th Century claimed that the fairy stories that made them famous were, in fact, of ancient origin, though subsequently many people have dismissed them as being modern.
Now new research has proved that stories such as Snow White and Rapunzel do indeed date back thousands of years, part of a rich oral tradition that passed them down from generation to generation, told by women to their children, by travelling storytellers, and recounted in tribal communities to pass long winter nights around the communal fire. Thanks to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, they have been save from extinction.
The stories are not easy reading, particularly in their original, unexpurgated versions which include rape, racism, dismemberment, infanticide and extreme cruelty before the happy ending, acts that might be puzzling and disturbing to innocent children hearing them but which would be very understandable to adults.
In many ways they are morality plays, teaching about right and wrong as they explore the different aspects of being human, and teaching about what is light, and what is dark. It is interesting how often nature features in the stories too, with magic frogs and wild woods, dragons and fairies, vipers and doves. Imagine sitting round a fire on a dark winter’s night in a Bronze-Age settlement listening to tales of malevolence, magic and danger, as a wind stirred the great forests around you, and beasts howled in the distance: in those days there was not the comfort of turning off the television and turning up the lights - the fairy tale, despite its happy ending, would have felt real, and the powerful images lingered as imagination took hold.
The stories were exaggerated, of course, as all such tales are, but they may, long, long ago have been based on true events, like so many ancient legends. Also, in those days the hidden worlds of spirit and of nature were part of human life, and so the fantasy aspect of the stories would have had a credibility that has been lost over time.
It is a shame that the art of storytelling, in the western world at least, is dying, and that the emphasis on what is rational has killed our ability to believe in the magical and the unknown. We have separated from a hidden world and have lost something very precious. There is an irony in this, since your life and mine are fairy tales in themselves, but too often we exclude the mystery which makes them special.
Imagination in the listener and the teller is the key to any fairy story. I encourage you to use your imagination as much as you can, whether it is seeing an elf under a leaf or a dragon behind an old oak, your child as a princess or your dog as a guardian hound, a cloud as an angel or the sound of traffic as a noisy river. Imagination takes us beyond the limited world of the third dimension to the sphere of magic and mystery, and the ultimate truth. Fairy stories are just the start.