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Fairy tales: Unlocking the secrets of the ordinary for the twenty-first century?

Fairy tales: Unlocking the secrets of the ordinary for the twenty-first century?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jessica Breen. Originally submitted for English Literature at St Mary’s University College, with lecturer Madeleine Lombard in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jessica Breen. Originally submitted for English Literature at St Mary’s University College, with lecturer Madeleine Lombard in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Fairy tales: Unlocking the secrets of the ordinary for the twenty-first century?
The fairy tale is an elusive, often nebulous genre, resisting simplistic or comprehensive anchoring. The variable historical and geographical contexts create a mirageof core characteristics and definitions whilst its ‘alternate’ reality suggests mystery,enchantment and fantasy. This study will consider some of the primary definitions andcharacteristics offered by both writers and critics and will explore the potential for this uniqueliterary genre to survive twenty first century pedagogical contexts, imbued as they are by anarray of technological advances and an aspiration to prepare young children for the demandsof the society in which they live. To explore the complexities of these issues, initial themesincluding the term ‘fairy tale’ and the educational value which they may offer will beconsidered. inquisitiveFor critics, scholars and psychologists, the fairy tale is threaded with ambiguity andunparalleled mystery. The breadth of editions that have continued to be told, written, re-toldand re-written have created a dense web of overlapping contexts, versions and influences.Interestingly even the term fairy tales does not shed light on the meaning of the fairy tale.Fairies rarely feature in fairy tales but the term derived from the French “conte de fee” whoassociated the magic of fairies with women. The German term for the age old tale is“kuntsmarchen” which means art tale. Critics and scholars have also debated and deliberatedover the correct term for the fairy tale. Zipes refers to the “wonder tale” when discussing theoriginal oral formats of the tales and the “literary fairy tale” when exploring the later recorded format. Bruno Bettelheim refers to the “fairy folk tale” alluding to the folk tradition.More recently the fairy tale term has been abused to represent shallow, children’s ditties onfantastic creatures. In this study I intend to define the fairy tale genre using its historical background, narrative structure and characteristics.
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Child development is an issue that has been pondered over by many educators and psychologists such as the heavy weights Freud, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. Whilst Freudmade radical ventures with the workings of the conscious and sub conscious, Piagetacknowledged that children think differently to adults. Vygotsky created a zone of proximaldevelopment whereas Montessori and Reggio Emilia focused on the role of the learningenvironment. The educational value of the fairy tale was first recognised by the Grimm brothers in the 19
th
century who used the fairy tale as a catalyst for the promotion of acceptedvalues and roles customary to Germany at this time. The Grimms’ warning tales such asLittle Red Riding Hood alerted young children to the dangers of going in to the woods andarguably to the dangers of being led by sexually starved men (Bettelheim). Since theneducators have recognised the potential of fairy tales to take young children from theintermental plane, where information is processed, to the intramental plane, whereunderstanding takes place. Bettelheim underlines this when he notes that “
 fairytales carryimportant messages to the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind on whatever level each is functioning at the time.” (6)
The evocation of empathy as the listener or reader identifies with the lonely, uncertain hero is combined with the shared sense of justice as theevil doer is punished. Through empathy with the protagonists and their quests, fairy tales candevelop a sense of self as Vygotsky stated; “
through others we become ourselves.”
Fairytalescan build a sense of community as children inherit the existential questions of life, meaningand morality.The education which fairy tales provide has been contested by the feminist movementwhich deems the genre to be selfish, sexist and limiting. The plan of the Grimm brothers toeducate German children subliminally would be hotly contested by Jean Liedloff as he believes:
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“A child’s curiosity and desire to do things himself are the definitions of hiscapacity to learn without sacrificing any part of his whole development...The price achild pays for being guided into what others think best for him (or themselves) is thediminution of his wholeness.”
(The Continuum Concept) New versions such as the Attic Press Ireland’s publications of Rapunzel’s Revenge1985 and Cinderella on the Ball 1991 offer a new dimension and perspective more suited to20
th
century feminist tastes.Whilst the 20
th
century brought critics of the socialisation process found within fairytales, the twenty first century brings with it a new challenge. Interactive white boards,computer games aimed at developing brain and physical activity are consuming children’stime and attention, and beginning to define modern education by replacing traditionalmethods. The Disney Corporation, once renowned for its devotion and contribution to fairytales has noted a change in direction from the traditional tales towards more thrilling, action packed realistic stories. Phonic schemes whose goal is the dissection of the reading processare overwhelming young children’s literature with decodeable readers rather than stories of substance and meaning. With all of these pressurised changes can fairy tales offer someeducational value to the developing child in the twenty first century?To begin with, it is necessary to categorise what a fairytale is, in order to define itsrelevance to child development. Therefore this section will concentrate on characterising thefairy tale genre drawing upon historical development, narrative structure, form and other distinctive features.Defining a fairy tale is like trying to contain an ocean in a cup. The term fairy tale has been employed to describe everything from oral folk tales told around the fireside, literaryrecordings of these tales to any kind of recent children’s literature that features a princess,
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