How Timeless are 'The Fairytales'?
|   Jul 29, 2015
How Timeless are 'The Fairytales'?
I have a confession. I have never told my daughter the stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, etc. These are the stories I grew up on. So why have I not told them to my toddler daughter? 

I have thought about telling her these stories. But I have put it off over and over again. Recently, I read an article about the importance of fairy/folk tales because of what they teach and how they spark the imagination. Articles say that fairy tales are very important for the development of the child's imagination, creativity and character. May be they are. But I have a problem with some of them.

What do I do when my daughter asks me those much dreaded "WHYs". The good thing about fairy tales according to this article is that the world is in black and white. Characters are either good or evil. There are no shades of grey. So children don't get confusing signals from them. But the thing is the real world is full of shades of grey. When I try to picture myself telling my daughter fairy tales, I feel like a fraud. I have no trouble with fairies, pixies, goblins, dragons, witches, magic and werewolves. But I do have trouble with one-dimensional characters, evil step mothers and damsels in distress (women are either evil conniving creatures or waiting to be married off to a prince or both), the importance given to land ownership, marrying princes, beauty and wealth.  How do I answer whys pertaining to these issues? Another thing that bothers me is that they often lack humour or take themselves too seriously.

So yes, I do believe in the importance of fantasy and letting the imagination run wild. But it is these particular fairy tales I am uncomfortable with. In fact being reluctant to tell these fairy tales to my daughter was one of the motivating factors in my writing the Tania stories: the experiences/adventures of a little girl in contemporary Mumbai

But in spite of the concerns I have, I guess I do want my daughter to know these folk/fairy tales because they were a part of my childhood and knowledge of them is often taken for granted. TV shows and literary works often refer to them. She may miss out on a lot by not knowing them. 

One option was, of course, to introduce them to her much later when I can explain the disparity in times and social attitudes, but this did not feel like a very satisfactory solution.

So I broached the subject with my husband (usually referred to as papa at home and in these blog posts), and as usual he has terribly simple solutions to all my convoluted problems.

"Don't like the way the fairy tales sound?" he says. "Don't like the message they send? You think they don't have any humor in them? Hmm, now, whatever can you do about that? How about, you change them? Tell them the way you like them. Include jokes, puns and humor. Adapt the characters to be more modern in their outlook?"

That is when I realized something. After all, these fairy/folk tales have been handed down verbally through the generations via the art of storytelling.  Storytelling is not the same as reading a story. It is about telling the story in such a way as to captivate your audience. So you have to modify the story to suit the audience (in this case children of the 21st century). Make them live it.  Storytelling is not a passive activity but an art that requires creativity, intelligence and sensitivity. It requires you to be able to gather feedback from the expressions of your listeners and accordingly adapt the details, emphasis and tone of the story. And that is what makes these stories timeless. Because they are adapted to suit the times by the storyteller.

Okay now let me go make up modern versions of those stories and I'll start with my favorite 'Beauty and he Beast'. Hey, I am doing the telling, right? So I get to pick. 

May be I'll make beauty want to work as a social worker. May be I'll have the beast encourage her to do that, but have beauty scared of the beast because she knows he is hiding something. What could the modern beast be hiding? Hmm... this is going to take some thought. If I come up with a good story I'll make it a future blog post.

And my kids can read the more historical versions later out of curiosity, thirst for knowledge or whatever drives them and develop their own opinions.

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