visiting the world of fairy tales

When I was a small child, younger than seven, which was when we drove out of the hills and into the ordinary world, the clean and white-walled world, leaving all the real magic behind ... when I was a young child, I read piles of books. I'd like to say they were good books, but the truth is they were any books.  (This is what happens to a child when there's not much tv - this and climbing trees.) I was remarkably blessed to have kind-hearted adults in my life who kept handing me book after book, and not just to keep me quiet, but with the full knowledge of what gifts they were bestowing.

It's the fairy tales that stayed with me from that time. I do retain some faded memories of sweet stories from Girls Own compendiums* but the fairy tales left me with such vivid imagery, it was if I had been a visitor to a deeper layer of the world, or perhaps a witness to history, not just a dreamer of childhood tales. How they did this with such simplistic narration, I still don't entirely understand. Perhaps between the plain words of forest, princess, swan, sword, king, were all the sighs and enchanted silences of readers through the centuries, and I was imbibing them along with the words.

Although its also true that I knew about going alone into forest. And about delicious, witch-laid traps. And I knew that birds could talk, and darkness held magical, dangerous things, and I believed in the love of fathers, foxes, sisters. I think perhaps the fairy tales remained in my heart because they spoke so honestly to my heart. Certainly, there were Girls Own stories that related to my ordinary experiences - but they did not admit to the dark, the pain of silence, the wonder, the wish for a king's attention. Those Girls Own stories were like the suburbs compared to the wooded hills.

(If you've walked through ancient forest, and watched light filter through shadows that whisper with a language you don't speak but that you recognise as something vibrant and meaningful - something that is speaking of you as you pass through, and the nerves beneath your skin whisper in response ... and then you've gone walking instead along a tar-sealed road edged with square brick houses, as radio music and domestic chit-chat float through the low, trimmed hedges ... you'll know what I mean.)

I will always aver that we need to give our children not stories that merely reflect their current life experience, but stories that carry them deep into the heart of the human experience - that take them out of ordinary and down, through wonder and wordlessness, into the forest of their hearts, where courage speaks its own name, as does loneliness, and daring, and love. 

 * is there anything more luxuriously wonderful than a compendium of tales?

Artwork by Walter Crane.


  1. Fairy stories and folk tales played an important part in my childhood, too. I still think about the stories I learned as a child; they shaped my consciousness, my imagination, and my sense of narrative. Lovely post!

  2. Replies
    1. isn't it fabulous? this art has been with me since childhood, it shaped my vision of the world (and i was so disappointed when the world turned out to be quite different!) i love it deeply.

  3. thank heavens for no television...books and trees did far more than it ever could, i'm sure.

    i deeply believe in the importance of fairy tales for all ages, and that it's best to give children beautiful, meaningful stories that have more to do with archetypal images than with current culture. they will get plenty of *that* stuff later, willy-nilly.

    1. i will say in defence of tv that a little of it didnt hurt me, i was madly in love with I Dream of Jeannie - but there was only a very small offering in those days, and that felt just right. it made it wondrous, precious, a respite. now it is simply overwhelming.

      and yes, it is vital to install those archetypes in the subconsciousness of children's minds, they are so valuable through the years.

  4. Sarah, when I was a little girl I Dream of Jeannie was my absolute favoritest show (followed by Star Trek and Gilligan's Island. I begged my mother to make me a Genie costume like Jeannie's. She didn't think that was appropriate, but she did make one for my doll. :)