Like many, my love of stories began with fairy tales. By the time I was four, I’d memorized Cinderella from my collection of Disney books so thoroughly, I would correct any adult who missed a word when reading it to me. As I grew older, fairy tales remained one of my favorite forms of literature.
I supposed that explains why, as a writer, I was drawn to the fantasy genre.
Often, though, “fairy tale” takes on a negative meaning. When asking a friend about a movie I haven’t yet seen, I’ll sometimes received the disappointed response “Oh, it was, you know, a fairy tale.” Meaning: “It was the same old sappy story with a happy ending too predictable to be satisfying.”
Such movies or stories can leave an audience feeling bored or cheated. The conflict is either solved too easily or feels contrived. The characters lack depth, or there is no element of surprise. “Who wants to read or watch that?” we ask. After all, real life is no fairy tale.
Or is it?
I believe, if we take an honest look at the elements common to fairy tales, we’ll see parallels with our own lives. Fairy tales are not merely the fluffy, sweetness-and-light stories often associated with the term.
Elements of a fairy tale:
- A “good” character — the main character is often kindhearted or innocent. In real life, we can argue, most of us don’t fit that description. However, the Bible says that, though we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). And, He is good (Psalm 100:5). It is our choices in life which determine how “good” we turn out to be. Besides, fairy tale characters have flaws too. Little Red Riding hood disobeyed her parents by talking to a stranger. Hansel and Gretel were irresponsible. Sleeping Beauty’s curiosity got her into loads of trouble.
- Main character must live out a special quality to overcome villain — The characters in fairy tales usually have a gentle nature, are selfless, or brave. The evidence of God in our lives, the fruits of His Holy Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Sound familiar?
- Supernatural forces (good and/or evil) — In fairy tales, this involves magic of some kind, talking animals, fairies, witches, magical objects, fantastic creatures like unicorns and goblins, spells, etc. Here is where my theory falls apart, right? Wrong. There are supernatural forces at work all around us, both good and evil. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) And, angels do battle on our behalf when we trust in God, pray, or speak according to His Word, empowering them to act. (Psalm 91:11)
- An Enemy dedicated to causing the “good’ character pain, oppression, destruction, or death — Think evil stepmothers, witch-queens, tricksters, the big bad wolf, sorcerers, monsters, sibling rivals, etc. Well, we might say, nobody out there is trying to feed me a poisoned apple. Actually, we do have a deadly enemy. The Bible speaks of him, the devil, as: the.thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and a roaring lion roaming about, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
- Main character is set a task or must undertake a journey not of their choosing — Snow White had to flee into the wilds of the forest. Cinderella was forced to work as a servant in her own home. The miller’s daughter had to spin straw into gold (Rumple Stiltskin). We find ourselves in difficult or unpleasant situations almost daily. The Bible tells us how all that got started. After Adam disobeyed God the first time, he had to leave his perfect, easy life behind and could now eat only by doing hard, unpleasant work. (Genesis 3:17)
- Life for the good character is or becomes really dark, with hardships at a every turn — With all the brokenness surrounding us, life feels like anything but a fairy tale. But, fairy tale characters face the same things we do. Self-esteem issues that can lead to hopelessness and depression (Cinderella), Physical affliction (illness, deformity, or disability) causes isolation (Beast in Beauty and the Beast), Dysfunctional family (Snow White), Poverty or financial woes lead to desperate decisions (Jack & the Beanstalk). Careless choices lead to destruction (Hansel & Gretel), But, with God on our side, these things won’t defeat us (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
- Some form of curse is present — either by their own actions or the enemy’s spite, the character becomes trapped by a curse he or she can’t break alone. It may be a death-like sleep (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), imprisonment in an inhuman form (Beast, the Swan Princess), or something else. The Bible says God gave us a choice, a life of blessing or a life under the curse (Deuteronomy 30:19). According to Deuteronomy 28, the curse includes illness, poverty, failure at things we try to do, property destruction, defeat at the hands of our enemy, broken relationships, and much more. Jesus gave us a way to break that curse we couldn’t break on our own. (Galatians 3:13)
- And, they lived happily ever after — Okay, now I KNOW this part doesn’t fit real life. Where, you might ask, is the prince who is supposed to ride in on his white horse, armed with courage and true love, to save the day? Well, even in fairy tales, true love doesn’t just come out of nowhere. The main character has to first invite that love in and accept it. Sure, Cinderella’s fairy godmother gave her the means to go to the ball, but she still had to choose to attend. Her beauty might have caught the Prince’s attention, but it was her gentle character that won his heart. There is a prince on a white horse for us too. The Prince of Peace. The King of Kings. The One who is not only armed with true love, He is True Love…
He didn’t just give a kiss to show His love. He gave his very life to save the day.
How, then, in this all-too-real life, can we ride off with our Prince to live happily ever after?
Check back tomorrow for the next chapter.
Which fairy tale struggle most closely mirrors your life?
Fairy Tales & Albert Einstein: Day 31 of Project 365 (valeriesuydam.wordpress.com)