In fairy tales, wolves show their insides are the same as their outsides (despite their silver tongues), beanstalks prove to their climbers that greed is the true giant (though other big troubles may appear on the way) and flowers speak up to protest their plucking (even as they sink in their thorns). When impossible things happen, you begin to question reality. It's one of the reasons fairy tales are so very needed. Sometimes that Wonder, that impossibility, is the very thing that wakes us up and invites us to challenge the norm.
You've probably heard "Fairy tales are important, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but that we can defeat them," however GK Chesterton* wasn't just talking about getting past our fear of the dark of finding our way out of our personal woods, or of choosing the right path. He was telling us that fairy tales can be a tool--and not just any tool. Fairy tales have the ability to be very versatile, transformational, 'pocket survival guides' for life.
Most obviously, fairy tales are tools for expression: we can share the discovery of a monster, express that fear we suddenly feel, describe those problems we now realized we have, and in doing so we show others (and realize ourselves), that we are not alone in this.
But there is more too.
Fairy tales communicate: not just that these overwhelming, difficult, seemingly impossible-to-survive things, exist, but that something can be done about them. We can read fairy tales past, which tell us of history repeating, and the choices - good and bad - that people made, so we are better informed. We can retell them, bring a contemporary context to an old tale, or/and to change a perspective so something hidden is revealed. We can tell new ones, exploring our dragon-fighting strategies before facing the monsters in real life. Fairy tales provide hope, and they do this by giving us a voice, especially when we don't feel we can use our own.
At a time when people are feeling unheard, not able to communicate with their families and neighbors, and feel powerless as their way of life is changing and threatened, fairy tales challenge this new 'reality'. By their use of Wonder, fairy tales resist getting sidetracked by distracting details of reality, and get to the true heart of things, show us our choices. Fairy tales, by their nature, are allies in resisting an overwhelming and frightening state; of mind, of society, of the world.
Just because we blindly traded in our tail and no longer feel we have a voice, doesn't make it so. Just because we feel powerless, doesn't mean that is how it has to be. We can challenge that. Fairy tales can tell us how, and why we should.
What we do about our every day is still up to us. But having a choice, and a voice, and a chance to change our collective tales, reminds us we are not powerless in our lives. It reminds us, that no matter how different our feathers, how peach-pit small in the big-giant world we are, that we can still change that world. It reminds us that we have options and what seems impossible is, quite probably, possible indeed. When fairy tales are your voice in the resistance, you realize you are not alone, that you don't have to conform, that your choices are still yours, that your tale is not yet complete.
So go ahead and plug your ears (and those of your children) against the luring tunes of the Pied Piper, flatter the Ogre until his pride becomes vulnerable to legal paws, stand with briars to protect young dreamers, yell that the Emperor is walking around naked and hear the mutterings around you taking courage from your truth.
Read - or tell, or write - a fairy tale, and know that you are not climbing this glass mountain alone.
* The original full quote by GK Chesterton (that Neil Gaiman admittedly misquoted), originally printed in Tremendous Trifles is: "The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it—because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."
The image is by Cuban artist Hernandez Guerrero (known as "Ares"). The unofficial title of it is "We Are All Red."
(If you'd like check out some Recommended Resistance Reads, Once Upon A Blog, our fairy tale news site, has a searchable hashtag #RRR, being added to regularly, and we always welcome suggestions too.)
Gypsy Thornton is Fairy Tale News Hound and Editor/Designer at Once Upon a Blog.