When I was raising my children I frequently commiserated with other young mothers who were disillusioned with fairy tales. We used to cringe when our children watched Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty was equally disturbing, as was Snow White. Fearing extremist behavior, we refrained from completely banning our children from reading or watching fairy tales. Instead we exploited their presence and turned each viewing into a teaching opportunity.
“There is no such thing as love at first sight,” I taught my 6-year-old. “When the prince sees Cinderella, there’s no way he could instantly love her. He doesn’t even know her.” My daughter bought my analysis, and when she watched Cinderella with her friends she explained to them, “This is just pretend. The prince can’t be in love with Cinderella. They only just met.”
We also reflected seriously on the idea that a damsel in distress (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) must rely on the kiss of a stranger to rescue her. We talked about kissing strangers, and true love, and although a kiss may make you feel happy, it doesn’t mean you’re in love.
After all my generation’s grumbling about the deceptive messages fairy tales sent to our children, today’s mothers will rejoice to discover two wonderful fairy-tale re-makes that have finally dispelled the romanticism disbursed by the Brothers Grimm.
Last fall, Frozen introduced us to a heroine who discovered there is no such thing as love at first sight. Frozen also taught that true love doesn’t necessarily come in the form of a handsome prince. Those who truly love you may be your family members.
This Spring, Maleficent, also surprised audiences by allowing the handsome prince to fail in his attempt to rescue the damsel in the distress. Not only did Maleficent suggest that true love could come from someone other than a handsome prince, it suggested that the possessor of true love could be a repentant villain.
Suggesting to audiences that villains don’t always remain villains, and heroes aren’t always what they appear is so important for children to learn, I’d recommend these fairy-tale remakes replace their forerunners in your classics library. Rather than being raised on a diet of simplistic, could-not-be-further-from-the-truth entertainment, little girls and boys can be inspired by the messages corrected in these recent movies.
Love at First Sight
Children who believe in love at first sight can grow up to become teenagers who are extremely vulnerable to hurt. Just like Anna in Frozen gets her heart broken by Hans, who misled her for his own personal gain, teenage girls who forget to test a young man’s character get their hearts broken when they discover he is out for personal gain. Whatever Anna was feeling when she met Hans, lust, infatuation, fascination, confidence… it wasn’t love.
True love grows, it doesn’t just happen after a single kiss, as traditional fairy tales would lead children to believe. In Frozen, Anna recognizes the true character of Kristoff only after a long and trying adventure together. Our children will fare better in love if they allow their relationships to grow, not ignite. (See this Meridian article and also the Funnel Theory outlined in www.unsteadydating.com)
The Brothers Grimm wrote their collection of fairy tales in an age of romanticism, an age that was a reaction to the rationalism of science. The age validated emotion and liberal thought, spontaneity was praised. It was an attempt to escape from reality. The concept of love at first sight, or being rescued from trials by the kiss of love fit in perfectly with the public demands of the time. In contrast, the latter half of the 1800’s, was an age of realism. Practical notions, such as getting to know somebody before you fall head-over-heels for them, would have been the notion of the day. Why humanity embraced romanticism for so long, and it took over 200 years to create a realistic fairy tale, mystifies me.
Trusting those we Love
Youth who believe in love at first sight would not be so alarming except for the fact that love at first sight also means trust at first sight. We can spend all our days loving people, but trusting those who have not proven themselves trustworthy can be horrific.
Maleficent trusted Stefan, not knowing he had changed. Her trust was violated in the most heinous manner. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to recognize that Stefan’s thievery of Maleficent’s wings, her freedom, her identity, her confidence is a powerful metaphor for rape. Rape occurs with alarming frequency in today’s world where young women trust those they have just met, or those they don’t know have changed.
When Anna trusts a boy she has just met, Hans, she discovers he was mendacious all along while Kristoff, whom she doesn’t trust at all, proves himself trustworthy by repeated selfless acts. Time allows men to prove their motives are pure, and that they are not seeking personal gain (becoming king in the case of both Stefan and Hans).
A very refreshing and realistic message from Maleficent is: people change. Finding the same boy you crushed on in high school 20 years later on Facebook does not guarantee he hasn’t changed. People change for the better and the worse. King Stefan, who was so trustworthy as a boy becomes horribly evil after he violates Maleficent. Maleficent, who was so terribly wounded by Stefan’s betrayal softens her heart and tries mightily to repent of the curse she inflicted on Stefan’s daughter.
The notion that people change can be both encouraging and alarming for young people. Teens ought to be encouraged because everybody sins, and the idea that we can forsake our sins and become good will give them hope, and the impetus to repent of sins.
Teens who are alerted to the reality that just as bad people can become good, good people can become bad will want to check themselves, as well as others. Knowing this truth will help youth do the things that will keep them from becoming evil. Likewise, it will protect them from automatically assuming that somebody who used to be good is still good. They will take the time to test their relationships, like Frozen’s Anna did with Kristoff.
Stereotypical characters found in Grimm’s fairy tales teach our children that people are either all bad or all good, and that’s simply not true.
Real people are a combination of both bad and good. Sometimes we’re bad and sometimes we’re good and sometimes we’re good and we become bad and sometimes we’re bad and we become good. Truthfully, people are quite complicated and when we judge them based on a first impression, we’ll usually be wrong.
Entirely banning our children from fantasy in today’s world still doesn’t seem practical. It’s going to be difficult to convince a first grade teacher that a G-rated movie is inappropriate for her audience. Therefore, parents who do allow their children to watch fantasy (romantic fantasy or violent fantasy) can take advantage of the opportunity to have serious discussions about what is and isn’t appropriate in real life.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville, Florida. Her books about Unsteady Dating are available at www.amazon.com