Study of Fairy Tales
I. TWO PUBLIC TRIBUTES
ONLY a few years ago, in the gardens of the Tuileries, in Paris, a statue was erected in memory of Charles Perrault, to be placed there among the sculptures of the never-to-be-forgotten fairy tales he had created,-Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss-in-Boots, Hop-o'-my-Thumb, Bluebeard, and the rest,-so that the children who roamed the gardens, and in their play gathered about the statues of their beloved fairy friends, might have with them also a reminder of the giver of all this joy, their friend Perrault. Two hundred years before, Perrault truly had been their friend, not only in making for them fairy tales, but in successfully pleading in their behalf when he said, "I am persuaded that the gardens of the King were made so great and spacious that all the children may walk in them."
Only in December, 1913, in Berlin, was completed the Maerchen Brunnen, or "Fairy-Tale Fountain," at the entrance to Friedrichshain Park, in which the idea of the architect, Stadt-Baurat Ludwig Hoffmann, wholly in harmony with the social spirit of the times, was to erect an artistic monument to give joy to multitudes of children. This fairy entrance to the park is a decorative lay-out, a central ground surrounded by a high, thick lodge of beeches. Toward this central ground-which has been transformed into a joyous fairy world-many hedge walks lead; while in the sidewalks, to warn naughty children, are concealed fantastic figures. There is the huge Menschen-fresser, who grasps a tender infant in each Titan hand and bears on his head a huge basket of children too young to have known much wrong. A humorous touch, giving distinct charm to the whole creation, pervades all. From lions' heads and vases, distributed at regular intervals in the semicircular arcade in the background, water gushes forth; while in the central basin, nine small water animals-seven frogs and two larger animals-appear spouting great jets of water. Clustered about the central fountain are the nine fairy characters of Professor Ignatius Taschner, among whom are Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Grethel each riding a duck, Puss-in-Boots, Cinderella, and Lucky Hans; and looking down upon them from the surrounding balustrade are the animal figures by Joseph Rauch. In these simple natural classic groups, fancy with what pleasure the children may look to find the friendly beasts and the favorite tales they love!
Such is the tribute to fairy tales rendered by two great nations who have recognized fairy tales as the joyous right of children. Any education which claims to relate itself to present child life can hardly afford to omit what is acknowledged as part of the child's everyday life; nor can it afford to omit to hand on to the child those fairy tales which are a portion of his literary heritage.
In considering fairy tales for the little child, the first question which presents itself is, "Why are fairy stories suited to the little child, and what is their value for him?"
Fairy tales bring joy into child life. The mission of joy has not been fully preached, but we know that joy works toward physical health, mental brightness, and moral virtue. In the education of the future, happiness together with freedom will be recognized as the largest beneficent powers that will permit the individual of four, from his pristine, inexperienced self-activity, to become that final, matured, self-expressed, self-sufficient, social development-the educated man. Joy is the mission of art and fairy tales are art products. As such Pater would say, "For Art comes to you, proposing to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake. Not the fruit of experience, but experience, is the end." Such quality came from the art of the fairy tale into the walk of a little girl, for whom even the much-tabooed topic of the weather took on a new, fresh charm. In answer to a remark concerning the day she replied, "Yes, it's not too hot, and not too cold, but just right." All art, being a product of the creative imagination, has the power to stimulate the creative faculties. "For Art, like Genius," says Professor Woodberry, "is common to all men, it is the stamp of the soul in them." All are creatures of imitation and combination; and the little child, in handling an art product, puts his thought through the artist's mould and gains a touch of the artist's joy.
Fairy tales satisfy the play spirit of childhood. Folk-tales are the product of a people in a primitive stage when all the world is a wonder-sphere. Most of our popular tales date from days when the primitive Aryan took his evening meal of yava and fermented mead, and the dusky Sudra roamed the Punjab. "All these fancies are pervaded with that purity by which children seem to us so wonderful," said William Grimm. "They have the same blue-white, immaculate bright eyes." Little children are in this same wonder-stage. They believe that the world about throbs with life and is peopled with all manner of beautiful, powerful folk. All children are poets, and fairy tales are the poetic recording of the facts of life. In this day of commercial enterprise, if we would fit children for life we must see to it that we do not blight the poets in them. In this day of emphasis on vocational training we must remember there is a part of life unfed, unnurtured, and unexercised by industrial education. Moreover, whatever will be accomplished in life will be the achievement of a free and vigorous life of the imagination. Before it was realized, everything new had existed in some trained imagination, fertile with ideas. The tale feeds the imagination, for the soul of it is a bit of play. It suits the child because in it he is not bound by the law of cause and effect, nor by the necessary relations of actual life. He is entirely in sympathy with a world where events follow as one may choose. He likes the mastership of the universe. And fairyland-where there is no time; where troubles fade; where youth abides; where things come out all right-is a pleasant place.
Furthermore, fairy tales are play forms. "Play," Bichter says, "is the first creative utterance of man." "It is the highest form in which the native activity of childhood expresses itself," says Miss Blow. Fairy tales offer to the little child an opportunity for the exercise of that self-active inner impulse which seeks expression in two kinds of play, the symbolic activity of free play and the concrete presentation of types. The play, The Light Bird, and the tale, The Bremen Town Musicians, both offer an opportunity for the child to express that pursuit of a light afar off, a theme which appeals to childhood. The fairy tale, because it presents an organized form of human experience, helps to organize the mind and gives to play the values of human life. By contributing so largely to the play spirit, fairy tales contribute to that joy of activity, of achievement, of cooeperation, and of judgment, which is the joy of all work. This habit of kindergarten play, with its joy and freedom and initiative, is the highest goal to be attained in the method of university work.
Fairy tales give the child a power of accurate observation. The habit of re-experiencing, of visualization, which they exercise, increases the ability to see, and is the contribution literature offers to nature study. In childhood acquaintance with the natural objects of everyday life is the central interest; and in its turn it furnishes those elements of experience upon which imagination builds. For this reason it is rather remarkable that the story, which is omitted from the Montessori system of education, is perhaps the most valuable means of effecting that sense-training, freedom, self-initiated play, repose, poise, and power of reflection, which are foundation stones of its structure.
Fairy tales strengthen the power of emotion, develop the power of imagination, train the memory, and exercise the reason. As emotion and imagination are considered in Chapter 11, in the section, "The Fairy Tale as Literature," and the training of the memory and the exercise of the reason in connection with the treatment of various other topics later on, these subjects will be passed by for the present. Every day the formation of habits of mind during the process of education is being looked upon with a higher estimate. The formation of habits of mind through the use of fairy tales will become evident during following chapters.
Fairy tales extend and intensify the child's social relations. They appeal to the child by presenting aspects of family life. Through them he realizes his relations to his own parents: their care, their guardianship, and their love. Through this he realizes different situations and social relations, and gains clear, simple notions of right and wrong. His sympathies are active for kindness and fairness, especially for the defenseless, and he feels deeply the calamity of the poor or the suffering and hardship of the ill-treated. He is in sympathy with that poetic justice which desires immediate punishment of wrong, unfairness, injustice, cruelty, or deceit. Through fairy tales he gains a many-sided view of life. Through his dramas, with a power of sympathy which has seemed universal, Shakespeare has given the adult world many types of character and conduct that are noble. But fairy tales place in the hands of childhood all that the thousands and thousands of the universe for ages have found excellent in character and conduct. They hold up for imitation all those cardinal virtues of love and self-sacrifice,-which is the ultimate criterion of character,-of courage, loyalty, kindness, gentleness, fairness, pity, endurance, bravery, industry, perseverance, and thrift. Thus fairy tales build up concepts of family life and of ethical standards, broaden a child's social sense of duty, and teach him to reflect. Besides developing his feelings and judgments, they also enlarge his world of experience.
In the school, the fairy tale as one form of the story is one part of the largest means to unify the entire work or play of the child. In proportion as the work of art, nature-study, game, occupation, etc., is fine, it will deal with some part of the child's everyday life. The good tale parallels life. It is a record of a portion of the race reaction to its environment; and being a permanent record of literature, it records experience which is universal and presents situations most human. It is therefore material best suited to furnish the child with real problems. As little children have their thoughts and observations directed mainly toward people and centered about the home, the fairy tale rests secure as the intellectual counterpart to those thoughts. As self-expression and self-activity are the great natural instincts of the child, in giving opportunity to make a crown for a princess, mould a clay bowl, decorate a tree, play a game, paint the wood, cut paper animals, sing a lullaby, or trip a dance, the tale affords many problems exercising all the child's accomplishments in the variety of his work. This does not make the story the central interest, for actual contact with nature is the child's chief interest. But it makes the story, because it is an organized experience marked by the values of human life, the unity of the child's return or reaction to his environment. The tale thus may bring about that "living union of thought and expression which dispels the isolation of studies and makes the child live in varied, concrete, active relation to a common world."
In the home fairy tales employ leisure hours in a way that builds character. Critical moments of decision will come into the lives of all when no amount of reason will be a sufficient guide. Mothers who cannot follow their sons to college, and fathers who cannot choose for their daughters, can help their children best to fortify their spirits for such crises by feeding them with good literature. This, when they are yet little, will begin the rearing of a fortress of ideals which will support true feeling and lead constantly to noble action. Then, too, in the home, the illustration of his tale may give the child much pleasure. For this is the day of fairy-tale art; and the child's satisfaction in the illustration of the well-known tale is limitless. It will increase as he grows older, as he understands art better, and as he becomes familiar with the wealth of beautiful editions which are at his command.
And finally, though not of least moment, fairy tales afford a vital basis for language training and thereby take on a new importance in the child's English. Through the fairy tale he learns the names of things and the meanings of words. One English fairy tale, The Master of all Masters, is a ludicrous example of the tale built on this very theme of names and meanings. Especially in the case of foreign children, in a tale of repetition, such as The Cat and the Mouse, Teeny Tiny, or The Old Woman and Her Pig, will the repetitive passages be an aid to verbal expression. The child learns to follow the sequence of a story and gains a sense of order. He catches the note of definiteness from the tale, which thereby clarifies his thinking. He gains the habit of reasoning to consequences, which is one form of a perception of that universal law which rules the world, and which is one of the biggest things he will ever come upon in life. Never can he meet any critical situation where this habit of reasoning to consequences will not be his surest guide in a decision. Thus fairy tales, by their direct influence upon habits of thinking, effect language training.
Fairy tales contribute to language training also by providing another form of that basic content which is furnished for reading. In the future the child will spend more time in the kindergarten and early first grade in acquiring this content, so that having enjoyed the real literature, when he reads later on he will be eager to satisfy his own desires. Then reading will take purpose for him and be accomplished almost without drill and practically with no effort. The reading book will gradually disappear as a portion of his literary heritage. In the kindergarten the child will learn the play forms, and in the first grade the real beginnings, of phonics and of the form of words in the applied science of spelling. In music he will learn the beginnings of the use of the voice. This will leave him free, when he begins reading later, to give attention to the thought reality back of the symbols. When the elements combining to produce good oral reading are cared for in the kindergarten and in the first grade, in the subjects of which they properly form a part, the child, when beginning to read, no longer will be needlessly diverted, his literature will contribute to his reading without interference, and his growth in language will become an improved, steady accomplishment.
Allison, Samuel; and Perdue, Avis: The Story in Primary
Blow, Susan; Hill, Patty; and Harrison, Elizabeth: The
Blow, Susan: Symbolic Education. Appleton.
Chamberlain, Alexander: "Folk-Lore in the Schools,"
Chubb, Percival: "Value and Place of Fairy Stories,"
Dewey, John: The School and the Child. Blackie &Sons.
Ibid: The School and Society. University of Chicago Press.
"Fairy Tales," Public Libraries, 1906, vol. 11, pp. 175-78.
Palmer, Luella: "Standard for Kindergarten Training,"
Welsh, Charles: Right Reading for Children. Heath.
Kready, Laura F. A Study of Fairy Tales. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.