It is well known that storytelling is an innate expression of civilization, in an effort to define who we are and to make sense of the world. The fairy tale is an important part of this tradition that has a long and rich history spanning thousands of years.
First published in 1975, Bruno Bettleheim, one of Sigmund Freud's followers and an important contributor to psychoanalysis, has written an incredible book, suggesting that the fairy tale has a pedagogical use, educating the child about the struggles in life, that these struggles are an intrinsic aspect of existence. Following Plato, he believes that the literary education of children should begin with the telling of myths. In other words, the fairy tale can present models for behaviour, providing meaning and value to our lives. This wonderful book expresses this view extremely well and also provides a frame of reference towards the child's overall psychological development.
I have read Freud for some years, and nowhere, including Freud himself, have I read a more succinctly expressed view on the ultimate purpose of psychoanalysis, than in this book by Dr. Bettleheim, he writes,
"Psychoanalysis was created to enable man to accept the problematic nature of life without being defeated by it, or giving in to escapism. Freud's prescription is that only by struggling courageously against what seems like unwieldy odds can man succeed in wringing meaning out of existence." (P.8)
Fairy tales inform us about life's struggles, hardships and the reality of death. From Bettleheim's point of view, the fairy tale is a "manifold form" that communicates to the child, educates them, against life's vagaries and realities, which are the unavoidable aspects of our existence. More specifically, the fairy tale is an educational tool to help children grow and develop into adults. He goes on to say that the child needs to be given "...suggestions in symbolic form about how he may deal with these issues and grow safely into maturity." (P.9)
Bettleheim adeptly sets out to prove his theses by analysing well known fairy tales in the context of psychoanalytic theory, persuasively arguing the value of these tales towards the child's psychological development.
If you are interested in psychoanalysis and would like to know more about the profound positive effects the telling of fairy tales can have on our young, this incredible book is indispensable.