Found this article at WalesOnline.co.uk yesterday: Why children’s stories should have happy endings. This blog is mostly newsy in nature, but sometimes the opportunity arises for more thought or even discussion. You, dear readers, will decide that with your responses to this post, if there are any at all. This is my quick release of some festering thoughts of late, not well-organized and somewhat reactionary. That's my disclaimer. :)
MODERN children’s stories rarely end with lashings of ginger ale and an assurance that everyone lived happily ever after.
The blue-skied Britain of Enid Blyton may bear little resemblance to modern Wales, but Welsh authors yesterday backed a call by former children’s laureate Anne Fine to balance realism with hope.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Ms Fine stunned an audience by suggesting that the backlash against children’s stories of the 1950s may have gone too far.
She said: “Books for children became much more concerned with realism, or what we see as realism.
“But where is the hope? How do we offer them hope within that?”
And her questions struck a chord with authors.
And, just to show that the article is even more pertinent to this fairy tales blog, it also offers this:
[The Rev Lionel Fanthorpe] said fiction should shine a “lantern of hope” into young lives and present “a hero who will be able to fight her way out” of crises, in the tradition of essayist and author GK Chesterton (1874-1936) who powerfully argued that parents should not stop telling fairy tales for fear of frightening their children.
Chesterton wrote: “Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already because it is in the world already. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.
“The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St George to kill the dragon.”
(And please, the second page of the article almost ruins the tone and message of the first page which has some interesting points. The "revisions" of the famous tragic stories, well, miss the entire point of the first page and come across as condescending. Especially since some of the originals offer the exact hope the authors are mentioning. Charlotte's Web is hopeless? Not to me. Sad, yes, hopeless, I don't think so. Romeo and Juliet as children's literature? Not on my planet. On another side note: One of my early influences, Madeleine L'Engle, managed to write some of the earliest hard-hitting stories for YA long before it was the trend and still infuse the stories with the hope that is missing so often today.)
I have more of Chesterton's thoughts on Fairy Tales on SurLaLune. And for those of you who are unaware of Anne Fine, stateside she is best known for penning Mrs. Doubtfire although she has many gems that have been popular in the UK, just not here. I met her briefly at Simmons College years ago and she was one of the most grounded and perhaps even jaded children's authors I've met as her body of work also illustrates. She is not one to hide in fantasies although humor is one of her favorite tools of the trade. So when she says our children's literature needs more hope, she's not into simple wish-fulfillment.
And just to be balanced here's already a rebuttal article that disagrees with Anne Fine and company: Children can handle much more realism than Anne Fine thinks. Granted, I've not seen Fine's full speech but I interpreted her words as a call for hope even in the bleakest stories. It's all up to interpretation, really, as any author can tell you happens once her words are sent out into the world. We all bring our own experience to our interpretations. Overall, I want more hope in my reading.
Now I've said before--and most of the readers here are sitting in choir seats--that traditional fairy tales are not happy little tales served Splenda-sweet--or popular with many detractors, Disney-style--even if most offer the hope of a happy future once trials are overcome. The tales are dark, violent, gruesome, unfair and often horrendous right up to the end. Then the end is overcome and "happily ever after" is offered up. This can be just as much as a storytelling device ending as "Once upon a time..." is a beginning. But the tale also shows how the hero(ine) overcame great adversity with mixtures of cunning, kindness, virtue, perseverance, penitence, serendipity, luck and help from others. The final "happily ever after" comes from knowing that even future adversity can be overcome with variations of the same recipe. There is hope offered up with the ending. (Cardinal rule of storytelling: Leave them smiling.)
Or at least that's the way I see it.
All this and fairy tales still remain controversial for being too dark, too light, too violent, too happy, unrealistic, magical, unfeminist, etc. And then there are the ones who think fairy tales begin and end with the Disney versions and condemn those as fantastical wish-fulfillment. Yes, fairy tales can hit so many sore spots and then the next tale can soothe the same wound into healing. That's their beauty and their curse.
I prefer the happy endings, especially in times like these when economic and other woes have caused more stress and heartache of late than most years of my life have seen. This time, too, shall pass. And isn't it nice that we have several fairy tales entering the pop culture awareness again through film and other sources?
P.S. More food for thought: Romance appears to once again be recession proof for similar reasons. And I enjoyed Meg Cabot's defense of romance a few months ago on her blog which was another response to the articles about dark YA literature. Read her here: Romance, Trauma Porn, and Brazil Dates! She includes links to more articles so I'll refrain here.