The Conversation.com

Article by: Michelle Smith


 

Recently, an English mother, Sarah Hall, prompted worldwide media coverage in response to her suggestion that Sleeping Beauty should be removed from the school curriculum for young children because of the “inappropriate sexual message” it sends about consent.

It’s not the only time fairytales have come under scrutiny recently. They are increasingly being targeted for “banning” within schools or avoidance by parents because of their perceived sexism, passive princesses, and reinforcement of marriage as girls’ ultimate goal. But can fairy tales actually be harmful as their critics believe?

‘Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm, as illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia. Flickr CC

Fairy tales were once told – and then written – by adults for adult audiences. Early versions of many tales were often bawdy, salacious and replete with sexual innuendo. Since the Grimm Brothers removed these elements to reconfigure the fairy tale for children in the early 19th century, fairy tales have been seen as ideal, imaginative stories for young people. Almost all of us know the most popular stories from childhood reading or Disney films.

Tradition is not reason enough to continue a cultural practice that has become outmoded. Nevertheless, there are a range of reasons why these calls to restrict children from reading fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty are misguided.

Children’s literature needn’t model ‘ideal’ behaviour

Initially, most children’s literature was didactic and preoccupied with instructing children in correct morals and drilling them with information.

Adult readers today would struggle to find any pleasure in children’s literature prior to 1850, let alone today’s kids. In order to provide “delight” as well as “instruction”, children’s books represent a range of behaviour, including, in the case of fairy tales, the attempted murder of children, and punishments such as feet being severed and birds pecking out human eyes.

In Charles Perrault’s version of Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper (illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia) Cinderella leaves behind a glass slipper.Flickr CC

 

 

 

Charles Perrault was the French author who added the famous motifs of the glass slipper and pumpkin coach to the Cinderella tale. In his version of Sleeping Beauty, after the Princess and the Prince marry in secret and have two children, the Prince’s mother is entirely unimpressed.
Unsurprisingly within a fairy tale…

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