Most of us grew up on fairytales in some form, whether it was through Disney’s famous remakes of iconic stories by the Brothers Grimm or through a bizarre bedtime story your parents told you late at night. Even though we’re older now, we are still consuming fairytales through modern retellings like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and newer remakes of Disney’s remakes.
The question is, are fairy tales still relevant and important stories to tell? What purpose do they serve?
And if you were to ask Dr. Katharyn Machan, professor in the Writing Department at Ithaca College, about the relevance of fairy tales, she would say, “of course!” She teaches multiple classes, some of which include fairytale writing classes. One of those classes is a seminar class titled “Fairy Tales: The Hero’s Journey,” in which the first paragraph of the course description reads and defines fairy tales as: “Fairy tales are the maps of our psyches, the mirrors of our longings and fears. In them we find the questions and answers we need to continue the shaping of our own lives, through darkness and light, shadow and brilliant image. Our oldest fairy tales, from the oral culture, have been polished to the bone; they gleam with an intensity of truth free of specific history. Newer tales, too, their authors known and celebrated, reach to the place of magic and dream, and give us guides in delight and knowledge.”
Freshman writing and psychology major Rowan Keller-Smith agrees in a sense: “I think [fairy tales] say a lot about human psychology and how we tell the same stories kind of over and over and how they’re adapted for a modern age. They show our fears and anxieties and desires and the culture of the collective at the moment. Not to sound too Freudian, but, I feel like they work very similar to dreams where you can really analyze the symbolism in them to get a good idea of the psychology behind the people who write them and who tell them.”
When asked if they believed fairy tales were still important stories to tell, Keller-Smith said, “Any story that anyone wants to tell is relevant. Any story can be relevant as long as there’s someone who wants to tell it.”
As a journalism major and a writing minor, maybe I am biased when I say that this is the basis of all human connection, but when you really think about it, we have been telling stories to each other since the beginning of time. From obscure drawings in caves, to hieroglyphics in ancient Egyptian scriptures, to women gossipping in the Regency era, storytelling is an innate characteristic of human beings.
In fact, in many tribes, like the Agta — a group of hunter-gatherers from the Philippines — the storytellers are some of the most valued members of the tribe. Storytelling, for them, is a way to bond and connect socially. These stories are also a way of indirectly passing down important information.
As Keller-Smith theorizes, “I guess fairy tales used to be told to remind us of what our morals should be. They were lessons. Advice, kinda.”
Storytelling has always served as a form of communication, whether it’s a newscast informing you of happenings around the world or an anecdote you tell your friend when they ask how your day was. Fairytales are included in that. Today, I think fairy tales serve a different purpose than advice and morals. They remind us of what we can be, what our lives could be like.
Keller-Smith told Buzzsaw, “I think it’s escapism while still having a touch of real life. Like you’re reading these fantastical stories, but you’re still hearing about people like you.”
In a world where there are so many things that constantly stress us out, fairy tales are a projection of what our perfect lives would be. They’re a way of returning to our childhoods and remembering what passions and dreams used to drive us. Fairy tales are also a useful tool in examining ourselves and the universe we live in through an otherworldly lens. As long as humans remain storytellers, fairy tales will remain relevant.
Alefiya Presswala is a first-year Journalism major who sees that old stories can still keep us on the edge of our seat. She can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Selkie Racela.