Once upon a time, far far away, there lived some princess or prince in some kingdom. Stuff happened…somebody lied, somebody died, and somebody fell in love. Finally, the good guys lived happily ever after…or not. Growing up, fairy tales were the real deal. The stories of mystical and magical creatures that existed far far away, deep in our imaginations, probably gave us one or two things to look forward to in life. Most of us grew up, and eased into the understanding that fairy tales were completely fake.
However, as the distinction between fact and fiction closes up, reality as we know it starts to seem a lot more unreal. Mermaids may be real; Magic exists…somehow, and a few of our good old fairy tales were probably not as fictitious as we thought. In all these things, what bothers me the most isn’t the ‘fact’ gap closing up, but the messed up lessons that we have been fed over and again. Most of which our kids will still be fed.
Honestly, there’s no point trying to define the differences between myths, legends, folktales, fables, and fairy tales here. As far as we are concerned, the end game of these things have been to pass across messages and teach a few lessons. However, if the lessons and morals being taught are wrong, then the kind of world we live in shouldn’t surprise us so much. We have villains that are fire breathing dragons, evil stepmothers, werewolves, and so on.
In the same vein, we have protagonists that are little boys, beautiful girls with snow white skins and long blonde hairs, as well as sharp boys who steal from the rich. Ring any bells? These stories have been attacked on the basis of what they imply and not necessarily what they are. The Blacks would bring up racial issues from the ideal community as orchestrated by the creators of these stories, and feminists would attack the stereotypical idea of beauty.
My perspective, however, is a little more glaring. While they were created to teach us morals, a lot of them taught us that evil was good, lawlessness was fine, and the world was just flipped over. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a rundown of a few of our favourite tales and their really skewed lessons.
1) Robin Hood
This is probably the most glaring fairy tale with wrong lessons. Robin Hood was rude. He was the leader of a team of outlaws who had been banned from the community for breaking certain laws. Robin and his team were dressed in suits of green, and skilfully armed with bows and arrows. His subjects did as he told them. They were not allowed to hurt people – unless they were rich, and they went about stealing things and submitting them to Robin Hood. Robin shared it fairly to all the poor folks and he was regarded as a legend. Err…what? Robin was a thief; not a philanthropist. He was the king of thieves. He created a world where wealth was a reason to get brutally killed and where laziness was encouraged. Poverty was justified. So was being rude, mean, and a thief. Today, we’re in a world where we have people who justify the reasons for lawlessness and slothfulness… Good job Robin.
2) Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack is a young, poor boy living with his mother. The only source of income they had was in selling the milk of the one cow they had. So when the cow stops producing milk, Jack’s mother tells him to take the cow to the market to be sold. She sends her son to the market to trade the cow for money, and he gets distracted by some old man who woos him into taking three random seeds for the cow instead. Left to me, this story should have ended up here with a moral like, ‘do not be distracted’, ‘focus on your goals’, and ‘try not to make stupid decisions’. Rather, the story gets even more messed up.
Jack gets the seeds home and his mum bursts into tears. He gets angry and throws the seeds out of the window. During the night, the seeds grow into this huge tree that stretches out into the skies. Jack climbs the tree and finds an enormous castle inhabited by giants. He goes into the house (breaking and entering), and meets a giant lady who kindly offers him food. She apparently had a giant husband who clearly did not like uninvited Englishmen (probably because they are trespassers), and Jack is advised to hide. Jack hid for a while, then when the giant had slept off, he ran off.
On his way out, he steals a bag of gold (theft) and throws it down to his mother’s garden. After a few days, he decides to make another trip to his newly found kingdom so he could steal some more (greed). He then steals a chicken that laid golden eggs, and still ran around until he killed the giant. Jack killed the husband of the kind woman, because he (the giant) was mad that Jack came into his house to steal from him. Going into a man’s land to steal from him and then killing him because he protested. Need I say more?
I’m stopping at these two just so this post doesn’t get longer than it already is. Ordinarily, we have more stories of girls who were so beautiful, their stepmothers hated them and tried to kill them. We have the story of a girl (Goldilocks) who breaks into a foreign house, eats all the food, and is still the victim. These fairy tales even advice you to like ugly people (plain or metaphoric) more – you kiss a frog and he’ll turn into a prince, and if you chill and sing with a beast, he’ll turn into the prince he once was. I don’t like making mountains out of molehills, but a lot of these stories offer really poor lessons of what reality is. Then again, it could just be me… who’s got a different opinion?