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The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,486 ratings  ·  372 reviews
The famous child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, explains how fairy tales educate, support, and liberate the emotions of children.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 12th 1977 by Vintage (first published 1975)
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Trevor
I’ve been meaning to read this for years. This isn’t quite what I was expecting, though. And given this was published in 1976 it seems much too Freudian than it ought to have been too. There were times when I would have been sure it was written in the 1950s.

Now, saying this is a Freudian analysis of fairy tales might be enough to put some people off. And that would be a real pity. There are few things more suited to a Freudian interpretation than literature – as a teacher of mine once said, ‘
...more
Fran
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely love this book. Of lately--few past decades--fairy tales have gotten a bad reputation, often cited as examples of horrible role models for girls and boys. However, it seems we--modern us--are in part responsible for turning fairy tales into those kind of stories because they weren't like that originally.

In this book Bettelheim explores how deeply significant these seemingly out-of-touch with the present world stories are for children's development.

One of the things we need to
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Nandakishore Varma
Sep 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book which assured me that my enduring interest in fairy tales was scholarly and not something to be scoffed at as juvenile. Until then, I have been blissfully unaware of the psychological depth of fairy tales and how a lot of major literary works are inspired by them. Now there are fairy tale studies by the dozen, and many are fascinating: but Bettelheim is the first person who opened the door for me, therefore this book holds a special place in my heart.

I have read that, in
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Manybooks
Dec 14, 2009 rated it did not like it
I had to read Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment many years ago for a university-level course I was taking in the summer (on specifically Charles Perrault's and the Grimms' fairy tale collections as pscho-drama therapy for children). And while Bettelheim does indeed have some interesting takes on what fairy tales as a literary/oral genre can mean, and that they are important for children and their psychologic development, the massive Freudianism of Bruno Bettelheim's analysis and that he ...more
Jason
Feb 13, 2015 rated it liked it
I don't think I could have taken much more of this. It has a definite entertainment value, absolutely, but come on - how can anyone take any of this stuff seriously? Part of me thinks Bettelheim is pulling our leg, he just has to be, but no - he's a straight-faced Freudian scholar of the reductive and ridiculous sort, and he's deadly serious about all of this. Here, check this out: the beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk represents a penis. Jack's climbing up the beanstalk represents Jack's ...more
Nicole
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Bettelheim has totally schooled me on the phallic symbol. I have learned, in reading about how to read fairy tales, that I am woefully under-educated about penises and their manifold symbols, which there are exponentially more of than I ever could have dreamed about or hoped for.

This is an amazing and amazingly flawed book. His points about the function of fairy tales, how children and adults read them and what children get out of reading them on pre-, sub-, and conscious levels, is convincing.
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Amy
Jan 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. This book was a nightmare to read. It was assigned for my Storytelling class, otherwise I would've dropped it after the introduction. Bettelheim is a famous psychologist who worked a lot with children. This book details (and I mean DEATAILS) his view of the importance of fairy tales to children's subconscious. Think Freudian fairy tales. I'm serious. And so is Bettelheim. He's completely serious about his ideas, which come off as far fetched and laughable some times. Much of what he writes ...more
Amy Rae
I can't believe I'm going to start this review with a Neil Gaiman quote, which is both incredibly pretentious and apt to make you think I think far better of Gaiman than I actually do, but here goes:

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”


eta: It turns out Gaiman lifted that particular line from an author I respect far more, so let's start this over again with a G.K. Chesterton quote:

Fairy tales do not
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Jacqueline
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Anyone who needs to be convinced that the protagonist of a children's story should always solve his or her own problems without adult help should read this book. If you can get past the outdated Freudian theory, this book is a fascinating examination of fairy tale motifs and how they help children come to terms with sibling rivalry, fear of abandonment, and other anxieties children face on the road to maturity. Bettelheim compares various versions of familiar tales and discusses theme at length. ...more
Morgan Blackledge
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bruno Bettelheim was a Austrian born Jewish psychoanalyst, and Nazi holocaust survivor who was interned in both Dachau and Buchenwald.

He immigrated to America after WWII and became a prominent intellectual in the field of child psychoanalysis.

He was controversial for his harsh opinions of fellow Jews in Nazi Germany, who he infamously referred to as “going like sheep to the slaughter.”

He was also controversial for his (now discredited) parent blaming etiological hypothesis of autism spectrum
...more
Sahel
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really liked the book since it was so informative on the subject of fairy tales and how they can be beneficial to children. I also did not know how to start reading about fairy tales' criticism, so as a beginning it helped my initiation to the subject.I'd recommend it to people who want to write something on fairy tales and how they can help children get over their psychological and also oedipal problem, if there are any.
J. Mulrooney
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended for anyone who deals with children

Bettelheim was an old-fashioned Freudian psychiatrist -- the kind who talked to patients instead of drugging them -- and a Holocaust survivor. After the war, he emigrated to Chicago, where he did terrific work with children suffering from serious psychological problems.

The book uses a Freudian framework, but you don't have to believe in a literal id, ego, and superego to appreciate the insight Bettelheim brings to stories and how they are absorbed
...more
Nikki
In terms of the psychoanalysis here, which is heavily based on Freud’s work, it sounds like a lot of rubbish to me. And if you know Bettelheim’s work from his work on autism, you’re not entirely safe from that here — he only mentions it once or twice, but it’s still jarringly wrong. Still, some of his analyses of the texts on a literary level do make sense, and his suggestions of how some people might apply their own lives in understanding and interpreting them are fascinating. As a literary ...more
Kaycie Hall
I suppose this book was ground-breaking when it was first published, but honestly, I thought it focused way too much on the idea of all children having an oedipal complex and maybe not enough on how the violence and darkness in original fairy tales address something in a child's imagination (which the sugarcoated Disney tales leaving wanting).

I also disliked Bettelheim's analysis of Charles Perrault and his tales in general---to say that they're flippant and mocking is not really fair and it
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Peter
I'm about halfway through and have given up on this. It's as dry as a piece of old toast. I'm sure it was all very revolutionary when it came out, and probably influenced the likes of Marina Warner or Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood with their modern takes on fairy stories, but it all feels very dated and 60's Freudian. There are a lot more recent interesting books on both fairytale analysis and child development out there. 'The Child in the Mirror' and 'They f##k you up' on child development ...more
Amar Pai
Feb 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Good in that it gets you interested in the original versions of stories like Cinderella, Snow White, etc. It's nice to see someone think at length about the meaning, import, structure and significance of fairy tales, and there are definitely some good tidbits in here. One of my favorites-- instead of:

"And then they all lived happily ever after."

some stories end with:

"If they have not died, they are still alive."

Haha grim but true, that!

The main problem I had with this book is Bettelheim s
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Giorgio
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful excursus through some of the most meaningful fairytales, their symbols and their significance in our growth process. You can look back at your own childhood through this (Freudian) lens, to see what you had to fix and how you (with or against your parents) did it, and maybe find something that you still have to fix today.

Main learnings:
–The classic form of fairy tales was shaped in centuries and sometimes millennia, by storytellers who adjusted to children's reactions and their own
...more
Mallory
Dec 24, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm actually not longer sure why this book was on my To Read list, although I'm guessing it might have come up while reading one of Joseph Campbell's books. Also, as a disclaimer, I pretty much skimmed the last 100 pages or so. The large scheme of the book I enjoyed: the exploration of the similar themes expressed in fairy tales that reflect the human race's views on morals and the human experience. I also enjoyed the small parts that talked about the origins/history of some of the fairy tales ...more
Katherine Sas
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment is one of those classic pieces of criticism that are both absolutely essential and hopelessly outdated. There is a lot of useful analysis and history, and there are some really lovely passages about the universality and applicability of fairy tales. He even quotes Tolkien on the subject, seeming to agree with him in his distaste for didactic, allegorical, and condescending stories (for children and adults). Unfortunately, as he gets into the nitty gritty of ...more
Mistie
Jan 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I did enjoy some of the historical information regarding the origin of various fairy tales, this is not a book that I enjoyed or would recommend. Bettelheim is clearly knowledgeable and has studied fairy tales for quite some time. However, I found his dependence on the psychological beliefs of Freud too heavy. He claims that what is special about fairy tales is that they meet a child where he/she is and gives them whatever it is that they need at the time. This, I do agree with. He then, ...more
Karen Floyd
Are all psychiatrists obssessed with sex? This one certainly seemed to be. It would seem that all fairy folk tales (as he calls them)are telling us on a subconscious level how to grow up to become psychologically mature and have good sex lives. He has some valuable things to say, but he belabors his sexual ideas so these get drowned out.
And he says that in the genre of animal/monstrous spouses, women are always beautiful animals while men are usually fierce and repulsive. I beg to differ:
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Anthony Buckley
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An interesting and important book, indeed, a classic. The points he make concerning the role of narrative (especially what we call fairy stories) in the development of children are definitely important. My feeling is, however, that Bettelheim is a bit rosy-spectacled. Eric Berne in "What do you say when you have said 'Hello'?" discusses a similar topic, but his argument has a harder edge. We maybe use narrative of whatever kind in forming our individual identities, but sometimes our identities ...more
J.Aleksandr Wootton
Mar 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Heavily Freudian, but a teaspoon of salt will help the Bettelheim go down. Offers much insight into the positive ways children interact psychologically with fairy tales and fairy tale tellers.
Peter
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
I have two young children, and most of the time I have no idea what is going on in their heads. They struggle, no doubt, with fears, concerns, and disturbing behaviors in others. They may worry about whether they will succeed in the future, and how they can cope in the world. But most of the time they don’t. They just take things as they come. Or so it seems to me.

On the existence of the subconscious, I have no doubt. Through years of observation of myself, I realize that my own actions
...more
Va Le
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
When I first opened this book I thought how I would read about the real meanings of the stories you are told when you are a child when analised. What I found was a book on childrens development through fairy tales and stories, and their meaning to the childs subconscious world.
The further you dive into this book you realize how much of a child still lives in you, and, personally it brings some insight for young people leaving home and experiencing how the first steps away from your parents home
...more
Maria
Oct 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
FI-NAL-LY!! I've read it all!!
This is one of the few books I wanted to put away as soon as I started reading. Optimistic as I was, I read on and hoped it would become better. It didn't. It only got worse and worse, but I'm too OCD to stop reading any book I started reading.

Bettelheim's approach is hardly scientific and leaves too less space for alternate conclusions. On top of that, he sounds like someone who knows the child's mind like nobody else and has taken some time to teach all this
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Gideon
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
An incredible layman's intro to child developmental psychology, this is an absolutely vital read for storytellers of any stripe or any parent looking to peek inside the emotions and ideas of the important little people in their life.

I became aware of 'Uses' after reading an essay by Martin Scorcese which talked about how Stanley Kubrick used Bettelheim to compose the screenplay for 'The Shining' (side note: The Shining is a terrible, terrible bedtime story for children and not recommended by
...more
Sunny
Oct 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I thought this book dragged on a little bit and was very sexual in its explanation of most of the fairly tales we have grown up with. The first half of the book is an explanation of some of the best known fairly tales we have grown up with and in some places was really insightful but in others quite repetitive and boring. The chapters cover myth, the pleasure principle, importance of externalisation, brining order into chaos, our dual nature, languages, the youngest child, why some fairy tales ...more
Rebecca Richardson
Feb 25, 2014 marked it as to-read
Cate Blanchett Favorite - I read this in drama school. It's an analysis from a psychologist's perspective of the meaning and power of fairy tales. One example that sticks in my mind is the metaphor of a child going into the forest. Bettelheim makes the point that the structure of this story parallels children's experiences in life—how you can be frightened but eventually make it through to the other side. One can feel expendable—particularly in this day and age, and especially working in film— ...more
Jason
Jun 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Great book. Was a revelation when I first read it as a student, but now I'd take issue with some of his ideas. Well maybe that's being a bit grand: I'd like to talk to him about the thinking behind some of his arguments...I could be convinced. Overall:life-changing ideas
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Bruno Bettelheim was an Austrian-born American child psychologist and writer. He gained an international reputation for his views on autism and for his claimed success in treating emotionally disturbed children.

“The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue ...” 109 likes
“The unrealistic nature of these tales (which narrowminded rationalists object to) is an important device, because it makes obvious that the fairy tales’ concern is not useful information about the external world, but the inner process taking place in an individual.” 26 likes
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