The Wisdom of Fairy Tales

One of my favorite parts of being a parent right now is that I get to read a lot of fairy tales. We go to the library and head straight to the traditional fairy tale section. I’m always amazed at the gorgeously illustrated versions we keep discovering. Here are some of our favorites:

Snow White by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett

This is my 3 and a half year’s favorite book. I need to actually buy it rather than only borrowing it for months from the library. She looks at the illustrations over and over again — is it weird that her favorite picture is when Snow White appears dead on the ground of the cottage with the witch leaving in the background? It may be a little morbid, but I remind myself of the Uses of Enchantment, that fairy tales help children gently deal with grim realities.

Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky

My kids went through a time when they wanted this book every day. His illustrations look straight from the Italian Renaissance. I did finally buy this one instead of only borrowing it from the library.

Here are a few more that we love:

Now, while this post may seem to be headed in the direction of “Fairy Tale Recommendations,” I really want to write this morning about what reading fairy tales all the time does for me.

I was a bit sick yesterday — sore throat, achy muscles, exhaustion. But, in the afternoon, I had an hour where I felt a little better and I slowly accomplished some chores while my girls (magically?) played. It was one of those afternoons where the light streams in and gives everything a different quality. I was reminded of those lines from Sylvia Plath’s Black Rook in Rainy Weather (even though it gloriously sunny yesterday):

A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor
One might say love. 

In fairy tales, we are seemingly in the midst of the ordinary world, but always, things are not quite as they appear. A bear (as in Rose Red and Snow White ) turns out to be a prince under a spell, straw can be woven into gold (i.e. Rumpelstiltskin), pumpkins may be turned into carriages. The world is just a little off-kilter, imbalanced with just a bit of enchantment. The common is always on the verge of being transformed.

Mason Jar Glory

Reading fairy tales constantly to my children makes me remember what I really do know — that the stories aren’t so far from the truth. I walk outside and the sunlight makes the little bits of frost into diamonds. The tassels of our ornamental grass are actually gilded with gold at the right angle. I was reading at the table and noticed the glory that my daughter’s mason jar cup of water was bestowing upon my book. The common is always on the verge of being transformed — in that certain light.

It reminds me of another quote that I love from Thomas Traherne:

“I was guided by an implicit faith in God’s goodness: and therefore led to the study of the most obvious and common things. For thus I thought within myself: God being, as we generally believe, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature, that the best things should be most common. For nothing is more natural to infinite goodness, than to make the best things most frequent; and only things worthless scarce. Then I began to enquire what things were most common: Air, Light, Heaven and Earth, Water, the Sun, Trees, Men and Women, Cities, Temples, &c. These I found common and obvious to all: Rubies, Pearls, Diamonds, Gold and Silver; these I found scarce, and to the most denied. Then began I to consider and compare the value of them which I measured by their serviceableness, and by the excellencies which would be found in them, should they be taken away. And in conclusion, I saw clearly, that there was a real valuableness in all the common things; in the scarce, a feigned.”