The Power Of The Fairy Tale
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
FAIRY tales are adapted, as is nothing else, to the individuality of the child, and especially to the predominating faculty of imagination, which is by all means to be cultivated, since in this are rooted all the higher strivings. For this reason the concept matter must be poetic. Only poetic thought material allows the imagination free play, especially the fairy tale material, which contains no names of persons or places, whose events are defined precisely neither as to space nor time. The child who becomes absorbed in fairy tales remains longer a child; he contemplates them with delight; he believes in them; for he himself rises, as do the fairy tales, above the conditions of reality ; he vivifies the lifeless ; he animates the soulless ; he associates with all the world as with his equals, and loses himself in ad-venturous impossibilities. Thus to favor the child-like views of things by means of, to him, congenial fairy tales, cannot react harmfully upon him, because the fairy tale contains besides that subjective conception which deviates from the nature of things, also an abundance of objective, rational, not only aesthetic but also ethical, notions, and principles, which lead far beyond the sphere of imagination. They serve specially to exercise the ethical judgment, and, because the circle of acquaintance is extended to include inanimate things, the child finds a rich field unlocked, where, on account of the simplicity and correctness of the cases, it learns to decide easily, rapidly and correctly.
A large number of other objective notions also, which relate to the natural conditions of events, are found in fairy tales, and instruction will treat them, too, in a strictly rational manner, so that, notwithstanding the child's utter abandonment to the fairy tale, the harmful effect that was feared does not take place. For in the child's consciousness, whose parts at first fuse but very slightly, the wonderful fairy tale content forms an isolated circle, complete in itself, and, instead of hurrying their fusion, the contrast between the supernatural fairy tale products and the present reality should be allowed to stand out very boldly, with the growing confidence of the child in his experience ; the actual in the fairy tale will be emphasized less and less, and more weight given to the poetic and ideal truth of the esthetic and the ethical, so that there may remain, as a much desired residue, an Ideal tendency of the thoughts and higher reach of spiritual life. If, on the contrary, there were narrated only what is true and real, it might easily result in a rigidity of conception, which concerns itself only in the most commonplace of sensuous realities, and which has no receptivity, either for the lofty creations of the poets, or for the surmisings and wonders of religious faith.
But all education must proceed from the individuality, only to raise the child above it, and to plunge him into universal human conditions. This latter, also, the fairy tale succeeds in doing. As a national tale, reflecting the principal features of the nation, it expands the child's narrow consciousness through the development of the national germ, through the eternal re-production of the popular conception of nature and the world. As an international tale, it lets the child participate in the universal spirit of childhood, which of old belonged to the race as a common possession. And, finally, it widens out the child's consciousness beyond what is national and universally accordant with child nature, by filling it with the simplest and most original notions in matters of morality, and by the certain generation of the ethical judgment and of the religious sentiment in the simplest relations which lie within the childish sphere.
Thus do the fairy tales, which are at the same time classic materials, to which old and young live to return, lead from the most individual ideas, from which everything must grow that is to become strong, to the most general, which belongs to man as such. They serve in their sphere both the child nature and the highest purpose of education.