Fairy tales occupy a special place in our lives as early as childhood. Bedtime stories is a tradition that goes back to an ancient way of life, where people would, after a hard day of work, light up the hearth, and gather around the fire as night was approaching, when everyone had eaten and were satisfied. At this time, stories were told. There is something very earthy about this, something that contains a rich source of nutrients for our soul. The word human and humility come from the Latin word humus, which means earth. Humility is considered as the greatest virtue. Those who are exalted are humbled, and those who are humbled are exalted. The hearth was such an integral part of a home, that the concept has been used to refer to a household, as in “hearth and home”.
- What are Fairy Tales?
- The Origin of Fairy Tales
- Faërie, Fairies and Eucatastrophe
- Fairy Tales and Collective Unconscious
- The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
- Rituals and Archetypal Stories
- The Most Ancient Form of Tale
- Individuation in Fairy Tales
- The Three Feathers
- Interpretation: The Three Feathers
- The Frog King or Iron Henry
- Beauty and The Beast
- Hansel and Gretel
- Sleeping Beauty or Briar Rose
- Recommended Reading
Fairy tales fascinate us and give us a sense of warmth and home-coming that comes from the mythical realm of the imagination, a necessary complement to our everyday life. We are fundamentally story-telling creatures, and there is much we can learn by reflecting on the fairy tales heard in childhood. They seem almost magical because they connect us with emotions deeply buried within that cannot find expression in outer life, because as we grow up, the world of imagination is shunned by our peers, considered as unproductive and good for nothing. We are thus led to follow a linear path of study, work, and marriage. This becomes dangerous when it is too one-sided and the archetype of eternal youth within us is repressed. Human life becomes a mechanical existence in which the magic of childhood, play, beauty, and creativity has left us, and life seems prosaic and without meaning. And when we cannot find meaning, we numb ourselves with short-term pleasures, that seem, for a moment, to fill our inner vacuum.
Fairy tales can provide us with a sense that we are not alone in our life struggles. Humans have faced these struggles in one form or another since the beginning of time, and fairy tales represent this fundamental concern of the human condition. When we read about heroes fighting dragons, it mirrors our own experience in life with our own dragons representing the trials and tribulations of life, a difficult but necessary part of our path towards our ideal self. The treasure gained is what propels us towards self-realisation. By understanding ourselves better, we can better understand others and the world around us. Each of us receives a call to adventure that we can either accept or reject. We can confront the difficulties that will gain us access to new treasures, or run away and risk falling into the abyss of anxiety, depression, and meaninglessness.
Therefore, when we are confronted by difficulties, we should not be too sure this is a negative event. We may open up hidden places in our soul and reveal secret riches. Like a farmer who is ploughing the fields, but one day his plough catches onto something and his work is interrupted. But then he discovers a secret entrance to a deep underground cave filled with treasures. After discovering the buried treasure, we have the task of integrating these deep realms of beauty into our daily lives. Trouble can interrupt our journeys for good reasons that we may not immediately grasp.
What are Fairy Tales?
Characters such as the trickster wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the talking frog in The Frog King, the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel; Rapunzel, the long-haired maiden in the tower, or the Princess and the Pea, are likely to remain in our imagination all our lives. The adventures fairy tales describe often reflect challenges we face in our journeys. They hide a wealth of insights just below the surface, and are clearly more than mere entertainment for children. It is a great treasure to revisit stories that had an impact on us in our youth, and the characters we liked or disliked.
The term “fairy tale” was first used by French author Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century. It belongs to the folklore genre, representing mythology, folk wisdom, moral lessons, and entertainment. Fairy tales contain a liminal space, they represent both the ordinary and the sacred realms. The hero or heroine leaves the mundane world and steps into the magical world – where he or she encounters the presence of magic, treasures, talking animals or objects, and mythical beings such as fairies, dragons, dwarfs, giants, elves, mermaids, witches, etc.
The characters and motifs of fairy tales are archetypal, held by magical elements. Here we find all sorts of archetypes: the hero, the child, the shadow, the trickster, the fool, the wise old man, the maiden, the devouring mother, etc.
Fairy tales represent the transition from our conscious everyday life, to the unconscious and numinous other world, and back again to everyday life. The fairy tale can conclude with the character ending back in the ordinary world with fortune, or empty-handed with the relief of having survived and escaped from the devouring unconscious. When the fairy tale ends in the magical realm, it usually represents the tragic loss of the individual, being swallowed by the unconscious.
Let’s take, for instance, the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Too poor to afford food, his mother tells Jack to sell their only cow. He exchanges it for some magic beans, but when he reaches his home, his mother is furious that he hadn’t sold it for money and throws the beans outside. The next day a huge beanstalk has grown. He climbs it and reaches a kingdom in the sky, where a giant and his wife live. He asks for food and the wife kindly gives him some. When the giant reaches home, he smells the blood of an Englishman and wants to kill him, but the wife tells him that there’s nobody there. Jack steals a sack of gold coins from the giant and climbs back down. He goes two more times, and steals a hen that lays golden eggs, and a magical harp that plays music by itself. Upon stealing the harp, it cries out to its master, and the giant furiously runs after Jack. But Jack quickly runs down the beanstalk, fetches an axe, and chops it down. The giant falls and dies, and Jack and his mother were now very rich and they lived happily ever after.
Colloquially, the term “fairy tale” is used when describing something with a naively happy ending or something unreal that is just a product of one’s imagination. Psychologically, however, fairy tales reflect our inner landscape, and the characters can represent aspects of our own personalities. As we develop a deeper awareness of ourselves, we often find that stories reveal new symbolism and meaning that had hitherto been concealed. Sinister or wicked characters may represent aspects of ourselves that have been neglected or rejected.
The deep dark forest is a common representation of the shadow elements within, all that is within you which you do not know about. The monsters live in the forest. The wilderness reflects parts of ourselves that are never entirely tamed, but always somewhat dangerous. This mysterious and terrifying place hides the “treasure hard to attain.” We all have to cross this dark path in our lives. Our first reaction is to wish we could avoid it. However, in hindsight, we often realise that these were enormously valuable moments that forced us to discover unknown parts of ourselves.
The Origin of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales occur both in oral and in literary form. In the much more ancient oral tradition, fairy tales changed a bit every time they were told, and thus many local variants emerged. It is quite remarkable that many tales survived without being written, thanks to the power of storytelling.
In literary form, the Indo-European fairy tale The Smith and the Devil is believed to go as far back as the Bronze Age. It is about a blacksmith who makes a pact with a malevolent being (later called the Devil), selling his soul for supernatural power, and then tricking the evil entity out of his prize. This reminds one of the Faustian bargain. Many of the tales we know today, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin, have their roots in older tales that go back thousands of years.
Prior to radio and newspapers, stories formed the great interest of the population, and one can imagine how a folktale originates. Another theory of the origin of fairy tales is that they are remnants of degenerated literature.
Until the 17th and 18th centuries, fairy tales were – and still are in remote primitive societies – told to adults as well as to children. They used to be the chief winter-time form of entertainment in agricultural populations. Fairy tale-telling became a kind of essential, spiritual occupation. Sometimes it is said that fairy tales represent the philosophy of the spinning wheel. Their allocation to the nursery is a late development, which probably has to do with the rejection of the irrational, and development of the rational outlook. They came to be regarded as nonsense, old wives’ tales and good enough for children. It is only recent that we have rediscovered their immense psychological value.
For many people, fairy tales or dreams need not to be looked at accurately but may be distorted; since it is not ‘scientific’ material, one can just as well spin a little around it, pick what suits one and discard the rest. That same strange unreliable, unscientific, and dishonest attitude has for a long time prevailed towards fairy tales. Modern fairy tale adaptations usually omit a lot of strange or gruesome details present in the original versions.
The Brothers Grimm were the first in Germany to collect fairy tales and arouse interest in other countries to do the same. They wrote down fairy tales literally, as told by people in their surroundings, but even they could sometimes not resist mixing a few versions. They were honest enough to mention it in footnotes or letters. But they did not yet have that scientific attitude which modern folklore writers and ethnologists try to have, of taking down a story literally and leaving the holes and paradoxes in it. The collection of fairy tales which the brothers Grimm published was a tremendous success. There must have been a strong unconscious emotional interest, for in every country people began to make a basic collection of their national fairy tales. At once everybody was struck by the enormous number of recurrent themes, which came up again and again in different countries. With this began the search for the remains of an “old wisdom”.
Faërie, Fairies and Eucatastrophe
In his essay On Fairy-Stories, the English writer J.R.R. Tolkien views fairy tales as those that took place in Faërie, an enchanted realm, with or without fairies as characters. The Celts call them little people or good folk, there are, however, also evil fairies. In Irish legend, the changeling is believed to be a human-like fairy that had been left in place of a child stolen by other fairies.
One belief surrounding the origin of fairies is that during the war in heaven, the rebel angels fell to hell and the triumphant angels stayed in heaven, however, there were another group of angels who remained neutral, and so were caught in between, left to roam the earth as fairies.
Through the use of fantasy, the reader can experience a world that is consistent and rational, under rules other than those of the normal world. Fairy tales can provide moral or emotional consolation, through their happy ending. Tolkien coined the word eucatastrophe (good catastrophe) to describe a sudden turn of events in which the protagonist is saved from what seems like an inevitable doom. This sudden “turn” creates a far more powerful and poignant effect of joy in serious tales of Faërie.
Fairy Tales and Collective Unconscious
Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz focused much of her life in studying fairy tales, and might well be considered as the first person to discover and demonstrate the psychological wisdom of fairy tales. She writes:
“Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore, their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form. In this pure form, the archetypal images afford us the best clues to the understanding of the processes going on in the collective psyche. In myths or legends, or any other more elaborate mythological material, we get at the basic patterns of the human psyche through an overlay of cultural material. But in fairy tales there is much less specific conscious cultural material and therefore they mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly.”
Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
Myths such as Ulysses and Hercules express the national character of the civilisation in which they originated, namely, Greece. They are often more beautiful in form than fairy tales, so that some scholars are seduced into saying that the myth is the big thing and the rest just miserable remnants. Legends, on the other hand, are unverifiable events handed down from earlier times, and believed to have been taken place in human history.
Fairy tales, however, express the creative fantasies of the rural and less educated layers of the population. They had the great advantage of being naïve, and of having been worked out in collective groups, with the result that they contain purely archetypal material unobscured by personal problems. Therefore, a fairy tale can be understood across the world, and is not limited to one’s nation. Myths are nevertheless important because they can be used to make a bridge when you do not see what the fairytale material means, for it is too remote from one’s conscious world. Both myths and fairy tales help the human imagination narrate the meaning of life’s events.
One must tell things as they are, in their true and raw form and not embellish them, only then can one access the archetypal realm.
Fairy tales mirror the most basic psychological structures of humans, and it is where one can best study the anatomy of the psyche. Therefore, it is a scientific study in which von Franz sought to understand the objective psyche or what Carl Jung calls the collective unconscious (the home of archetypes, the inherited patterns of behaviour of mankind). On the other hand, we have the subjective psyche or personal unconscious, contents of personal acquisition that have been repressed or forgotten. This is the home of complexes, emotionally charged groups of ideas or images.
Dreams mostly occur in the personal unconscious, while fairy tales represent the collective unconscious. Both, however, will constellate complexes and archetypes.
The subjective view allows you to find the personal image that is contained within your emotions, providing an outlet for unconscious conflicts. But one must go further and look beyond oneself, in order to find one’s place in the primordial images of mankind (the objective view).
The incidents in the magical realm of fairy tales are fundamentally similar to dream experiences in that the enchanted world represents the unconscious. As Jung says, “In our sleep we consult the two-million-year-old self which each of us represents.”
One of the key practices in Jungian psychology is amplification. When we run out of personal associations of the images in our unconscious – whether they are the result of dreams, art, or active imagination – fairy tales can help us to better understand their symbolic content, because they amplify the personal contents to the collective unconscious.
In the Red Book, Jung speaks to a princess during active imagination, she tells him:
“Be reasonable, dear friend, and do not stumble now over the fabulous, since the fairy tale is the great mother of the novel, and has even more universal validity than the most-avidly read novel of your time. And you know that what has been on everyone’s lips for millennia, though repeated endlessly, still comes nearest to the ultimate human truth. So do not let the fabulous come between us.”
Carl Jung, The Red Book
We should be using the wisdom of the tales to understand the problems we are facing collectively, but to stand in the collective issue and to look at the fairy tale is missing the mark. Rather, we have to look at the fairy tale, and then at contemporary issues. Though fairy tales have changed over time to adapt to society and cultural conventions, the archetypes have remained virtually the same.
The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
von Franz tells us that approaching the meaning of a fairy tale is like stalking a very evasive stag. Just as for a dream, we divide the archetypal story into its various aspects, beginning with the first stage: exposition (time and place). They usually begin with “once upon a time”, which is timelessness and spacelessness, the nowhere of the collective unconscious. In this land of the soul, we almost always find some kind of a constructed centre: a castle, palace, four-cornered house, or a round lake with a mountain or island in the middle. The important processes take place in this centre; it is here that we touch the central problem of the fairy tale.
In the second stage, we turn to the dramatis personae (the people involved). It is recommended to count the number of people at the beginning and end. If a tale begins with “The king had three sons”, one notices that there are four characters, but the mother is lacking, one could suspect that the story is about redeeming the female principle. The third stage consists of naming the problem of the story, such as an old king who is sick. Finally, in the fourth stage, comes the peripeteia, the sudden change of events, the ups and downs and climax of the tale – which concludes in either a good or bad ending.
Just like the dream is its own best explanation, and the interpretation of the dream is always less good than the dream itself, so too the interpretation of fairy tales and myths are a darkening of the original light which shines in the material itself. This is a common critique of the Jungian interpretation. However, the method of non-interpretation is often not sufficient, for the person will be like someone with a chest full of treasures, but who has lost the key to opening it. And what is the use of that? Very often these treasures are not made use of and people’s lives are impoverished.
Interpretation, however, has to be practiced; for people tend to interpret their own dreams and myths within the framework of their conscious assumptions. The way to check if an interpretation is satisfactory is if it “clicks” with one, and to watch one’s dreams to see if they go in the same direction, or if something is lacking that must be brought into consciousness. The psychologist can help to provide an objective view, so that a person may find the key to unlock their inner treasure. But the work must finally be done by the patient himself. von Franz writes:
“I always tell students not to learn my lecture, but to try to interpret fairy tales themselves, for that is the only way to learn. Interpretation is an art, a craft actually, which finally depends on you yourself. The classes where everyone interprets the same fairy tale, is almost a confession and a Rorschach test at the same time. That cannot be avoided… for you have to put your whole being into it.”
Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
Rituals and Archetypal Stories
For von Franz, one of the most frequent ways in which archetypal stories originate is through individual experiences of an invasion by some unconscious content, either in a dream or in a waking hallucination. Here we can see how rituals from tribes can come into existence from the archetypal experience of an individual; and if the impact is strong enough, there is a need to spread the personal secret around and not keep it to oneself. It is our psychic structure which has produced these symbols. People don’t have ideas; ideas have people. The experience is considered by the shaman as a vision which belongs to the tribe, the individual was merely the message carrier.
The Most Ancient Form of Tale
We find many animal tales. However, although the characters are animals, they are at the same time anthropomorphic beings. From a psychological standpoint, they are symbolic animals, for the animal is the carrier of the projection of human psychic factors. In other words, they are human because they really do not represent animal instincts, but our animal instincts. For example, a tiger in a story is greedy; it is not the real tiger’s greed that is represented, but our own tigerish greed. So, it is an anthropomorphic tiger. These represent one of the most ancient and basic forms of archetypal tales. Children below a certain age prefer animal stories, because other stories with princesses and devils require too many explanations. But if you say, “The dog said to the cat,” then they listen most eagerly. So, it seems to be the basic material, the deepest and most ancient form of tale.
Individuation in Fairy Tales
Fairy tales are vital for our individuation process, where the unconscious is known and integrated into consciousness, and one becomes their own self. This is the goal of all humans in Jungian psychology. Different fairy tales give average pictures of the phases of individuation: shadow integration, anima or animus integration, dealing with the archetypal father and mother images, etc. – all are valuable, as they all point to the Self. von Franz states:
“After working for many years in this field, I have come to the conclusion that all fairy tales endeavour to describe one and the same psychic fact, but a fact so complex and far-reaching and so difficult for us to realise in all its different aspects that hundreds of tales and thousands of repetitions with a musician’s variations are needed until this unknown fact is delivered into consciousness; and even then the theme is not exhausted. This unknown fact is what Jung calls the Self, which is the psychic totality of an individual and also, paradoxically, the regulating centre of the collective unconscious. Every individual and every nation has its own modes of experiencing this psychic reality.”
Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
If one trusts and follows one’s inner voice, even if it brings one into conflict with the prevailing opinion, one lets oneself be guided by the unconscious, and the journey into the depths rewards one with unexpected riches. This is perhaps the core struggle in all fairy tales, and is represented as the “Great Journey”, the adventurous quest to find the “treasure hard to attain”.
In the following section, we will be looking at some fairy tales, the first one will include an interpretation, and the rest will be without one, so that you may reflect upon them yourself.
The Three Feathers
There was once upon a time a King who had three sons, of whom two were clever and wise, but the third did not speak much, and was called the simpleton. When the King had become old and weak, and was thinking of his end, he did not know which of his sons should inherit the kingdom after him. Then he said to them, “He who brings me the most beautiful carpet shall be King.” So, he blew three feathers in the air, and said, “You shall go as they fly.” One flew up to the east, the other to the west, but the third flew straight up and didn’t fly far, but soon fell to the ground. The brothers mocked Simpleton, who was forced to stay where he was. He sat down and was sad, but noticed that there was a trapdoor close by the feather. He raised it up, and went down the steps. There was a door and he knocked at it. He saw a great toad, with a crowd of little toads, and Simpleton asked her for a fine carpet, and he received it. He thanked her and went away. The two brothers who thought their brother was so stupid that he would bring nothing at all did not trouble themselves to search and got some handkerchiefs. When Simpleton brought the beautiful carpet back, the King was astonished and declared that the youngest will inherit the kingdom.
But the two others let their father have no peace, and said that Simpleton, who in everything lacked understanding, could not be King. So, the King made a new agreement and said, “He who brings me the most beautiful ring shall inherit the kingdom.” Again, the feathers blew in the same direction, and Simpleton went back to the fat toad, and told her he wanted a beautiful ring, which he was given. The brothers laughed at Simpleton for going to seek a golden ring, and simply brought some nails. When Simpleton brought back the ring, the father again said, “The kingdom belongs to him.” The two eldest did not cease from tormenting the King until he made a third condition, and declared that the one who brought the most beautiful woman home, should have the kingdom. Simpleton went back to the toad, but the toad answered, “She is not at hand at the moment, but still, you will have her.” She gave him a yellow turnip which had been hollowed out, to which six mice were harnessed. Then Simpleton said, “What am I to do with that?” The toad answered, “Just put one of my little toads into it.” Hardly was the toad seated in the turnip when she turned into a fair maiden, the turnip into a coach, and the six mice into horses. So, he kissed her, and drove off quickly with the horses, and took her to the King. His brothers did not trouble themselves to seek beautiful girls but brought the first peasant women they came across.
The King declared that his kingdom belongs to his youngest son. But the two eldest kept complaining to the King, and demanded that the one whose wife could leap through a ring which hung in the centre of the hall should have the preference. The peasant women, who were strong, jumped, but were so stout that they fell, and broke their arms and legs. The pretty maiden, however, sprang lightly as a deer. So, he received the crown, and has ruled wisely for a length of time.
Interpretation: The Three Feathers
We can start our interpretation of this fairy tale by noting at the beginning that the king has three sons, and the youngest is a fool. Many fairy tales start with a father and three sons, or a mother and three daughters. Often, but not always, we can relate this fourfold structure with Jung’s psychological types: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. If thinking is one’s dominant function, feeling is one’s inferior function.
The king must tap into his inferior function, which makes the bridge to the unconscious, gaining him access to a realm beneath the earth, where the archetype of the Great Mother resides in the form of a toad, and she helps the fool with each quest. Here, the final task is the integration of the anima, the personification of all female psychological tendencies in man, which is also the archetype of life, only then can the fool inherit the kingdom (a symbol of wholeness). As the old and rigid way of life dies, a younger, and more capable energy is brought forth into one’s life.
Once there was a miller who was poor, but who had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he had to go and speak to the King, and in order to make himself appear important he said to him, “I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold.” The King was pleased and told him to bring her to his palace. When the girl was brought to the King, he took her into a room with a spinning-wheel and straw, and said, “If by tomorrow morning you have not spun this straw into gold, you must die.” So, she was left alone in the room and had no idea what to do, and she grew more and more miserable, until at last she began to weep.
But all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, and inquired about her crying. The girl answered that she had to spin straw into gold, but does not know how to do it. The manikin asked what he would get in exchange if he did it for her, and she replied, “My necklace.” So, he began to work until all the straw was spun, and all the reels were full of gold.
When the King came, he was astonished and delighted, but his heart became only more greedy. He had the miller’s daughter taken into another room full of straw, which was much larger, and told her to turn it into gold if she valued her life. The girl was crying, and when the door opened, the little man appeared again. This time, the girl gave him her ring, and he spun all the straw into glittering gold.
The King came delighted but grew still even more greedy, and took her to a larger room, and if she succeeds, she shall become his wife. This time, when the manikin arrived. She had nothing to offer him, so he told her, “Then promise me, if you should become Queen, I shall have your first child.” Not knowing what else to do, she agrees. The King came in and found all as he wished, and she became Queen. A year after, she had a beautiful child, and she never gave a thought to the manikin. But suddenly he appeared, and she was horror-struck, offering the manikin all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her child. The manikin took sympathy and gave her three days’ time to find out his name, and if she found out, she would keep her child.
So, the Queen thought the whole night of all the names that she had ever heard, and sent a messenger over the country to inquire for any other names that there might be. The first day and the second day passed, and she had not yet figured out his name. But on the third day, the messenger came back and told her that he had seen a man jumping on one leg and shouting, “Today I bake, tomorrow brew, The next I’ll have the young Queen’s child. Ha! Glad am I that no one knew, That Rumpelstiltskin I am styled.” When the little man came in, she told him his name. He cried, “the devil has told you that!”, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.
The Frog King or Iron Henry
In old times, when it was still of some use to wish for the thing one wanted, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was the most beautiful. On a warm day, she went into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and to pass the time she would take a golden ball, throw it up, and catch it. The ball eventually fell into the well and she could not find it. She began to cry and a voice spoke, “What ails you, King’s daughter? You weep so that even a stone would show pity.” She looked around and saw a frog stretching forth its thick, ugly head out of the water, and she told him about the golden ball. The frog said, “I can help you, but what will I get in return for your plaything?” “Whatever you want, dear frog”, said she – “My clothes, my pearls and jewels, and even the golden crown which I am wearing.” But the frog did not care about such things, and only wanted to be her companion. She promised to give him all that he wishes, but thought, what a silly frog this was.
In a short while, the frog came with the ball in his mouth, and she was delighted and ran away with it, despite the frog’s protest to take him with her. She soon forgot about the poor frog. The next day as she was eating from her little golden plate, she heard a knock at the door. It was the frog. She slammed the door, as she was quite frightened. The King asked what troubled her, “There is a disgusting frog outside”, answered she. “What does a frog want from you?” answered the King, and she told him about her promise. The frog knocked a second time, and the King said, “That which you have promised must you perform. Go and let him in.” So, she went and opened the door, and the frog followed her. The little frog sat on her plate and they had to eat together, much to her disgust. The frog then told her to carry him in her bed, but she began to cry for she was afraid of the cold frog which she did not like to touch. The King commanded her to fulfill her promise, so she took the frog and carried him in a corner, but the frog said that he wanted to sleep in the bed, or else he will tell her father. Then she was terribly angry and threw him against the wall, upon which he transformed into a King’s son. He told her that he had been under a spell by a wicked witch.
The next morning a carriage came driving up with eight white horses, and behind stood the young King’s servant Faithful Henry, who had been so unhappy when his master was changed into a frog, that he had caused three iron bands to be laid round his heart, lest it should burst with grief. And as they drove away, the King’s son heard a cracking as if the carriage was breaking. But it was only the bands which were springing from the heart of his servant, because his master was set free and was happy.
Beauty and The Beast
A rich widowed merchant lives in a mansion with his twelve children, six sons and six daughters. The youngest of which is a girl by the name of Beauty, who is innocent and kind, in contrast to her sisters, who are cruel and selfish. The merchant eventually loses all his riches in a storm, in which most of his merchant fleet sink, and the family is forced to live in a modest cottage and work for a living. The merchant learns that one of his trade ships has survived and made it to the port and he decides to go and look for it. He asks his children if they want any gifts to be brought back, his oldest daughters ask for fine clothing and jewelry, while Beauty tells him to have a safe journey. Her father insists that he should bring her something, and she finally tells him to bring her a rose. The merchant sails away and is soon lost in a vicious storm. He reaches land and finds a castle in which nobody is home, but has a table full of food and drink, which he indulges in. The next morning, he thinks about bringing his children to the castle, but before he leaves, he picks a rose from the garden, and immediately a Beast appears and tries to kill him. He begs for his life and tells him that he only plucked the rose to give it to his youngest daughter. The Beast lets him go, but in exchange, one of his daughters must take his place.
Upset upon this realisation, the merchant is left with no choice. The Beast gives him jewels and fine clothes for his children. Upon arriving home, the merchant hands the rose to his daughter, but informs her of its terrible price. Beauty willingly decides to go to the castle. She is greeted with a great ceremony upon her arrival, and the Beast gives her all sorts of clothing and food. Every night the Beast asks Beauty to marry him, only to be refused each time. After each refusal, however, Beauty dreams of a handsome prince with whom she begins to fall in love. She does not realise that the Beast is the prince, and instead believes the prince is locked up in the castle. Beauty searches everywhere, but is unable to find him.
Eventually, she becomes homesick and tells the Beast if she can see her family again. He allows it on the condition that she return exactly two months later. However, she stays longer and envisions the Beast dying alone. She rushes to the castle and she finds him near death. Beauty realises that she loves him and fetches water from a spring to give him to drink. That night, she agrees to marry him, and when she wakes up next to him, she finds that the Beast has transformed into the prince from her dreams. He had been under a curse which could only be broken by finding true love, despite his ugliness.
Hansel and Gretel
Down by a great forest, dwelt a poor woodcutter, and his wife and two children. The boy was called Hansel, and the girl Gretel. Once when great scarcity found the land, the parents could no longer procure daily bread. The man tells his wife, “How are we to feed our poor children?” The stepmother decides that they should abandon them in the forest or else they’ll all starve to death, though the father struggles with leaving his beloved children alone in the forest. The children, who could not sleep, because they were hungry, heard what the stepmother said. With the help of white pebbles that Hansel took along, they were able to find their way back home the next night. They were received angrily by the mother, while the father rejoiced at their return.
Not long after, the process repeated itself. This time, the children tried to save themselves with help of scattered breadcrumbs, but these were eaten by birds, so they got lost. On the third day, they saw a snow-white bird sitting on a branch and followed it, until they reached a little house made of bread, cake, and sweets. They started to eat parts of the house until they were welcomed by a very old woman. Good food was set before them. But she was in reality a wicked witch, who had built the little house to entice children there, feed them, and then eat them. The next morning the old woman locked Hansel in a small stable and Gretel had to cook food to fatten up her brother. Every morning Hansel had to put his finger through the stable so that the witch could feel if he had become fat enough to eat. But he took out a small bone, and this fooled the old woman since she had bad eyesight. She was surprised he was not getting fat. Her hunger grew and she could not wait anymore, so she ordered Gretel to crawl in the oven to check the heat, but the witch wanted to shut her in and cook her up. Gretel saw what she had in mind and said, “I do not know how to get in.” “Silly goose” said the old woman, “The door is big enough; just look, I can get in myself!” Then Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. And the godless witch was miserably burned to death.
Hansel and Gretel embraced each other and inside the witch’s house stood chests full of pearls and jewels, which they filled their pockets with. They finally reach their parents’ home and saw their father, who had not known one happy hour since they had left. The woman, however, was dead.
Sleeping Beauty or Briar Rose
In olden times there lived a king and queen who lamented day by day that they had no children, and yet they had none. One day as the queen was bathing and thinking of her wish, a frog skipped out of the water and said to her, “Your wish shall be fulfilled—before the year passes you shall have a daughter.”
As the frog had said, so it happened, and a little girl was born who was so beautiful that the king almost lost his senses, but he ordered a great feast to be held, to which he invited relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and all the wise women who are kind and affectionate to children. But as there were thirteen wise women in his dominions, and he had only twelve golden plates for them, one had to stay home.
As soon as the feast was over, the wise women presented the infant with their wonderful gifts—virtue, beauty, riches, and so on—but just as eleven had given their presents, the thirteenth old lady stepped in suddenly. She was in a tremendous passion because she had not been invited, and without greeting or looking at anybody, she exclaimed loudly, “The princess shall prick herself with a spindle on her fifteenth birthday and die!”
All were terrified, but then the twelfth fairy stepped up. Because she could not take away the evil wish, but only soften it, she said, “She shall not die, but shall fall into a sleep of a hundred years’ duration.”
The king, who naturally wished to protect his child, commanded that every spindle in the kingdom should be burned. But it happened that on the day when the princess was just fifteen years old, the king and queen were not at home, and she was left alone in the castle.
The maiden looked about in every place as she pleased and she found a door with a rusty key and opened it. An old woman sat with a spindle, spinning flax. “What thing is that which twists round so merrily?” inquired the maiden, and she took the spindle to try her hand at spinning. Scarcely had she done so when the prophecy was fulfilled, for she pricked her finger; and at that very same moment she fell back upon a bed which stood near, in a deep sleep. This sleep extended over the whole palace and every person, animal, and activity was stopped – even the wind ceased to blow.
Around the palace a thick hedge of briars began growing which every year grew higher and higher, until the castle was quite hidden from view. Then there went through the land a legend of the beautiful maiden Briar Rose, and from time-to-time princes came endeavoring to penetrate the hedge into the castle; but it was not possible, for the thorns held them as if by hands. The youths, unable to free themselves, perished miserably.
After a hundred years, when Briar Rose was to awake again, a young prince approached the hedge, and the thorns turned into flowers, which of their own accord made a way for him to pass through and again closed up behind him. He made his way to a room where Briar Rose slept, and kissed her. The whole place awoke, and activity resumed again. They married and lived happy and contented.
Fairy tales allow us to view our own world from the perspective of a different world. This is not an escape from reality, but an enrichment of life. As Tolkien writes:
“It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
Our world is full of magic and wonder, for those with eyes to see, and it is up to us to awaken ourselves to the true beauty of life.
“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
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The Psychology of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales fascinate us and give us a sense of warmth and home-coming that comes from the mythical realm of the imagination, a necessary complement to our everyday life. We are fundamentally story-telling creatures, and there is much we can learn by reflecting on the fairy tales heard in childhood.