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The Value Of Fairy Tales

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

FAIRY tales . . . exercise and cultivate the imagination. Now the imagination is a most powerful auxiliary in the development of the mind and will. . . .. In the next place fairy tales stimulate the idealizing tendency . . . faith itself cannot abide unless supported by a vivid idealism. The Marchen . . .. represent the childhood of mankind, and it is for this reason that they never cease to appeal to children. The value of the fairy tales is that they stimulate the imagination, reflect the unbroken communion of human life with the live universal . . and . . incidentally, but all the more powerfully on that account, they quicken the moral sentiments.


THE varying phases of the utility of the myth for study are as endless as are those of the subject itself. We have had the question of its place in literature, music, art, and even in the drama. Now, last, but not least, comes that of its adaptation to the child mind.

The latter phase has brought about seemingly two results,—either the total rejection of the idea as something not to be considered or a gradual adoption of the same in a greater or lesser degree. While plausible objections may appear to have substantiated the first course, the latter would seem to exemplify a survival of the fittest that will in time be further sustained in the rich fruition of a future heritage.

The idea of the certainty of this has imbued itself in my mind, has suggested the use of the Myth in the Home—for the little ones below the school age.. Here it may well be made a fitting accompaniment to the nursery rhyme and jingle, forming as it were, the concrete that firmly cements the playful with the serious, the wonderful with the real, the actual with the spiritual in the delicate organism of the child mind, embodying in the whole a secure foundation for the little child world that is being slowly but surely rounded out by the ceaseless inpourings and outpourings of the childish intellect.

Nor need we give the myth thus early with the idea of a change later when the so-called "transition period" from the mythical to the real, steps in. . . .

If we acknowledge a myth-making stage in the development of the child-life, then must we acknowledge the necessity of supplying the needs of that stage. Wherefore would be the practical utility of so doing if there must be associated with it the idea of a complete withdrawal within a short period, satisfying ourselves that we have performed a conscious duty in whatever impression may have been conveyed and assimilated, yet only to be classed as an insignificant, brief, fulfilling element in the formation of character.

Should we not rather look upon this appearing-to-be mythical stage, as an evolutionary period divinely instituted, which if closely and rightly interpreted, would but reveal the fact that the closer one keeps in touch with the child life the nearer one is to truth and its revelations. (This latter fact is based on experience.)

Placing the myths at the very least, on a par with the story and rhyme in the nursery, let us take a view of their adaptation, utility and sustaining power through life.

Accept them as we will, either as human, nature, or spiritual myths, as has been recognized—in conception, _expression and interpretation—they are truths themselves. Hence even as with the nut, divested of its outer covering, there remains the savory kernel either to nourish and sustain life, or to again be the means of reproduction, so, too, of the myth, stripped of its fanciful trimmings there will remain the truths—which are its foundation—to nurture, strengthen and elevate both mind and soul in the aesthetic and ethical sense as well as in the physical. Froebel recognizes this when he says of the fairy story, "It is not the gay forms he meets in the fairy tale which charm the child, but a spiritual, invisible truth lying deeper."

For this same reason, then, we may so accept the myth, though not merely advocating it as a more poetical way of expressing truths, as advanced. True, the poetic sense is stimulated and cultivated from their study and use, but to base this cultivation solely on the language or even the many fanciful and beautiful word pictures contained therein, is but to make the poet's work a sinecure indeed. For the poet's as well as the artist's ideal is the portrayal of their highest conceptions of the inner meaning. As Longfellow truly says, "What we call miracles and wonders of art are not so to him who created them, for they were created by the natural movement of his own great soul." And so it is in the unconscious absorption of the spiritual truths in the myth, all unrevealed as they are yet in the child's mind, that the gift of poetry may be given firm root and nourishment.

Nor should we present the myth to the child mind with the hope or conviction that contact with the real in this practical world of ours, will lead to a proper and natural disenchantment (the resultant substance of another theory presented in favor of using the myth in the primary grade), causing them to be left behind as were the toys and games of childhood.

Do this and they will be at no late day resurrected by the child, as a factor of unbelief in the store of knowledge he is rapidly accumulating out of his multitudinous experiences, in his self-efforts to solve the meaning of life.

Rather should we advance the myth story as the progress in tender years is made by the child. Then as the queries come, enlarge upon their meaning and application and in the correlation with their own being and experiences when "ripening life's new urgent mystery" is upon them, lead them to see therein, the highest spiritual interpretation of the meaning of that existent and awakening life.

This is wherein the real value of the myth lies. When we have advanced it to this stage in the child's life, little more will be needed. Its acceptance in its truest sense will have be-come his own. The power to understand, to know, to enjoy—the spur to renewed efforts in the creative activity stimulated by the many and broad avenues life presents through the wider knowledge attained, will have been acquired and add their quota to influence, strengthen and elevate to noble manhood and womanhood.

Again the myth might be mentioned in connection with the scientific world. That world which is so clearly and undeniably stamped as fact. Will not this lead to the complete overthrow of the myth? is a question that has been often asked. Far from it. On the contrary, and inasmuch as the truth is coming slowly to be recognized that science must be the basis of all true education, here is where the truths of the myths will not only be more apparent, but give the greatest strength.

The myth is now recognized to contain the profoundest philosophy of life. Truths discerned by the impressionable natures of the early human race, whose observations of and close touch with Nature enabled them to discern its laws, aim to correlate those of their own life therewith, and essaying through the myth to embody in this their imaginative style, the recognized truths.

Therefore, as "Nature and life speak very early to man," and if "the whole future efficiency of man is seen in the child as a germ," we may ask, can the mothers afford to leave out the golden opportunity of mingling the myth with the nursery story of musical and poetical rhythm :—(The Hindu belief that music is of divine origin, and that mythology and melody are allied beyond all power of disuniting them, may not be insignificant here), or educators to present them as so many doses to be applied at a so-called "Mythical period"? Surely not, if past experience and the present value attached to science and fairy story alike, is to mean anything. Now that the myth has been recognized, let it be applied in its entire sense of unity with educational growth.

As thoughts for the mother in the presentation of the mythical stories to the child, it may be well to preface the same with a few choice gems culled from the soulful mines of thought, and given form by those who were inspired in their zeal to mould a beautiful setting (encased in elegant simplicity) for the central and rarest gem of all—the little child.

"As the farmer believes it more advantageous to sow in mist, so the first seeds of education should fall in the first and thickest mist of life."

"As many little ships draw a large one into harbor, so inferior minds bring the great one to shore that it may be unladen."

" This nature is hitherto a wintry desert full of spring buds ; wherever a sunbeam strikes it (for all teaching is warming into life rather than sowing), there the green leaves burst forth and the whole child's life consists of warm creation days. Jean Paul.

In the presentation of the myth to the child, it is not necessary to explain the inner meaning thereof, but the mother should have in her mind the thought or idea to be conveyed by the story and know wherein to follow with repetition and consecutiveness, the proper time of giving and the quality of the food to be so digested mentally.

To reach the child, one must become as a little child, is the divine thought, and

"Thou must be true thyself,
If thou the truth wouldst teach ;
Thy soul must overflow,
If thou another's soul wouldst reach."

Hence the thought is applied to the higher spiritual development of the adult as well as to that of the child.

Nothing can be done better than to begin with the " Christ-child tales," not as myths purely, but as truths solely, the purpose of which should be to lead the child upward into the higher realms of thought, even as it is said, the noting of the unvarying position of the dogstar, uplifted the Egyptian from his lower worship of the Nile, to the higher spiritual worship of the heavens.

Both art and nature may be wrought in by attractively picturing the journey to Bethlehem with the thought of the star, leading : uplifting ideals may be attained by thus directing attention to these "sky-flowers" so beautifully termed, and looking upward will come in time to mean looking inward.

Finally then, through the mother love to the greater love of the Christ-child for all, evolving itself in the Santa Claus myth, which, when its mystery comes to be questioned, may form a link to higher things, by telling them that Santa Claus is Love, and leading them to see that it is that which has prepared in loving sacrificing thought on the part of the mother and others, the many little gifts, surprises and pleasures, so often received.

The need of this same self-sacrificing spirit will have been already transmitted to the little soul awakening to realities in proportion as its strength exists in the mind of the transmitter, and the lesson of,

"Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare." and "He who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungry neighbor and me,"

will have become a life-giving principle and gift-giving,—now dating with infancy's birth,—will come again in reality to symbolize faith, hope and charity as did the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh of the wise men of olden time.

In the nature myths lead the child to see how each part helps the other, each has its own share of work in the world, yet all are dependent one on the other for all that is best, working together as a part of the whole. "To make that whole more perfect, as well as one's self." Whether the myth typify the fruit or water drop, this lesson may be easily brought out in the idea of a circle, showing the perfection and harmony of the whole, as the tiny "seed-baby" put into the ground, fed by Mother Earth,—root, tree, flowers, fruit and seed come forth to again begin the round; the baby-drop, pattering, rolling or falling to Earth's bosom, seeking an outlet, each in its efforts leaving a path for others, finds its home—the Ocean—to be again drawn up by the sun (Apollo), chased by the wind (Mercury), clouds (Apollo's cows), crowd together, to again return to earth, continuing the circuit, benefiting, refreshing, perfecting in ever-widening circles and forming a complete whole.. So even, little by little, do the myth and story expand the horizon of the child's circle, whose never-ending queries are but the dawning of a ceaseless search for the connecting links to higher things. Let it be the purpose of the myth to complete that circle to the perfecting of its own, and to the continuity of all life, into a harmonious whole.

The broader sympathy for humanity that will come with the truer knowledge of life and of self, understood through recognition of natural laws in nature, will enhance further development and elevate to a more spiritual plane. Not solely through the cultivation of the imagination, but through the unconscious revelations that are being inborn as it were, bringing an actual self or life—knowledge—the truest conception of "Know thy-self" and in the knowing, others.

If the spiritual phase of the myth has seemingly been largely dwelt upon in this paper, it is because of the belief, that this is the ultimate result of the close communion with and touch or knowledge of nature, which as nothing else does, gives the sub-stance to the ideals, the basis of all high aims.

In the above sense the truths of all the myths may be evolved, bringing forth good fruit, linking and interlinking, one with the other until the broad expanse viewed in its entirety, gives forth convincing testimony of the existence, power and goodness of an All-wise Creator, evinced in the beauty, wonder and harmony of Nature and His noblest handiwork,—Man.

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