I'm sitting here trying to think of my favorite fairy tale, which is a lot harder than I thought. My brain said, "What's your favorite fairy tale, Ruth?" And I said, "Oh, brain, that's easy! It's...uh...hmm. Wow. I can't choose one. There are a lot of fairy tales I like. How come you've never asked me this before?" "I don't know, it's just never really come up before now," my brain replied. "Well, I expect better of you next time," I said crossly. "This should have been something we settled a long time ago." "It's not my fault," my brain protested. "It's because you keep thinking about food when I'm trying to think about important literary stuff." "Oh shut up and let's go get some hummus." My brain shouted with glee. "YAY HUMMUS."
What was I talking about?
Oh. Fairy tales. Apparently, I don't have a favorite one, though my brain and I eventually did come to the conclusion that most of my favorite fairy tales were either compiled or written by Hans Christian Anderson. I like some Irish fairy tales. Aesop is great. I'm a fan of the Brothers Grimm. But Hans Christian Anderson was the stuff. Okay, so according to most biographical info I've read on the man, he was bonkers, but apparently crazy people make good writers.
I think I can narrow my favorites down to three. "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." "The Tinderbox." "The Wild Swans." The first two were originally by Anderson, and Anderson wrote a version of "The Wild Swans." I've read about five different versions of The Wild Swans, and I definitely like Anderson's best. Others I LOVE by him are "The Little Mermaid," (NOT THE DISNEY VERSION), "The Little Match Girl," "The Snow Queen," and of course "The Ugly Duckling."
Maybe it's odd for a woman in her early thirties to still like fairy tales so much, but I never claimed to be normal. I love fairy tales and always will. In fact, I've written quite a few and hope to get them published someday (James, are you reading this [probably not]? We need to talk). I like how they put simple values and morals into short, sometimes sweet, sometimes scary, often strange little stories. I like how easy it is to see a fairy tale character's virtues (or lack thereof). There's seldom any ambiguity about whether a character is a hero or a villain. Even if bad things happen to a noble protagonist, things almost always turn out for the best for them. Likewise, if the protagonist is foolish or cruel, he or she meets some disastrous end or learns some life-altering lesson before the story is finished. Yet fairy tales are so unpredictable because they usually include elements of magic that don't occur in reality. That's why they're so much fun.
Fairy tales aren't realistic. I think that's part of the reason why a lot of people believe that fairy tales are just for children. But in my opinion, a great story is one that leaves a person better for having read it. It leaves a person with a better outlook on life than they had before reading it. I'm fully aware that in reality, bad things don't always happen to bad people. Good things don't always happen to good people. (I'm not even sure if any of us have the right to call ourselves good anyway--because we're all sinners in need of God's grace.) Magical things just don't happen in real life.
But there's something to be gained from allowing oneself to read a fairy tale. Just because a story is short enough to read in fifteen minutes (or less) and contains fanciful elements, that doesn't mean it can't be considered serious and important literature. In reading a fairy tale where the good men are good men, the fair ladies are fair ladies, the evil giants are meant to be conquered, I think something is gained. I think reading unrealistic fairy tales help give a person realistic hope. Even if life is hard and monotonous from time to time, there is still magic in the world--even if it's found in a timeless story.
But I gotta run. My brain is still thinking about that hummus.