Fairy Tales and Multiculturalism
Updated: Nov 1, 2019
Are Fairy Tales just Stories from Northern Europe?
When we think about the most popular fairy tales, we most often think about the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Mother Goose, and the movies that are adapted from them and produced by Disney.
But when Perrault, the Grimms, and Andersen wrote and published their books on fairy tales, many of their stories came from other sources.
All of those that I mentioned wrote stories intended for Christian audiences, but what was the source of either the story itself, or the original reason for writing?
Authors never write in a vacuum—even modern writers who are writing original fictional stories—use metaphors and allegories in their stories which rely on their readers’ knowledge of older folk tales, other versions of fairy tales, mythology, history, religion and many other topics.
Sometimes their stories make direct references to the folklore and mythology of other cultures.
Two modern authors (among many others) who do this are Rick Riordan and Patricia Briggs.
Rick Riordan has several series of books for teens/young adults that have modern characters interacting with—or personifying—the characters from different mythologies.
Patricia Briggs writes stories for adults where werewolves, fairies, the Fae, vampires, characters from Native American
Each of these authors, are examples of using elements and characters from fairy tales and fairy stories in new ways within their own stories.
Fairy Tales and Fairy Stories are “Multicultural” by their Nature
So we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that that the storytellers from several hundred years ago did the same thing, and that the stories they heard and recorded were also incorporating elements from much older stories including mythologies, folk tales, and cautionary tales, and stories from different religious traditions, and that this has been done since time immemorial.
Creating stories to explain the reasons for the unknown, or to teach morality without lecturing happens everywhere and in every culture. Some of the fairy tales we’re most familiar with were adapted from Greco-Roman or Norse mythology, and the roots of some have even been traced to Asia and Africa. Sometimes the entire story has been retained, but other times it’s only a part of the story. There are often a combination of many elements that are from other stories. This is also why it’s difficult to dismiss the fairy tales themselves as belonging to a specific culture.
They can also be an attempt to explain fears that otherwise seem to have no explanation. Many children wake up with nightmares, or are afraid of the dark, or are afraid of some “monster” that they can’t always describe or explain—all they know is that they’re afraid.
The Christianity in the Stories
Fear of the unknown, of the dark, of being alone—people in every culture and time share in these fears.
Why are these fears so common?
The heart of these fears, is the fear of death—and this is why every good story attempts to show the reader how to cope with that fear.
From the Christian perspective, we know that death entered the world for human beings as a result of the Fall. Before the Fall, human beings were in union with God, and given the Preternatural Gifts from God; which included never getting sick and never dying. That’s not natural to a human being, which is why it was a gift from God.
But we live after the Fall, so we know that we’re all going to die at some point. Even knowing this, we’re afraid of it. This is why we need to develop the virtue of Courage or Fortitude. It’s the virtue that helps us to cope with those fears by learning to overcome adversity *despite* feeling afraid.
Fairy tales end, “happily ever after” because they are Christian stories about salvation. Even if the story wasn’t originally Christian, it was “baptized” by storytellers who knew that their audience was Christian.
But Christianity is for everyone, not for any specific culture or geographical location.
And God is Truth and Goodness itself, so wherever the truth is found, or true goodness is found, God is present. This is why Christians can take stories or ideas from anywhere or anytime, pull out the parts that are true and good, and show that God is present there.
List of Posts in the "Fairy Tale Fridays" Series:
Fairy Tales and Multiculturalism (this post)