Why Adults Can’t Handle Fairy Tales

There are many adults who are afraid that kids can’t handle traditional fairy tales, because they are too scary, too gruesome, too awful. I think it’s actually because on a certain level, they are too real. And many of us adults can’t handle real life.

I used to wonder why fairy tales so often were about orphans, or kids whose one parent had died, leaving them in the hands of someone who despised them. Think Hansel and Gretel, Snow White or Rapunzel. Or why they had to fight evil beasts and monsters, like the dragon in Sleeping Beauty. But now I think I understand better why.

Fairy tales can help children realize that life is going to be full of challenges, that it will contain suffering, that sometimes they will feel rejected and alone. But it is also about the triumph of the little guy, the unexpected hero, like in Jack and the Beanstalk. It is about perseverance, guts and hope.

How necessary it is for us to have hope! To believe in the triumph of good over evil, and the certainly of justice, even if that justice is very long in coming.

But now we often prefer to sugar-coat these dramatic tales. We try to cover up the bad bits. “They will be too scary,” we think. Will they be any scarier than real life? How will our kids cope with that?

Our modern western world is so poorly equipped to deal with suffering, because we so seldom have to deal with it in a really dramatic way. We are generally comfortable, have food, shelter, clothes, etc. Not that many people we know are eaten by dragons. Not that many people we know die. So when they do it’s a shock.

It didn’t use to be this way. Not that long ago people knew that things like infant death were a common part of life. They accepted that they needed to work from dawn till dusk, and often be away from their families. They knew that an illness could steal away a loved one like a thief in the night. Now we like to pretend this can’t happen, at least not to us. “La, la, la, la, it’s not real,” we sing and cover our eyes to the possibility of such a loss.

But it’s a delusion. Life is very fragile. It is very precious. It is a gift that can be revoked at any time. Losing a baby in labour taught me this. And as crushing as this loss is, my little one also teaches me—shouts loudly in her silence—that it is of utmost importance to hope. To have faith in something greater than these struggles here below. To know that love is stronger than death. To know that happiness here is complicated, and that our true happiness is yet to come.

So when you feel overwhelmed, remember the fairy tales. Put on your knight’s costume, mount your steed, and ride off into the sunset to face your dragons. Even if they consume you, you will triumph, if you don’t lose hope. It’s that golden thread that connects us to Heaven. It’s our strength in weakness and pain.

And if you meet a weary traveller along the way, someone who is laden down with suffering, help them carry their burden. Offer your heart to help carry some of that weight oppressing theirs. Reach out and cheer them on. In your mercy, in your tenderness, in your affection, you will bring them hope. And the quest to bring more hope to a struggling world is surely an ideal noble enough for all of us.


PS These gorgeous swords were lovingly handmade by my talented step-dad Rob Koenig!

7 thoughts on “Why Adults Can’t Handle Fairy Tales

  1. Janet Eastland

    Very interesting piece on comparing fairy tales to real life. Well put Anna, I never would have been able to look at this in such a deep and positive way by myself. I had to read it a second time and found an even deeper understanding of love, life, caring, false and real fears etc…. Thanks for teaching me something new.
    Love Janet.


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