The happy ending of fairy tales

I suspect our continual attraction to fairy tales, especially the classical Grimms’ stories, is based more on something adults repress and are afraid to talk about, something the Grimms knew 200 years ago but also repressed. I mean child abuse, neglect and abandonment, and not only the kind experienced at the hands of strangers but that meted out by parents themselves. Perhaps the most therapeutic aspect of these stories is the reassurance they give parents that children survive the horrors they impose on them with good will and the desire to lead a different life.

Fairy tales have always expressed an adult viewpoint on family relations and power. We tend to forget it, but adults were the ones who first told them, wrote them down and circulated them. Though the stories may ultimately defend the rights of children and underdogs, they do so only by ration-alizing the actions of the adults, who want to make certain their children are socialized to forget the abuse they have suffered.

I do not mean to exaggerate and argue that fairy tales completely rationalize abusive attitudes and behavior toward children, or that all parents abuse their children. To a certain extent these stories were told and written to reveal the shame and guilt adults feel at even fantasizing about cruelty to their children. More than anything else, I believe, they reveal what the psychoanalysts Alice Miller and James Hoyme have identified as the ambivalent feelings parents have about their children, their desire to abandon them and the shame they feel when they actually abuse them. . . . 

Children know better than adults that it’s certainly not the happy ending that counts.

Jack Zipes: Children’s Books: Child Abuse and Happy Endings  (from here) 


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