Earlier this year, I had the chance to write an introduction to G. K. Chesterton's classic book Orthodoxy, which was being re-published as part of a collection of Christian classics. Chesterton (1874-1936), a brilliant, witty Englishman beloved as a novelist, newspaperman, and Christian apologist writer and speaker, loved fairy tales and viewed them as much more than simple, entertaining stories for children. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orthodoxy (as well as Chesterton's famous Father Brown mystery series and his play Magic) and wanted to share some of his comments on fairy tales. I've chosen this passage from chapter 4 "The Ethics of Elfland." He actually gives four lessons, to be taken from four fairy tales, but since this is a Top 3 post, consider one a bonus.
|Walter Crane's 1874 edition of Beauty and the Beast presenting the Beast as a boar|
"But I deal here with what ethic and philosophy come from being fed on fairy tales. If I were describing them in detail I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise form them. There is the chivalrous lesson of “Jack the Giant Killer”; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older than all the kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of “Cinderella,” that which is the same as that of the Magnificat—exaltavit humiles [exalt the humble]. There is the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast”; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable. There is the terrible allegory of the “Sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the separate statues of elfland, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts."
Chesterton is also famous for (supposedly) saying this about what he learned from fairy tales:
“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
But that is actually a paraphrase by Neil Gaiman. The actual quote is this (with extra lines for context) and from "The Red Angel" in Tremendous Trifles.
"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."
Do you have any favorite lessons from fairy tales or quotes on fairy tales?