In her column today, Kat Timpf takes to task a Barcelona infant school’s outrageous decision to remove over 200 books from its library, citing “sexism” as the leading reason for tossing them out. Among the stories they get rid of are classic fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood.
Kat is right: This school is being overly sensitive and ridiculous in making this decision. But she leaves out, in my view, some of the more meaningful uses of fairy tales, which are not simply cutesy stories that we should use to shed light on “ the realities of the past,” show how “gender roles are changing,” or explain the historical specter of “sexism.”
For children’s stories can tell deeper truths. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde, and the Grimm Brothers (to name a few) talk about ignorance and wisdom, innocence and depravity, hatred, loss, and love. They juxtapose cowardice and courage, treachery and loyalty, terror and joy, all the while fulfilling their purpose as entertainment. But not just entertainment. These stories help to form young minds, teaching their readers to incorporate moral lessons into their own lives or to store them away for that day when they are faced with difficult decisions.
Much more could be said in defense of fairy tales as teachers of goodness, truth, and beauty, but for now, I’ll defer to J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible essay On Fairy Stories. Then go pull out your old Blue Fairy Tale Book, but be careful: Its beauty may take you unawares.