Fairy tales mean something different to adults than they do to children, as most things do. I remember when I saw E.T. for the first time. Everyone calls it a kid movie, but I remember that, while I loved it as a young kid, it made very little sense to me. There were emotions, circumstances, realities that I couldn’t understand as a child that became clearer to me in my teenage years and beyond.
Fairy tales are mostly considered children’s tales, perhaps because of their moralizing, perhaps because of their simplicity, perhaps because many of them have been sanitized over time. This isn’t intrinsically bad – fairy tales serve whatever purpose their culture requires. It is theorized that the origin of fairy tales wasn’t as children’s tales at all, but stories told among working adults, perhaps to entertain as well as teach the younger adults (who we call teenagers today) how to deal with the real world through metaphor.
But fairy tales, even the fairy tales of today, aren’t just for children, and it’s a mistake to think that they only belong in the aggressively pink or the aggressively blue rooms of toddlers or as surrogate babysitters. Television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm as well as the slew of fairy-tale-inspired movies that have come out recently and will come out soon – these tell us that fairy tales continue to inspire us in very different ways as we grow older as well.
More than nostalgia, I think our turn to more adult fairy tales in this last decade represents a kind of bitterness. We want simplicity, yet cannot attain it. We wish for happily ever afters, yet happiness is fleeting, and it’s hardly ever the end. We yearn for true love, yet the love espoused in romances is hardly the kind that lasts. We long for the hand of Fate and Purpose to guide us, but instead we stumble through our lives, never sure if we’re doing exactly what is right or whether any of it matters anyway.
Our fairy tales, especially our most recent looks at fairy tales, show this Grimmer tension. Our fairy tales teach us, and they give us escape. But it’s important to also remember that clinging to fairy tales can limit us. That’s only one way to live – it shouldn’t be the imperative.
The truth is, in this less-than-glittery world of reality, fairy tales don’t seem to last very long.
(Note: Sara Bareilles’s “Fairy Tale” is the signature song of my first fairy tale remix novel. Represent.)