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Hansel and Gretel

Parents Ditching Dark Fairy Tales for Bright and Sunny Fare

January 07, 2009 10:30 AM
by Christopher Coats
Disturbed by both content and tone, parents of young children are increasingly turning to contemporary stories in place of traditional fairy tales.

Young Children Favor Light Reading

Reflecting a movement toward tamer and more generationally appropriate stories, a study conducted by a U.K. parenting Web site found an increasing number of parents abandoning traditional fairy tales in favor of modern and often brighter tales of modern morality.

Topping the list of dismissed classic tales were “Hansel and Gretel” for its violence and scary characters, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for its use of the word “Dwarf.”

With nearly one-fifth of parents surveyed calling traditional tales such as “Cinderella” too dark or too outdated, the study found many families turning to books they felt reflected the morals and lessons of today’s children.

The results reflect a trend in parenting away from moral tales deemed out of touch with today’s standards.

“Fairy tales are important historically because they provide children with information about a certain period,” Lori Baker-Sperry, an assistant professor of women’s studies at Western Illinois University, told Purdue News. “What they don’t do is provide positive images about groups who are not white, middle-class or heterosexual.”

However, the results and the dismissal of classic stories such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” have elicited strong reactions from fans and scholars of classic fairy tales, arguing that the tone and content of such tales are the very reasons they should still be told.
“The world is not all brightness and light and children need to know that. An obvious one is ‘don’t talk to strangers’, so they [parents] can’t shield children completely from these things,” author and child development expert Sue Palmer told The Scotsman. “These stories have been used throughout all cultures to help children get to grips with the world.”

Some scholars have pointed to the dark nature of the stories in question as imperative to children being able to learn in a safe, if fantastic environment.

“They work through so many personal and cultural anxieties, yet they do it in a safe, ‘once upon a time’ way,” Maria Tatar, a professor at Harvard College and fairy tales expert told “Fairy tales have a real role in liberating the imagination of children. No matter how violent they are, the protagonist always survives.”

Even those benefiting from the trend toward more contemporary tales, such as Julia Donaldson, author of “The Gruffalo,” the third most popular contemporary book in the survey, find fault in the dismissal of the classic tales.

“I think the stories that have lasted for generations have some resonance,” the author told The Scotsman. “They have something more powerful about them. I’m really against political correctness … it’s so deadening. I would just choose a variety of books. The question is whether they are a good story or not.”

However, the move away from older, darker fairy tales may not be driven only by the worries and concerns of parents. Another U.K. study earlier in 2008 found that today’s children actually prefer light, funny tales in the vein of Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss.

The study found that only 12 percent of children polled cited fairy tales as their favorites, compared to 28 percent who preferred light and funny fare.

“Old favourites such as Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton are being eclipsed in the reading popularity stakes by the demand for children to laugh out loud as they turn the pages,” wrote Moira Holden on the Web site UK Family.

Related Topic: Dark literature still popular among older generations

Although the movement away from darker tones seems to have impacted reading trends among parents, it does not seem to have affected the literary selection of older children and teenagers, evidenced by the enormous success of novels and series of a darker nature.

Further, the famed Newbery Prize for children’s literature has favored books dealing with more mature and often darker themes in recent years.

Although the versions of most fairy tales on the list of questionable tomes include actions and themes some find questionable by today’s standards, many pale in comparison to their original versions, most of which were never intended for children when they were written.

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