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A Study of Fairy Tales By Laura F. Kready



Chapter I. The Worth of Fairy Tales
Chapter II. Principles of Selection for Fairy Tales
Chapter III. The Telling of Fairy Tales
Chapter IV. The History of Fairy Tales
Chapter V. Classes of Fairy Tales
Chapter VI. Sources of Material for Fairy Tales

ONE of the problems of present-day education is to secure for the entire school system, from the kindergarten to the university, a curriculum which shall have a proved and permanent value. In this curriculum literature has established itself as a subject of unquestioned worth. But children's literature, as that distinct portion of the subject literature written especially for children or especially suited to them, is only beginning to take shape and form. It seems necessary at this time to work upon the content of children's literature to see what is worthy of a permanent place in the child's English, and to dwell upon its possibilities. A consideration of this subject has convinced me of three points: (1) that literature in the kindergarten and elementary school should be taught as a distinct subject, accessory neither to reading nor to any other subject of the curriculum, though intimately related to them; (2) that it takes training in the subject to teach literature to little children; (3) that the field of children's literature is largely untilled, inviting laborers, embracing literature which should be selected from past ages down to the present.

A single motif of this children's literature, Fairy Tales, is here presented, with the aim of organizing this small portion of the curriculum for the child of five, six, or seven years, in the kindergarten and the first grade. The purpose has been to show this unit of literature in its varied connection with those subjects which bear an essential relation to it. This presentation incidentally may serve as an example of one method of giving to teachers a course in literature by showing what training may be given in a single motif, Fairy Tales. Incidentally also it may set forth a few theories of education, not isolated from practice, but united to the everyday problems where the teacher will recognize them with greatest impression.

In the selection of the subject no undue prominence is hereby advocated for fairy tales. We know fairy tales about which we could agree with Maria Edgeworth when she said: "Even if children do prefer fairy tales, is this a reason why their minds should be filled with fantastic visions instead of useful knowledge?" However, there is no danger that fairy tales will occupy more than a fair share of the child's interest, much as he enjoys a tale; for the little child's main interest is centered in the actual things of everyday life and his direct contact with them. Yet there is a part of him untouched by these practical activities of his real and immediate life; and it is this which gives to literature its unique function, to minister to the spirit. Fairy tales, in contributing in their small way to this high service, while they occupy a position of no undue prominence, nevertheless hold a place of no mean value in education.

In the study of fairy tales, as of any portion of the curriculum or as in any presentation of subject-matter, three main elements must unite to form one combined whole: the child, the subject, and the teaching of the subject. In behalf of the child I want to show how fairy tales contain his interests and how they are means for the expression of his instincts and for his development in purpose, in initiative, in judgment, in organization of ideas, and in the creative return possible to him. In behalf of the subject I want to show what fairy tales must possess as classics, as literature and composition, and as short-stories; to trace their history, to classify the types, and to supply the sources of material. In behalf of the teaching of fairy tales I want to describe the telling of the tale: the preparation it involves, the art required in its presentation, and the creative return to be expected from the child.

In the consideration of the subject the main purpose has been to relate fairy tales to the large subjects, literature and composition. From the past those tales have come down to us which inherently possessed the qualities of true classics. In modern times so few children's tales have survived because they have been written mainly from the point of view of the subject and of the child without regard to the standards of literary criticism. In the school the teaching of literature in the kindergarten and elementary grades has been conducted largely also from the point of view of the child and of the subject without regard to the arts of literature and composition. In bookshops counters are filled with many books that lack literary value or artistic merit. The object in this book has been to preserve the point of view of the child and of the subject and yet at the same time relate the tale to the standards of literature and of composition. The object has been to get the teacher, every time she selects or tells a tale, to apply practically the great underlying principles of literature, of composition, and of the short-story, as well as those of child-psychology and of pedagogy.

This relating of the tale to literary standards will give to the teacher a greater respect for the material she is handling and a consequent further understanding of its possibilities. It will reveal what there is in the tale to teach and also how to teach it. In teaching literature as also other art subject-matter in the kindergarten and first grade, the problem is to hold fast to the principles of the art and yet select, or let the child choose, material adapted to his simplicity. As the little child uses analysis but slightly, his best method of possessing a piece of literature is to do something with it.

The fairy tale is also related to life standards, for it presents to the child a criticism of life. By bringing forward in high light the character of the fairy, the fairy tale furnishes a unique contribution to life. Through its repeated impression of the idea of fairy-hood it may implant in the child a desire which may fructify into that pure, generous, disinterested kindness and love of the grown-up, which aims to play fairy to another, with sincere altruism to make appear before his eyes his heart's desire, or in a twinkling to cause what hitherto seemed impossible. Fairy tales thus are harbingers of that helpfulness which would make a new earth, and as such afford a contribution to the religion of life.

In stressing the history of fairy tales the purpose has been to present fairy tales as an evolution. The kindergarten and first-grade teacher must therefore look to find her material anywhere in the whole field and intimately related with the whole. Special attention has been placed upon the English fairy tale as the tale of our language. As we claim an American literature since the days of Washington Irving, the gradual growth of the American fairy tale has been included, for which we gratefully acknowledge the courtesy of the Librarian of the United States Bureau of Education and the Bibliographer of the Library of Congress. A particular treatment of some North American Indian folk-tales would also be desirable. But a study of these tales reveals but one unimportant pourquoistale, of sufficient simplicity. This study of the natural history of the fairy tale as an art form is not necessary for the child. But for the teacher it reveals the nature of fairy tales and their meaning. It is an aid to that scholarly command of subject-matter which is the first essential for expertness in teaching. Only when we view the American fairy tale of to-day in the light of its past history can we obtain a correct standard by which to judge of its excellence or of its worth.

In the classification of fairy tales the purpose has been to organize the entire field so that any tale may be studied through the type which emphasizes its distinguishing features. The source material endeavors to furnish a comprehensive treatment of fairy tales for the kindergarten and elementary school.

In the preparation of this book the author takes pleasure in expressing an appreciation of the criticism and helpful suggestions given by the Editor, Dr. Henry Suzzallo, under whose counsel, cooperation, and incentive the work grew. The author wishes also to make a general acknowledgment for the use of many books which of necessity would be consulted in organizing and standardizing any unit of literature. Special acknowledgment should be made for the use of Grimm's Household Tales, edited by Margaret Hunt, containing valuable notes and an introduction by Andrew Lang; of English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales, and Reynard the Fox, and their scholarly introductions and notes, by Joseph Jacobs; of Norse Tales and its full introduction, by Sir George W. Dasent; of Tales of the Punjab and its Appendix, by Mrs. F. A. Steel; of the Uncle Remus Books, by J. C. Harris; of Fairy Tales, by Hans C. Andersen; of Fairy Mythology and Tales and Popular Fictions, by Thomas Keightley; of Principles of Literary Criticism, by Professor C. T. Winchester, for its standards of literature; of English Composition, by Professor Barrett Wendell, for its standards of composition; of Professor John Dewey's classification of the child's instincts; and of the Kindergarten Review, containing many articles of current practice illustrating standards emphasized here.

Recognition is gratefully given for the use of various collections of fairy tales and for the use of any particular fairy tale that has been presented in outline, descriptive narrative, criticism, or dramatization. Among collections special mention should be made of The Fairy Library, by Kate D. Wiggin and Nora A. Smith; the Fairy Books, by Clifton Johnson; and the Fairy Books, by Andrew Lang. Among tales, particular mention should be made for the use, in adaptation, made of Oeyvind and Marit, given in Whittier's Child Life in Prose; of The Foolish Timid Rabbit, given in The Jataka Tales, by Ellen C. Babbit; of The Sheep and the Pig, in Miss Bailey's For the Children's Hour; of Drakesbill, in The Fairy Ring, by Wiggin and Smith; of The Magpie's Nest, in English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs; of How the Evergreen Trees Lose their Leaves, in The Book of Nature Myths, by Miss Holbrook; of The Good-Natured Bear, described by Thackeray in "On Some Illustrated Christmas Books"; and of The Hop-About-Man, by Agnes Herbertson, given in The Story-Teller's Book, by Alice O'Grady (Moulton) and Frances Throop.

The author wishes also to express thanks to the many teachers and children whose work has in any way contributed to A Study of Fairy Tales.



August, 1916


THE fairy tale has a place in the training of children which common sense and a sympathetic attitude toward childhood will not deny. Some rigid philosophers, who see no more of life than is to be found in logical science, condemn the imaginative tale. They regard the teaching of myths and stories as the telling of pleasant lies, which, if harmless, are wasteful. What the child acquires through them, he must sooner or later forget or unlearn.

Such arguments carry conviction until one perceives that their authors are measuring the worth of all teaching in terms of strictly intellectual products. Life is more than precise information; it is impulse and action. The fairy tale is a literary rather than a scientific achievement. Its realities are matters of feeling, in which thought is a mere skeleton to support the adventure. It matters little that the facts alleged in the story never were and never can be. The values and ideals which enlist the child's sympathy are morally worthy, affording a practice to those fundamental prejudices toward right and wrong which are the earliest acquisitions of a young soul. The other characteristics of the tale--the rhythmic, the grotesque, the weird, and the droll--are mere recreation, the abundant playfulness which children require to rest them from the dangers and terrors which fascinate them.

The fairy tale, like every other literary production, must be judged by the fitness of its emotional effects, Fairyland is the stage-world of childhood, a realm of vicarious living, more elemental and more fancy-free than the perfected dramas of sophisticated adults whose ingrained acceptance of binding realities demands sterner stuff. The tales are classics of a particular kind; they are children's classics, artful adaptations of life and form which grip the imaginations of little folks.

The diet of babes cannot be determined by the needs of grown-ups. A spiritual malnutrition which starves would soon set in if adult wisdom were imposed on children for their sustenance. The truth is amply illustrated by those pathetic objects of our acquaintance, the men and women who have never been boys and girls.

To cast out the fairy tale is to rob human beings of their childhood, that transition period in which breadth and richness are given to human life so that it may be full and plastic enough to permit the creation of those exacting efficiencies which increasing knowledge and responsibility compel. We cannot omit the adventures of fairyland from our educational program. They are too well adapted to the restless, active, and unrestrained life of childhood. They take the objects which little boys and girls know vividly and personify them so that instinctive hopes and fears may play and be disciplined.

While the fairy tales have no immediate purpose other than to amuse, they leave a substantial by-product which has a moral significance. In every reaction which the child has for distress or humor in the tale, he deposits another layer of vicarious experience which sets his character more firmly in the mould of right or wrong attitude. Every sympathy, every aversion helps to set the impulsive currents of his life, and to give direction to his personality.

Because of the important aesthetic and ethical bearings of this form of literary experience, the fairy stories must be rightly chosen and artfully told. In no other way can their full worth in education be realized. They are tools which require discrimination and skill. Out of the wisdom of one who knows both tales and children, and who holds a thoughtful grasp on educational purpose, we offer this volume of unusually helpful counsel.


Next: Chapter I. The Worth of Fairy Tales