Facts are stranger than fiction. A poll of 3,000 parents carried out last year by TheBabyWebsite.com found that a quarter of mothers rejected certain fairy tales because they were too frightening and giving out the wrong (ie politically incorrect) messages. Apparently a third of the parents who were quizzed refuse to read their children the story of Little Red Riding Hood because she is allowed to walk through the woods alone and then finds her grandmother has been eaten by a wolf. Rapunzel is considered “too dark”; Cinderella appears to be a poor role model for feminism (domestic slave transformed into princess); and Snow White is disapproved of because of the reference to dwarves.
Of course fairy tales are terrifying. That is the point of them. Children are confronted early on with the reality of good and evil, cruelty and kindness, misfortune and perseverance. If they do not process this reality early on in an imaginative form, with the comforting concluding formula, “And they all lived happily ever after”, their understanding of life will be abridged. There is much more to be said about the importance of fairy tales but this is the bottom line. We hear of “helicopter mothers”, forever hovering over their children and thereby preventing them from maturing as independent persons, but this kind of over-protectiveness is more insidious as it is an attempted manipulation of the mind. Fairy tales are part of the world’s literature and children should be exposed to more of them (and perhaps spend less time on electronic games?).
I happened to pick up recently at a book stall a Penguin Popular Classics edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with illustrations by Cruikshank. Reading through the list of tales, with titles such as “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, “The King of the Golden Mountain”, “The Frog Prince” and “Rumpelstiltskin”, brought back delightful memories of childhood reading and the fear and fascination I felt during the hours spent with these wonderful stories. When Jesus tells St Peter in St Matthew’s Gospel to “go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel”, this small miracle always makes me think of the story of “The Fisherman and his Wife”.
At the same time as parents are sanitising their children’s reading matter, the innocence of these same children is being deliberately sabotaged by dark forces which are much worse than old-fashioned witches and wizards; I refer to the authors of sex education material for primary schools. One text, recommended for children aged five upwards in Devon and Wiltshire, shows a cartoon of adults engaged in intercourse with a graphic description of what is happening. Another book, entitled “Where Did I Come From?” tells pupils about the pleasures of tickling each other’s private parts. Yet another, a textbook for boys, called “What’s happening to me?”, describes foreplay and masturbation. An education pack used by some local councils explains terms such as “anal intercourse”, “bisexual”, “oral sex” and “orgasm” to older primary school pupils.
It is a mad world where children are shielded from fairy tales yet exposed in school to lessons in which they are being emotionally and morally corrupted – indeed debauched. Straight after the miracle of the fish and the shekel, Jesus warns what happens to those who lead children into sin: “It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea…”
Bring back Grimms’ Fairy Tales – and make a bonfire of all such “educational” books.