Why Do We Love A Good Fairytale?

As the air has taken a rather autumnal feel here in the Wirral and after reading the quirky ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’, I have turned to reading the Grimm Brothers fairytales (between all the other reading I am doing that I can’t discuss) and I was wondering why as adults we still find fairytales so appealing.

Now if you are thinking that I am happily sat reading the old ladybird classics of an evening you would be wrong. Though I do have my old (very) battered versions from my childhood which I think I actually pilfered was passed on from my mother and aunties and uncle and then saw my siblings reading them (and battering them more) before I managed to get my mitts on them again. Anyway, I have been reading the ‘uncut’- as it were – versions of these tales and yet again, as I was with Perrault’s collection and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, I am shocked at how much darker, twisted and gruesome the tales really are. Disney this is not.

I was actually thinking that children might be more scared of these versions and hence that is why they have been edited, but actually I bet kids would love them, especially when the baddies really come a cropper. I know as an adult I am, but what has led me back to reading them from those initial days a few decades (ugh!) ago?

As a child I loved fairytales for the following reasons…

  1. There was invariably a wood in them and my childhood home was surrounded by them meaning I thought these adventures could have happened in my childhood (particularly my favourite ‘Rapunzel’ as shown below as on our hill we had a very similar type of tower in the woods, seriously look below)
  2. There was generally a sense of menace, something I still love in a book now.
  3. There were elements of the magical and was invariably a witch or talking animal involved, I believed in both of these things vehemently for years, until I was about 24 in probability, ha.
  4. There was a happy ending and love conquered all, naive and slushy but true.
  5. They were a complete escape.


I was very lucky as apart from pilfering being loaned the Ladybird Classics, of which my favourite was Rapunzel as I mentioned, I had an amazing Granddad, called Bongy, who made more fairytales for me when I went to Newcastle with my mother while she was at university. Each week, or every few weeks, another tale of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Esmerelda and her Friends’ would arrive in the post, all hand written and hand drawn. Again real life and fiction merged as Esmerelda would visit her friend Simon bringing all her friends including a duck called Rapunzel and nine hens, all of which I had back at my grandparents in Matlock waiting for me in the holidays.

So where is this nostalgia trip leading? Well that is my point. I think one of the reasons we love fairytales is the nostalgia, well at least it is for me, and the fact there is something very safe in a fairytale no matter how menacing they get. I think, even if we know it might not always be true or run smoothly, we believe in love and the idea of a, hopefully, happy ending for all of us one day. It’s the ideal isn’t it? I also think it is the escapism, even if the world is quite similar there is something ethereal and magical about it that makes us know it is not our world but just tangible enough that it could be. Am I making sense?

It isn’t just the ‘adult’ (only not adult-adult you understand) versions of the tales we had as children though. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, John Connelly and soon Philip Pullman have re-worked or used the ideas of traditional fairytales in their fictions. Authors like Dan Rhodes, Lucy Wood, Ali Shaw and Eowyn Ivey have also created their own original fairytales for an adult audience which are working wonders and shows we do still love them.

I also wonder if a fairytale is really the true essence of stories. Tales made from folklore, legends and myths handed down by word and discussed before they were ever put to paper, it is what stories and therefore, I think, novels originate and even when you are reading a modern novel with no sign of magic or talking animals your still being told a story and a fairytale of a kind because none of it is real, just a little more cloaked.

What do you think, and what is your favourite fairytale?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

16 responses to “Why Do We Love A Good Fairytale?

  1. gaskella

    It’s so hard to pick a favourite … The saddest would be The little match girl by HCA, another fave is The Tinderbox – also by HCA, but also anything with pixies, elves, and mischievous little fairy folk … and the 12 dancing princesses.

    You were so lucky to have Bongy create some personal tales for you – lovely.

    • Oh I had forgotten about The Little Match Girl, that is a sad sad story. You forget how sad some of these fairy stories are and how ‘happy endings’ were more invented by Ladybird than anything.

      Bongy was indeed a real legend, he is very sorely missed. I feel sad his younger (much, much younger) grand children don’t have him doing the same BUT it is often known I will read them the books he made me.

  2. I’m so looking forward to seeing what Philip Pullman has done with Grimm! Rumplestiltskin scared the willies out of me as a child. I really like the darkness in them that people seem to forget.

    • It was seeing your post or tweet that made me go to a certain supermarket chain and pick it up hahaha. So thank you for the Pullman heads up.

      I, as you might guess, LOVE the darkness in them.

  3. teresa

    I also love fairy tales, thanks for the post. I bet you would really like this book: The Uses of Enchantment, it’s about how fairy tales serve a purpose and should not be “changed” by well meaning folks to be “nicer”.


  4. Great post – there’s a really interesting peice on Pullman’s rewrites over at the Guardian’s website…

  5. You got your own personalised stories?? Wow I can only imagine how magical that must have seemed to you as a child, and what a wonderful legacy your grandfather has left you.

    I completely agree about the value of fairy tales. I do remember having my eyes opened by reading the original version The Little Mermaid. I love Angela Carter’s fairy tales too.

    • I know, Bongy was a really special creative and kind man. The perfect granddad.

      I have read some of Angela Carter’s fairytales. I want to read more. Next though I must try Margaret Atwood’s retellings actually. I have had those on the TBR for quite a while.

  6. Geraldine.

    I just love fairy stories. As soon as I read “Once upon a time….” the magic kicks in. I loved Andrew Lang’s Fairy books. They were each titled with a colour e.g. The Blue Fairy Book or the Red Fairy Book. The illustrations that accompanied a fairy story were also part of the magic.

  7. I was thinking of The Little Mermaid the other day, and how dark and sad it is. I think my shock at it came because I’d watched Disney, had I not watched it there would have been no reason to be. I like reading retellings nowadays because yes, I loved fairytales in childhood, and as much as I’m ok with being an adult (usually) sometimes I miss being younger for reasons such as being “allowed” to believe the tales. I remember the joy in receiving the Ladybird version of Sleeping Beauty, I think it was from a cereal box or coupons from cereals, and I loved it for the beautiful artwork, made it seem more mature than some of the others.

    • Ha, I was having the exact same conversation with The Beard the other day. We were babysitting my two four year old twin cousins and we watched The Little Mermaid at which the girls were a bit scared and I said ‘well… you should know the real ending’ hahahaha.

  8. Rapunzel was my favourite Ladybird as well!!! I’m waxing nostalgic now seeing that book cover. It’s long gone now and I just suddenly miss it.

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