A source of great hope to the very young can be fairy tales. For this reason they should really be part of the essential reading for pre-school children and beginning readers. For any who need convincing of their value in offering solid moral formation and encouraging the necessary values and help essential for enabling children to find ‘reasons for living and hoping’ I would recommend an excellent book by Bruno Bettleheim: The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.[i] What I write here owes much to the wisdom contained in that book.
Fairytales offer hope first because they are realistic about evil
Because of this they enable children to face the things that can destroy hope. Despite popular identification of the term ‘Fairy tale’ with make believe and the avoidance of reality, the very opposite is true - fairy tales are full of ogres, giants, witches, wicked stepmothers, indifferent fathers, spiteful brothers and jealous sisters. They are filled with death, grief, danger and struggle. The pages teem with characters who are prone to all the basic human vices and weaknesses - fear, cruelty, hard-heartedness, greed, stupidity, disobedience, anger, thoughtlessness, cruelty, cunning and deception - all of these are found in the basic repertoire of stories. Fairy tales, then, do not shield a child from all that he knows about the world and about himself - including the basic facts of ugliness, evil, sin and death.