For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
Today’s tip – Fairytales and the Existential Predicament
Source – Dreams and Inward Journeys, A Rhetoric and Reader for Writers by Marjorie Ford and Jon Ford
Chapter 4 excerpt, an essay by Bruno Bettelheim, Fairytales and the Existential Predicament
There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our own very natures – the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in his own eyes.
This is exactly the message that fairytales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence – but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.
Modern stories written for young children mainly avoid these existential problems, although they are crucial issues for all of us. The child needs most particularly to be given suggestions in symbolic form about how he may deal with these issues and grow safely into maturity. “Safe” stories mention neither death or aging, the limits to our existence, nor the wish for eternal life. The fairytale, by contrast, confronts the child squarely with the basic human predicaments.
I am sometimes referred to as “A Terrible Person” because of my penchant for doing bad things, especially killing, the characters in my writing. I defend myself in that “nothing happened, it’s only words.”
And here is a scholarly essay (from a somewhat controversial author) on why it is necessary to do bad things to good people, not only in fairytales, but in all fiction.