Sarah's Reviews > The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim
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Dec 12, 11

bookshelves: permanent-collection
Read from November 30 to December 12, 2011

This book makes many excellent points. It shows us that fairy tales are important for children. They help them to develop as people. Bettelheim takes care to note that only the best fairy tales live up to that potential. What's a real fairy tale? One that has a long history of oral retelling. One that has that language and feel of age. Tales like Cinderella, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel...these are the western world's best examples (although he tells of many others that fit the bill). The Grimms seem to have done the best job at laying down these tales as they were told orally. They have the right feel and sound. Bettelheim points out that in order for the child to be able to give him or herself over to the allegorical, symbolic nature of the tales, the language must allow him to separate the tales from real life. Thus, the "once upon a time, when wishes came true, lived happily for a long time etc"...these words are integral. He takes issue (as I have for a long time) with bowdlerized versions. Perrault, although popular with many, was guilty of altering tales to fit his own purposes. I'll finish up this review by simply giving some of my favorite passages from the book. These made a deep impression. Be warned about the book though: it lays a lot of emphasis on oedipal issues and whatnot that I find to be...while somewhat true, overstated.
Maybe there are really that many phallic images abounding in the pages, but sometimes a mouse is just a mouse fer goodness sakes.

"There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life in due to our very own natures- the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that *they* are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in his own eyes"

"Action takes the place of understanding for a child, and this becomes increasingly true the more strongly he feels. A child may have learned to *say* otherwise under adult guidance, but as he really sees it, people do not cry because they are sad; they just cry. People do not hit out and destroy,or stop talking because they are angry; they just do these things. A child may have learned he can placate adults by explaining his action thus: "I did it because I am angry"- but that does not change the fact that the child does not experience anger as anger, but only as an impulse to hit, to destroy, to keep silent. Not before puberty do we begin to recognize our emotions for what they are without immediately acting on them, or wishing to do so."
^----(have we so completely forgotten or stopped believing this? think of the children being charged with "sexual harassment" for hitting a fellow boy in the crotch. so stupid!)

"Tolkien, too, thought that 'However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy stories...If a story says, "he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below", the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene, but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but especially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.'"

Love that last bit from the creator of Lord of the Rings. (funny, since he was an excellent illustrator). It's why many times the movie can't ever live up to the book. I've already created in my head way more perfectly than could ever be captured on screen or in a picture.
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