CM on Fairytales

Dear Reader,

As I work through the things that struck me in Charlotte Mason’s homeschooling series, I am in volume three, School Education, and I find this quote on fairy tales:

“Some of us will not even let children read fairy tales because these bring the ugly facts of life too suddenly before them.” [p.130]

I read a post recently by Lori Lawing which deals with exactly this passage. It treats the passage pretty thoroughly so I don’t want to reiterate it all here. The short version would be that Charlotte says that fairy tales prepare children by allowing them to confront evil in a fictional setting before they encounter it in real life.

Personally, I have always let my children read and hear both fairy tales and other more modern books which depart from the real world. A book that creates a fictional world or even in some way fictionalizes this world (for instance by saying there are fairies or wizards here) bothers me a lot less than one that takes place in the real world but depicts kids always arguing with their siblings (for example).

I guess the question I have is what about more modern stories? Where do we draw the line for those? My oldest has read the Harry Potter books and other such series like Lemony Snicket and Percy Jackson and his favorite, the Edge Chronicles. I know many parents who would not allow such books. But then he has also read the Narnia books and the Lord of the Rings. Now the latter two series have Christian authors. Is that what makes them more acceptable, not just the authorship but the themes those authors imbue them with?

I have one friend who is very bothered by books in which the kids are on their own for some reason, especially if that reason reflects poorly on the parents. But I find that many of our favorite books involve kids acting on their own for some reason. There is Narnia but also the Boxcar Children, the Penderwicks, Nesbit’s books, and many others.

I guess my own feeling is that the kids have to act on their own to make the story what it is. If there were an adult there with all the answers, there wouldn’t be much of a story. Often, if the story is at all fantastical, the adults in it just wouldn’t/don’t believe it. Charlotte said that children are more in touch with the spiritual than we are and I think that is true and something to cultivate in them. I should say within reason. I have known parents who teach their children to believe in fairies, not in stories but in real life. Since I don’t believe in fairies, I can’t see telling my children they are real. That’s a lie. But in stories, they can temporarily believe in things. They know it is not true when they walk away from the book but it still helps feed that natural bent that children still have, and we have often lost, for faith. So I don’t mind them having faith and indulging in the fantastical in the realm of a book. But in real life I do want their faith to be in real things. That sounds complicated even to me as I write it, but I have found that beyond the age of 5 or 6, my kids can distinguish between what is real and what is not. There was a time they thought Elmo was real. Now I think they can indulge in other realities in books and then walk away knowing that fairies and wizards and the like are not real but still keeping something from the book, a sense that the world is more fantastic than we often give it credit for perhaps, an expectation that sometimes the unusual or improbable can and will happen.

There is also the coming of age element to these stories. Even if they are not fantastical stories, when the children deal with and face things on their own, they come out of their experiences more mature in some way than when they went in. If the adults in the story did everything for them, this would not be the case (which I suppose is a good lesson for us real-world adults to learn too). And when our children read these stories, they work through the problems with the characters. Hopefully, they pick up some of the lessons without having to go through all the trials in real life. Sometimes it helps just to know that some one else, even a fictional character, shares our feelings, that we are not the only one who has ever felt like an outsider or been scared or angry or embarrassed.

So I guess my point in all this is that I do agree with Charlotte Mason that fairy tales allow children to work through things or to face them in a safe context and that more modern books can do the same thing.


One response to this post.

  1. […] how to act, or, often just as valuably, how not to act. Charlotte Mason makes a similar point (see this post or this […]


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