Fairy Tales For Children
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
CERTAIN it is that the child himself weaves fairy-tales, and constructs myths, too, of a crude and unpolished sort, of course. One who understands children does not need to be told that they enjoy the making of stories as much as listening to those their ancestors have made for them. And there is always a certain degree of truth or reality about these tales ; they indicate in a general, undefined, and suggestive sort of way the interpretation which the child puts upon the phenomena occurring about him. He is in an unknown world, which he constantly strives to make familiar, so that he may feel at ease in it; and this is precisely what is going on in principle at every period of life. But the child must employ his very limited experience to explain quite a wide range of phenomena, the characteristics of which he has not had an opportunity to test actually, and so his philosophy seems to us of maturer years to be largely fantastic. In the child's thought persons are al-ways at first the source of all happenings, and he inevitably puts personal causes behind every strange event with which his broadening activities bring him in contact.
Then, in his first years so many things crowd in upon him that he cannot arrange them all in sequences of cause and effeCt, and thus for him they happen largely according to his fears and his desires, rather than according to natural law, as the adult has come through a long process of tuition to conceive it.
In the course of development, alike in the individual and in the race, enlarging experience actually compels the gradual establishment of causal sequences for events, and the substitution of physical for personal agencies in producing phenomena, so that the making of fairy-tales and myths, and their enjoyment as well, become always less and less, though it is doubtful if they are ever completely abandoned.
Even though these fairy-tales, myths, and legends are of minor value in respect of what they teach regarding physical fact, they can be endorsed on account of their ethical worth. If one who has not already done so will read through these stories to see what qualities of conduct they inspire, or what ethical conceptions they reveal, he will discover that they lay stress upon the elemental feelings and virtues most essential in simple social situations, such as are lived in by primitive man or by the child.
By means of these tales our ancestors made prominent the qualities of strength and vigor, courage and honesty, charity, kindness and veracity and the like, and they constructed concrete situations in which these virtues were strikingly illustrated, so that they and their children might emulate them. All poets and novelists have ever done, and are ever doing the same thing in substance. And we find here the true standard by which to determine whether a tale is true or false,—whether it inculcates good or bad qualities of conduct, irrespective of the particular events which it employs. This is doubtless the standard which Plato had in mind in his classification of tales as true or false ; whatever was religiously and ethically sound and wholesome should be regarded as true and legitimate ; all else should be regarded as false, and should be prohibited.
There are brought together in this series many tales, myths, and legends of genuine worth, measured by the standard just mentioned, but with which our children are almost wholly unacquainted. It was to be expected, of course, that when we began to give the young some fairy stories and myths we should choose those best known, and those gained from Greek, Roman, German, and English sources. But these do not by any means exhaust the world's treasures, as a glance through these lists will readily show.
In America especially, to the peopling of which well-nigh every nation and tribe has contributed, it seems especially appropriate that the children should be made familiar with some characteristic tale or myth of each. While it will be found that there are common to all these stories certain general ways of regarding the world, and certain conceptions of the relations persons should bear toward one another, still there are distinguishing traits, expressions of the typical intellectual and temperamental characteristics of the various peoples represented. It cannot fail to be of benefit to American children to gain through these tales a little—of course a very little—of the peculiar feeling about the world and conduct of the eastern and the western, the northern and the southern, the ancient and the modern, the grave and the gay, the intellectual and the emotional peoples of the earth. The stories should supply a need which is not otherwise provided for, so far as the writer is aware.