Thursday Thirteen – Fairy Tale Lessons

Little Red

I took this photo while my kids and I were on a walk through the woods which surround the street where I live. Other photos can be found here, here, here and here, but I thought this one seemed to have a real fairy tale feel to it. My little girl almost looks like Little Red Riding Hood who has strayed from the path on her way to her grandmother’s. I’ve decided to use this photo as my inspiration for this week’s TT, which has led me to put together a list of life lessons that I would like my children to take from traditional fairy tales. I’ve been reading fairy tales to my kids ever since they were tiny, but often I’ve felt that the lessons which the child is expected to take from the narrative are flawed in some way, and are not all befitting for our contemporary age. I guess you could say that in some ways I am dysenchated with fairy tale morals! So, in this TT, I’ve tried to redress my issues with these much-loved stories by constructing alternative lessons which I would like my children to take with them. See what you think of what I’ve come up with!

  1. The Little MermaidDon’t try and change yourself to become some impossible ideal. The Little Mermaid changed herself to become the human ideal to attract the Prince’s love, and he still married someone else, leaving her trapped for 300 years doing good deeds before she will be granted a soul and be allowed passage to heaven.
  2. Beauty and the BeastLove can be found in the most unexpected places. Beauty was most certainly not expecting to fall in love with the Beast, but the wonderful thing about love is that it often catches us off guard.
  3. Snow White and the Seven DwarvesIt’s OK to make mistakes; just make sure you learn from them. When the wicked step-mother sold Snow White the new lace for her corset, she quickly realised it was a mistake when it magically tightened, restricting her breathing. However, she still bought the poison apple the following day!
  4. CinderellaGrace in defeat is an important attribute to cultivate. However, so is grace in success. I think one of the most noble of acts in Cinderella is when she offers her step-mother and step-sisters a home in the palace, when she marries the princes at the end. Her graciousness despite their ill-treatment of her is truly admirable, I think.
  5. RapunzelRendering yourself inaccessible and isolated cannot lead to happiness. Trapped up there in the tall tower with no doors does not bring Rapunzel happiness. It is only when she allows others in that she can begin to approach contentment.
  6. RumpelstiltskinDon’t commit yourself to something which you cannot provide. When Rumpelstiltskin offered the miller’s daughter assistance on the proviso that she give over the first born son from her marriage to the king, she agrees as she cannot foresee the marriage, let alone the baby. Faced with the prospect of losing her child, however, the queen is abject with grief. Should she have made the commitment in the first place?
  7. Little Red Riding HoodTrust your intuition. In other words, don’t wait to exclaim over how big Grandma’s eyes are, or how big her teeth have become. Start running!
  8. Goldilocks and the 3 BearsGive the same respect to the property of others that you would give to your own. In many ways I think this is one which is more prevalent in today’s world than ever before. Our everyday environments in our communities would be a lot more pleasant if Goldilocks’ message was taken to heart at a young age.
  9. Sleeping BeautyOnly adopt passivity if you’re willing to wait 100 years. Perhaps out of all the fairy stories, this is the one most infuriating for feminists. Sleeping Beauty’s passive state as she lies unconscious waiting for her rescuer, however, can be seen as a story which warns both boys and girls against passivity.
  10. The Frog KingJudge on inner beauty rather than outer appearance. The silly, selfish princess who loses her ball only to have it saved by an ugly frog is blinded by the frog’s appearance. Her father’s insistence that she repays the frog’s kindness by bestowing a kiss upon the frog’s slimy lips, ultimately restores the frog to his original kingly form. However, it is only in this form that the princess is capable of seeing the frog king’s inner beauty.
  11. The Emperor’s New ClothesSelf-belief is a great thing, as long as it’s tempered with humility. The Emperor who believed that he was fully clothed and that he couldn’t be wrong, tells us a lot about the importance of humility. Being able to admit fallibility is a hard lesson to learn, but it is an important one!
  12. The Princess and the PeaRemain true to yourself and you will pass any test of your authenticity. The Queen’s test of placing the pea under all those layers of mattresses to decide the true identity of her son’s fiancee allows the princess to confirm the royal status she had proclaimed all along. Don’t try and be someone you’re not, as you will only be found out in the end.
  13. The Elves and the ShoemakerGive without thought of return. An important one for Christmas, but one which many of us need to be reminded of. The elves who worked hard through the night to improve the fortunes of the impoverished shoemaker and his wife were ultimately rewarded, but their efforts were never aimed at acquiring reward in the first place. Their real reward was seeing the appreciation of their gift and the positive changes their gift effected.

Do you agree with my selection and interpretation? What is your favourite fairy story and what’s the message that you would like others to take away from it?

My other TT posts: Favourite International Movies and My Passions, Dream Chasing, Origami Wishes, Birthday Nostalgia, Blogging Lessons, What I Found in Madrid, Rules To Live By, My Life in Scent, My Family, New Habits and Memorable Moments

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December 12, 2007. Inspiration, meme.

52 Comments

  1. Holly replied:

    This is really well done! I have always thought most fairy tales really have a message to them.

    My Edition #7 is up!

    My Thirteen Favorite Christmas Things

    Drop by and I’ll return the favor. Let’s
    share a nice cup of hot chocolate and some
    great blogs this holiday season!

    Smiles,

    Holly
    http://theabundanceplace.com

  2. susiej replied:

    This is a beautiful post. I learned so much from Little Red Riding Hood — and it continues to unfold. And yes, you’re right, this is a magical picture. I like what you wrote about Rapunzel the best.

  3. Tink replied:

    What a great post! You are so right; fairytales have so much more in them than just a pretty story.
    My TT wishes you “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” in 13 European languages.

  4. Lori replied:

    Wow…awesome list and so true. Happy TT.

  5. Comedy Plus replied:

    Very well done. I so agree with your assessments as well. Have a great TT. 🙂

  6. Chelle Y. replied:

    That was very entertaining! I loved it! I always believe that you can learn some great character tracts when it comes to fairy tales.

    What about the Gingerbread Man? See, what pride can lead to? 🙂

    http://www.chelleyoung.com/index.php/archive/thursday-thirteen-86-thirteen-favorite-christmas-songs/

  7. nicholas replied:

    Another delightfully thoughtful post! Those are very good lessons to learn from the old favourites. And I’m so glad you do stick to the traditional tales, not to some modern PC sanitized abominations.

  8. SJ Reidhead replied:

    #11 is one of my favorite examples of lessons learned. Excellent.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

  9. Milan replied:

    Beautiful TT indeed!
    Not so long ago we (on Spanish class) discussed about fairy tales and their messages. It was so interesting to see how they stereotypically describe female characters:
    They are beautiful, helpless, dependable on (beautiful) prince; not very bright (don’t have chance to express their cleverness) and quite fertile (so that they could give bunch of kids to their beautiful price and live happily ever after).
    However if the woman is strong, powerful character completely independent… she’s usually witch.

    And here they are roots of non equality between sexes. Girls have been learned to be lovely, listen their prince and educate their kindergarten while he’s riding his horse and kill dragons…

    (this is out of the context but have you read Penelopiad by M. Atwood?)

  10. Greatfullivin replied:

    What a wonderful List! I am sure you are a great mom. You have found the meanings that have somehow gotten lost. I love the lesson from Cinderella..Her graciousness despite their ill-treatment of her is truly admirable.. I am reminded of the Grimm brothers fairy tales that always had a moral. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Courtney replied:

    Such a great list! Fairy tales can be very educational.

  12. Ellen replied:

    Those are great! happy tt to you
    http://happywonderer.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/thursday-thirteen-handels-messiah/

  13. No nonsense girl replied:

    That’s wonderful, I’ll share this entry!!! Happy TT!!

  14. Susan Helene Gottfri replied:

    That’s really great stuff! Belle has got to be my favorite of the Disney princesses; she’s so proactive and strong — and smart. And she reads books. For me, part of the message of her story is that it’s okay to be proactive and strong and not swoon at Gaston’s feet just because the others do. Not to mention really care for your father, too, no matter what others say about him.

    Happy TT!

  15. jehara replied:

    what a thoughtful post. little mermaid was my favorite fairy tale growing up but it never sat well with me these princesses that immediately fell in love with the prince. why did they love them? because they were handsome? it always bothered me that they never really knew the person they were falling in love with beforehand. that’s what i liked most about the movie Ever After’s retelling of the cinderella story. not only was she a strong character but she got to know the prince which led to her developing feelings for him.
    again, thanks for the thought-provoking list.

  16. SandyCarlson replied:

    Sleeping for 100 years to wait for someone else to make life possible is a strange lesson. Perhaps we learn from her mistakes!

    I have always found interesting lessons in these tales, even the modernized and animated versions. Thanks for sharing yours.

  17. Lindsay (SPLAT!) replied:

    LOVE this post!
    This was very fun to read!

  18. On a Limb w/ Claudia replied:

    Great lessons. I don’t think I could have come up with that. I guess my favorite was Cinderella. Friends make a life? I don’t know. I do love it.

    Happy TT!

    My TT is up A little kindness

  19. YummY! replied:

    I’ve always tried to avoid morals/lessons. They always took the fun out of reading for me. If I thought it “meant” something I’d avoid it like the plague.

  20. Journeywoman replied:

    Very well done.

    Happy TT.

  21. shesawriter replied:

    Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. 🙂

    Happy TT!

    of MY THURSDAY THIRTEEN: 13 of the sexiest and/or most romantic love scene clips on film

  22. WorksForMom replied:

    Wow, what a beautiful post with amazing lessons! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Allison replied:

    Love it. I think what’s most interesting is how many times I’ve wanted to slap myself upside the head reading it, LOL! Because these are all lessons we all need to learn and relearn (though you don’t want to have to relearn #3 too many times! Not good! Life would be even more of a mess!).

  24. Not Afraid To Use It replied:

    This is a PHENEOMAL Th13!! Thank you for such an awesome read!

  25. Natalie replied:

    Wow…my dad totally needs to learn #11.

    Great post!

    My T13 post is up, come check it out if you get a chance. 🙂

  26. pussreboots replied:

    Great lessons from those tales. Happy TT.

  27. Rae replied:

    Wonderful list I really enjoyed it some great lessions to be learned Happy Holidays & Happy TT-http://inraesworld.blogspot.com/

  28. damozel replied:

    You certainly did a great job finding good lessons in Disney cartoons! When I was a child, I thought the lessons were: don’t ever get to be a middle aged woman, don’t trust your stepmother, and be beautiful if you want to be good. But I am not a Disney fan. I prefer SHREK.

  29. amypalko replied:

    Wow, I went to bed after leaving a comment at the TT hub and I’ve woken up to 28 comments! Goodness Me! Thank you so much everyone for taking the time to leave a comment. I will now attempt to answer you all.

    Thanks, Holly, I tend to think most fiction aimed at kids has some kind of moral instruction embedded in the narrative.

    Glad you liked the photo, SusieJ! I think all of these tales can be thought of as quite simplistic stories, but they are, in fact, quite complex multi-layered narratives.

    Tink, I’m pleased you enjoyed reading my TT this week. I normally visit everyone who leaves me a comment, so I’ll be sure to pop round later.

    Thanks, Lori, I do try and do something a bit different with my TTs. I so enjoy the challenge 🙂

    Glad you agree, ComedyPlus! It’s so nice to meet a like-mind.

    Ah yes, Chelle, The Gingerbread Man! That’s a great story, isn’t it? They do say that pride comes before a fall, don’t they!

    Thanks, Nicholas. I much prefer the traditional fairy tales to the somewhat bland contemporary versions. I did buy my kids the original Grimm and Christian Anderson tales, and I also bought them books of traditional oral folktales from different cultures. There are so many wonderful stories out there to discover!

    Glad you liked number 11, SJ. It’s one of my favourites too, as I do think you need a certain amount of self-belief, but, as with all things, too much is a bad thing!

    I absolutely agree, Milan! It is one of my biggest problems with many fairy tales, this promotion of feminine passivity. If you click on the link in the post called ‘dysenchanted’ it will take you to a post which has a short film in it which is a postmodern take on this problem. I’d love to know what you thought of it! As for the Atwood, I haven’t read that one. I’ll try and get a hold of it though!

    Oh, thank you, Greatfullivin! As for the Cinderella lesson, for some reason, that act of kindness always stood out for me.

    I think they can be very educational, Courtney, as like most things. However, I think it’s also important that we look at them with fresh eyes and see what kind of perspective they’re promoting, and question if that is still desirable in our contemporary age.

    Glad you like them, Ellen! I’ll be sure to pay you a visit later today 🙂

    Thank you for sharing it, No Nonsense Girl!!

    To be honest, Susan, I’m not too sure about the Disney versions as I think they’re also promoting a feminine ideal which isn’t necessarily in keeping with the strong women we should be raising our girls to be. Although, that said, Belle is perhaps one of the most admirable in her thirst for knowledge.

    I’m in complete agreement with you, Jehara! If you click on the link called ‘dysenchanted’ in the post It’ll take you to a post with a short film in it about fairy tale love, which you might enjoy. Let me know what you think, if you get around to watching it!

    It certainly is a strange lesson, isn’t it, Sandy!

    I’m pleased you enjoyed reading it so much, Lindsay 🙂

    Thanks, Claudia. Cinderella is a great story, I think. It has certainly stood the test of time!

    I’m afraid, Yummy, as a literary researcher, I’m always looking for the hidden message. I’m of the mind that it enhances the reading experience rather than detracting from it. With these stories I’m just trying to make sure that my kids take a positive life-affirming message from them, rather than the somewhat dated gender-specific coding which they could pick up subconsciously.

    Thanks, Journeywoman. Glad you liked it!

    Beauty and the Beast is a lovely tale, isn’t it Shesawriter?

    Thank you for such lovely praise, WorksForMom 🙂

    Completely agree, Allison. I often need reminders of all of these too! Especially number 3 actually! I don’t think we ever really stop making mistakes. As long as they’re different mistakes and not the same ones, I generally feel as though I’m progressing 😉

    Wow, thank you, Not Afraid To Use It, for such high praise!

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that he does, Natalie!

    Thanks, Pussreboots!

    I’m so pleased you enjoyed it, Rae 🙂

    Shrek is a fabulous trilogy isn’t it, Damozel! In many way I much prefer the general ethos that it promotes. The Disney versions of the traditional tales are often so sanitised. I actually much prefer them in their original form. If you click on any of the links for each story it takes you to a site which has the annotated tale in all its glory. Much more satisfying to my mind!

  30. Ivan Girl replied:

    hey, i love your T13. =)

  31. Coco replied:

    Wow… those are really awesome! And you seem to take a different point of view than me in some of those. I would never thought of #7, for example. I would’ve said that Little Red Riding Hood’s lesson is not to talk to strangers 😛

  32. jennifer replied:

    great list! ingenious!

  33. Mommychicky replied:

    Very insightful and well thought out.

    Check me out if you get the chance. Happy TT!

  34. marcia v replied:

    I am so impressed w/ your worka and insight I have always loved telling the three Bears but the story is a little scarey as a mom and I like your message for it but I also wonder how Goldillocks got away w/ that behavior and being away from home too?

  35. marnini replied:

    Beautiful interpretations. I love to find the true meaning of literature. You did a great job
    Maribeth

  36. Michelle replied:

    I always liked the Little Mermaid. Mine is up too.

  37. wakela replied:

    Really great TT! I like how you changed the lessons from the Fairy Tales to match with today’s perspectives.

    My TT is up at http://www.wakela.com

  38. Michelle Davis Petelinz replied:

    Great TT list! The current cast of “characters” in Washington would do well to learn the lesson of the Emperor, and many, many others!

    Happy TT.

  39. Michael replied:

    This was great to read. Although this may be a by product of my male-ness, I tend to disagree with your assessment of Beauty and the Beast. If you look at the reason behind his initial transformation, his overwhelming ego, you’ll note that only by changing his inner appearance, his outter appearance ceased to be an issue. I suppose identifying with the male character in fairy tales is something guys have to struggle with.

    One other thing that has always bothered me is the way they have changed fairy tales over the years to be less frightening. These stories were meant to terify, and thus to teach.

    If I had to pick one fairy tale, I think it would be Hansel and Gretel. Never to take anything at face value. If you come upon a house made of candy in the middle of the woods, odds are that’s it’s not there for you to eat.

  40. Laura replied:

    Really nice idea for a Thursday 13 list. 🙂

  41. Linda replied:

    Great TT. But I thought that Sleeping Beauty had no choice about being put to sleep–the fairy godmothers did it to protect her from being killed due to the curse?

    I also thought that Rapunzel was trapped there not by her own choice.

    I have two TTs this week:
    http://www.ravensroads.com
    http://www.ravensrv.com

  42. momhuebert replied:

    You must be referring to the Disney versions of all these fairy tales, because parts of them don’t sound familiar at all, so I can’t really comment.

    Except for this: In the story of Sleeping Beauty, she didn’t go to sleep on purpose! It was a spell placed on her by someone wicked and more powerful. She had no choice but to sleep till someone rescued her. That would give us a totally different lesson perhaps. Maybe to not criticize people who seem to be passive, but rather see how we can help them overcome. Just a thought.

  43. J. Lynne replied:

    About a month ago, I pulled out my book of fairy tales from my childhood. I didn’t remember them being so violent and they seemed to make more sense when I was a child. These were tales of Kings who planned to kill their 12 songs if their next child was a girl, princes turning into blackbirds, talking horses having their heads chopped off and hung on the town wall. Some of the stories didn’t even seem to have a plot let alone a moral message. I found the experience somewhat disturbing.

    I have to agree though that Disney has taken the real fairy tales that were meant to teach real and often harsh lessons and Disney has softened them, often giving them “happily ever after” endings even when the original didn’t end that way. Along these lines, many retellers of the fairy tales in the last 50 or so years have also been softening the stories, making them less terrifying and thereby changing the messages.

    I think you’ve done an excellent job putting together a list of messages for children to learn from these fairy tales today.

  44. amypalko replied:

    Thanks, IvanGirl! Glad you liked it.

    I think you’re absolutely right, Coco. One of the great things about these stories is that there are so many layers to them. I find you can get lots of different things from them.

    Thank you, Jennifer 🙂

    I do put a lot of thought into my TTs, MommyChicky, but I so enjoy putting them together.

    Goldilocks is a great story, isn’t it Marcia! I don’t know anyone who knows that story that doesn’t feel sorry for the bears 😉

    Thanks Maribeth. I love literature too, which is why I’ve been studying it for all these years!

    I love the The Little Mermaid too, Michelle, in part, because it doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, Most Christian Anderson tales don’t have happy endings, which make them all the more poignant.

    That’s exactly what I was trying to do, Wakela. I’m glad you think I was successful!

    Humility is a lesson I think many of us continually need to relearn, isn’t it, Michelle. I’m certainly sure that politicians in most countries would do well to remember its importance.

    Ah, Michael, that’s the Disney version. In the original de Villeneauve version, the beast is a prince suffering under an evil enchantment which is never fully explained. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different versions through time emphasise different lessons?

    I’m glad you liked it, Laura 🙂

    You’re absolutely right, Linda, that both Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel were not consciously (no pun intended!) responsible for their individual fates. However, they do represent this passive femininity which is the bugbear of most feminists. What I wanted to do with this list was to highlight lessons that I thought could be derived from these traditional tales which were pertinent to this day and age. I think that to be happy, independent adults we need to make sure that we remain active and engaged.

    The versions that I was drawing from were the traditional versions that I am familiar with, but, of course, this is the wonderful thing about fairy tales – the variance we find with each individual tale. If you click on any of the links that I’ve included they take you to the annotated original versions, which you might find interesting. As for Sleeping Beauty, I still see it as a personal lesson against passivity. However, one of the great things about all literature is that we can all derive different meanings dependent on our own subjective reading experiences. No-one’s reading is invalid, simply different 😉

    Thank you, JLynne, for sharing your own experience with fairy tales. I think the original versions were really quite brutal. Sleeping Beauty is a tale which has its roots in Basile’s Sun, Moon and Talia, in which the slumbering princess is raped by the already married king, and then gives birth to twins, one of which sucks out the poisoned splinter which has caused the enchanted sleep. When the king finds the three of them, he takes them back to his castle where the understandably jealous wife attempts to have Talia burned at the stake, and tries to feed the twins in a pie to their father!!! Rape, adultery and infanticide are, of course, not a feature in the version that we are the most familiar with, because children are the target market. In the past, many fairy tales were intended for an adult readership, which is perhaps why they were a good deal more violent than our current variants.

  45. Lori replied:

    Too true and a beautiful thought for this dismal Thursday.

    Happy TT!

  46. Celticangel replied:

    What a great picture you have with this post! You have provided me with much food for thought. As it happend, Sapsorrow is my favorite fairy tale. I’m sure it contains other messages, but the one I see is “true friends will help you triumph in the end.”

    Happy TT!

  47. Nichole replied:

    Great lessons 😉 I love fairy tales.

    I struggle with #6…I constantly find myself committing to things that I shouldn’t and stretching myself thin…which affects the quality of the work I do. Don’t take on more than you can handle!

  48. cjmr replied:

    My take on Sleeping Beauty’s message is, don’t wrap your children in cotton wool (or isolate them in a forest) to protect them from danger–allow them to experience life to its fullest.

  49. moondancer replied:

    All very good lesson and often forgotten.

    http://moondancerdrake.livejournal.com/

  50. Janet replied:

    what a great idea to list these!

  51. Tina Kubala replied:

    Wonderful insight. I often can’t see the morels for the love of the story.

    My Thursday 13

  52. amypalko replied:

    Sorry you were having a dismal Thursday, Lori, but I’m glad my TT post brightened it up a little for you!

    I actually don’t know Sapsorrow, Celtic Angel. I’ll need to google it because it sounds really interesting. Glad you liked the photo. My brother thought it looked like a still from the horror film Don’t Look Now, which has somewhat tainted my view of it now!

    Nichole, I am also one of those that just can’t say no and ends up stretched too thin. I constantly struggle with that one, and it’s a lessons I need to learn and relearn continually!

    I think that’s a great lesson to take from these stories, CJMR. Although, there is such a fine line between wanting your children to experience life and wanting to protect them from some of its malevolent elements. I’m not sure it’s something that I’ve negotiated yet, but then I am sure that I’m not alone in that one!

    Thank you, Moondancer! Glad you liked the post 🙂

    Glad you thought so, Janet. I’m always trying to come up with slightly different TT lists, and sometimes they come very easily and sometimes they’re a bit more of a struggle. This is one that came easily 🙂

    It could be my training in textual analysis at university, Tina, but I am always looking beneath the surface of the text in order to find new meanings and new interpretations. It is nice to become wrapped up in the romance of the story though, isn’t it!

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