthood. No matter how old you are imagination is important and no one wants to learn anything in a boring way.
I would recommend to anyone and everyone to read Grimm’s Fairy Tales written by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812. This collection of fairytales is simply captivating and is the hallmark for fairytales not only being for children. Although it serves as the basis for many of the bright and spirited fairytales we know today, the original fairytales were actually much darker, reflecting the climate of nineteenth century Germany and a tradition of teaching through oral storytelling. Despite being written as so-called children stories, I would not read these tales to children. I would not want to crush their happy-endings.
Don’t let the dark nature of Grimm’s Fairy Tales turn you away from the delight of reading them though. If you love grand tales and history, this is the perfect collection for you. No story is the same and the length is just right to encourage you to press forward with one story after the other. The writings are full of mystical and unpractical things that could never happen in real-life, but somehow relate to the real world with life lessons anyone can benefit from. Neil Gaiman once said, “fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Sometimes, it takes a moment for the life-application to sink in; but when it does, you realize that perhaps fairytales are the realest things you have ever read.
What are your favorite fairy tales?