Are children still told the old fairy tales? Remember the ones about Red Riding Hood, the three pigs, and Goldilocks that have been around for hundreds of years? There are so many great books for kids, many with morals that reinforce their messages. There are even some great ones that are completely amoral, like Blackboard Bear, a family favorite. With so much to chose from, do the old standards still have a place on bookshelves?
Children (and their owners) have a stupendous choice of reading material. In addition to the classics, there are retellings of the classics with ironic twists, adventures of licensed characters (e.g., Barbie, Dora the Explorer, Little Pet Shop, and Arthur), and new storybooks based on almost every imaginable topic (e.g., I Can’t Wait to Meet You about in vitro fertilization). Remember, I said almost. Books entertain kids and also teach them. Some books include mini history or science lessons, others feature dinosaurs and other animals, and there are quite a few that emphasize the value of virtues such as honesty and integrity.
According to Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment, the old, gory fairytales prepare children — in a subconscious, Freudian kind of way — for life. Since my subconscious does not wish to be interviewed, my conscious mind was willing to share what it learned from a variety of fairy tales.
“Red Riding Hood” taught me never to take short cuts through the woods; as a matter of fact, let somebody else deliver the goodies to grandma. “The Three Little Pigs” taught me to live in brick houses, which I did until I married my Prince Charming whose job it is to protect me from big, bad wolves. And “Goldilocks” taught me that nothing is ever “just right.”
Bettelheim wrote The Uses of Enchantment in 1976, nearly 35 years ago. A leading authority on mental illness in children, Bettelheim also had a lot to say about autism, and while his views were widely held, they have now been widely discredited. Bettelheim himself has been the subject of scrutiny; many of his claims and credentials have come under fire. Both supporters and detractors abound.
Bettelheim applied Freudian theory to fairy tales and used that as a basis to explain their symbolic, and therefore emotional, significance to children. He believed that emotional growth and maturation was aided by the reading of traditional fairy tales.
For those who eschew Freudian theory, The Uses of Enchantment is of interest for its translations of those old stories, some of which may have planted a little paranoia in our developing minds. Admit it, you still check under bridges for trolls.
The Uses of Enchantment not only examines the imagery within the stories, but compares it to other traditional symbols, such as religious icons and conventions and other storytelling forms.
Do you subscribe to Freudian theory? If you do, you will find this book to be an interesting explanation of the role of fairy tales in the building of young psyches. Themes of transformation in Little Red Riding Hood, for example, help illustrate children’s fears and concerns.
In addition to the classic versions of the stories examined, Bettelheim looks at a variety of cultural variations of the stories, comparing and contrasting regional and cultural differences within the stories and their symbolism.
Readers who do not subscribe to Freudian theory will probably find that The Uses of Enchantment is a bunch of — how shall I put this? — hooey. Those who find the psychoanalytical translations far-fetched will remember these fairy tales from their childhood, and react with scorn, “Oh, that’s ridiculous! A wolf is a wolf; a bird is a bird,” or “I never thought of it in those terms when I was a kid.” It's all a matter of perspective.
Bottom Line: Would I buy The Uses of Enchantment? No; I reject most Freudian theory and, although the book is interesting, wouldn’t devote that much time to exploring it.Powered by Sidelines