The Effect of Fairy Stories
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BOTH fancy and understanding are developed in time by words. We all know how children are waked up and delighted by Mother Goose absurdities, and still more by fairy stories that seem to set at naught the facts and override the laws of nature. . . . And I think it will be found that children who are talked to by Mother Goose and fairy-story tellers learn to talk more quickly than others, and have more vivacity of mind generally, with a power of entering into the minds of others commensurate with their sensibility, and justifying the human sympathies which are often a burden to the unimaginative, who are nevertheless kind. A great deal of the misunderstanding of others which causes unnecessary pain and social bitterness, checking generous furtherance of one another's good purposes, arises from want of saliency of imagination, preventing us from being able to put ourselves in another's place. And of course it is not without the highest reason that the Father of our Spirits has given fancy the advantage of the first start in our mental process. That fancy precedes understanding in our psychological history cannot be denied by any nice observer. I have known some parents who would not use Mother Goose or fairy stories with their Raising Children, but substituted therefor amusing experiments in physics,—the metamorphosis of insects and the classification of plants according to their differences.
Their children became scientific when they grew up, were fine mathematicians, and were interested in mechanical inventions and natural history; but took comparatively little interest in political and moral problems, though not at all wanting in the social and patriotic affections, which also characterized their parents, who were themselves brought up on the imaginative system not well modified by studies of nature's phenomena; which was probably the reason of their strong reaction from the imaginative method.
But I have known intimately some other parents, who made predominant perhaps extreme use of Mother Goose and fairy literature. Their children much earlier and more completely got command of all the resources of language, had a tendency to art, especially literary art, in their own activity, and were earlier interested in human history, and all varieties of human experience reflected in the literature of nations ; but perhaps were slower in attaining practical ability for life's labors.
Each direction of education has its advantages and disadvantages in the religious relation, and I think it is the better way to mingle them, especially at the early period of the kindergarten, where the objective point is to cultivate the under-standing, which needs that we should appreciate the facts and order of external nature as the exponent of God's wisdom. This will chasten and give substantiality to the creative action of the human fancy, which is never to be snubbed, but gently entreated to be reasonable, or we shall have Caliban instead of Ariel or Prospero.