When I was a child I loved fairy tales, in particular The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Twelve sisters escape through a hole in the floor of their chamber, down a long passageway and into a magical world, tricking their tyrannical father night after night in order to dance by the side of a beautiful lake with a bevy of handsome princes. My fascination with the tale is probably why it pops up in Flipka, of course, in a slightly different setting and with juvenile delinquents instead of princesses.
The traditional versions of some fairy tales are so horrifying you wonder why any parent would allow them in the house, let alone read them to children. For example, in The Terrible Head (from the Blue Fairy Book) a king believes he will be killed by his grandson and locks both the boy and his mother (his daughter) in a crate which he then dumps into the ocean. The crate floats to another kingdom, where guess what?
The boy and his mother encounter another nutty king. The second nutty king decides he wants to marry the mother but that he doesn’t want to be a step-daddy so he sends the boy on an ill-fated, doomed-to-fail quest for the TERRIBLE HEAD. The boy is triumphant but only after stealing the one eye shared by three elderly women living in an ice cave. Heh?
In the time of Dr. Spock, experts in early childhood development began to worry about fairy tales. Were they too traumatizing for children? This prompted a debate between the experts (naturally), more or less put to rest by Bruno Bettelheim in the Uses of Enchantment. Bettelheim argued (in a nutshell) that fairy tales present existential dilemmas – the loss of a mother or death of a pet – in a way children can come to grips with. To quote: “Each fairy tale is a magic mirror which reflects some aspect of our inner world and of the steps required for our evolution from immaturity to maturity.” I don’t know if I agree (especially with regard to The Terrible Head). What do you think?