- Amy MacKinnon
Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Yes, I’m back to posting on Fairy Tales!
And I’m doing a series on fairy tales called:
Fairy Tale Fridays
There will be a new post each Friday on fairy tales and Christianity!
Sometimes I’ll pick a fairy tale, and summarize it, showing how it’s a specifically Christian story.
Other times I’ll post about fairy tales themselves (like this week).
If you want to see what’s coming up, check out the list at the bottom of this page. I’ll update the links when each new fairy tale post is up. I’ve also included the earlier posts on fairy tales in the list
The topic for this week, “Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths,” was chosen because I was asked about the differences between them.
If you have any questions about fairy tales or stories, or want to read summaries about any additional fairy tales—or other stories—let me know: Click here and tell me!
No, the entire blog will not be about fairy tales.
Just the Fairy Tale Fridays series.
So—onto the topic!
Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths
I've heard that the problem with fairy tales is that they're not real, because in real life:
No one gets married, and then lives happily ever after
No one kills an evil witch who’s trying to eat them, and then lives happily ever after
Because no one ever lives happily ever after!
Not in real life.
But in fairy tales, characters like Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel, and Gretel all do live happily ever after.
In Cinderella, it can even depend on the version of the story.
In Charles Perrault’s Mother Goose collection of stories, the wicked stepsisters have a happy ending, but in the Brothers Grimm… it’s not such a happy ending for them.
But in both versions, it is a happy ending for Cinderella herself.
But why do they all live happily ever after?
Because All Christian Stories, Including Fairy Tales, Are About Salvation.
Fairy tales always end “happily ever after,” and there’s a reason for that ending.
The weddings, or the community of people that are gathering together in celebration in the end—they are both symbolic of being in Heaven.
And only in Heaven does our suffering truly end.
And it’s only in Heaven that we will all live happily ever after—if we choose to go there.
Cautionary tales never end “happily ever after.”
That’s why they’re called “cautionary tales.”
Hilaire Belloc wrote several of these stories.
They’re pretty funny, but they do NOT end happily ever after!
Cautionary tales aren’t limited to stories that are in a similar style to fairy tales though.
Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Hamlet are both cautionary tales—all of his tragedies are cautionary tales.
The version of Little Red Riding Hood that is told by Charles Perrault (aka Mother Goose), is a cautionary tale. It doesn’t end well for Little Red Riding Hood in Perrault’s story.
The version that’s in the Brother’s Grimm collection is a fairy tale, so it has a happy ending.
The stories are very similar, but they have very different endings for Little Red Riding Hood (unless modern editors make changes to them), and that’s what makes one a cautionary tale and the other a fairy tale.
“Myth” is used in a number of different ways, so this really needs a bit more of an explanation.
When people talk about a story as a myth, it always involves gods.
It might be stories from the Greek and Roman mythology, or Norse mythology, Hindu Mythology, Navaho, etc.
The nationality or area of the world where the story takes place doesn’t matter—what matters for defining the term is that it is a story about gods.
Sometimes myth is used to mean that a story is specifically about the creation of the world.
This is why the Epic of Gilgamesh and the stories about the Titans are called “myths.”
It’s also why some people will refer to the creation of the world in Genesis as a myth:
It involves a God (not many gods, as the pagan stories do)
It is about the creation of the world
Christians and Jews don’t read Genesis 1-3 as just one creation story among many—we read this as revelation.
That’s why some people refer to Genesis as the “true myth,” because it’s revelation. When they say that, they don’t mean that myth=lie or that a myth is something like an urban legend, where it’s just a story that’s been passed on but never really happened.
There are many other stories about creation that have at least some similarities to Genesis, so what do we say to that?
I like the answer that J.R.R. Tolkien gave to C.S. Lewis when he pointed out the similarities between all of the mythologies.
Tolkien answered that they were all true.
And he was right!
They were all true in part, but also not true in parts.
To find what’s really true, we turn to Truth Itself: God.
And it’s because God is Truth itself, that it’s in the revelation from God that we find the fullness of the truth.
Fairy Tale Fridays Series
Previous posts on Fairy Tales
Women in Fairy Tales: Good or Bad?
Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths (this post)
How Are Fairy Tales Christian?
Cinderella: A Christian Fairy Tale
Snow White: A Christian Fairy Tale
Hansel and Gretel: A Christian Fairy Tale
Sleeping Beauty: A Christian Fairy Tale
Beauty and the Beast: A Christian Fairy Tale
Little Mermaid: A Christian Fairy Tale
Velveteen Rabbit: A Christian Fairy Tale
Why Are There So Few Fairies in Fairy Tales?
Fairy Tales and Multiculturalism