Laura F. Kready.

A Study of Fairy Tales online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibraryLaura F. KreadyA Study of Fairy Tales → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

must, like these, show itself to contain for the child a permanent
enrichment of the mind.

Fairy tales must have certain qualities which belong to all literature
as a fine art, whether it is the literature of knowledge or the
literature of power. Literature is not the book nor is it life; but
literature is the sense of life, whose artist is the author, and the
medium he uses is words, language. It is good art when his sense of
life is truth, and fine art when there is beauty in that truth. The
one essential beauty of literature is in its essence and does not
depend upon any decoration. As words are the medium, literature will
distinguish carefully among them and use them as the painter, for
particular lights and shades. According to Pater literature must have
two qualities, mind and soul. Literature will have mind when it has
that architectural sense of structure which foresees the end in the
beginning and keeps all the parts related in a harmonious unity. It
will have soul when it has that "vagrant sympathy" which makes it come
home to us and which makes it suggest what it does not say. Test the
_Tale of Cinderella_ by this standard. As to mind, it makes one think
of a bridge in which the very keystone of the structure is the
condition that Cinderella return from the ball by the stroke of
twelve. And its "vagrant sympathy" is quite definite enough to reach a
maid of five, who remarked: "If I'd have been Cinderella, I wouldn't
have helped those ugly sisters, would you?"

If the fairy tale stands the test of literature it must have proved
itself, not only a genuine classic according to Sainte-Beuve's
standard, and a tale possessing qualities of mind and soul according
to Pater's _Style_, but it must have shown itself also a work owning
certain features distinguishing it as literature. These particular
literary marks which differentiate the literary tale from the ordinary
prose tale have been pointed out by Professor Winchester in his
_Principles of Literary Criticism_. They apply to the old tale of
primitive peoples just as well as to the modern tale of to-day. As
literature the tale must have:

(1) a power to appeal to the emotions;

(2) a power to appeal to the imagination;

(3) a basis of truth; and

(4) a form more or less perfect.

(1) A power to appeal to the emotions. This appeal to the emotions is
its unique distinguishing literary trait. Literature appeals, not to
the personal emotions but to the universal ones. For this reason,
through literature the child may come in time to develop a power of
universal sympathy, which is not the least value literature has to
bestow upon him, for this sympathy will become a benediction to all
those with whom he may have to deal. In order that emotion in the
tales may be literary - make a permanent appeal - according to Professor
Winchester's standards, it must have justness given by a deep and
worthy cause; vividness so that it may enlarge and thrill; a certain
steadiness produced by everything in the tale contributing to the main
emotion; a variety resulting from contrasts of character; and a high
quality obtained through its sympathy with life and its relation to
the conduct of life, so that the feeling for the material beauty of
mere sights and sounds is closely related to the deepest suggestions
of moral beauty. The best literary tales will possess emotion having
all five characteristics. Many tales will exhibit one or more of these
traits conspicuously. No tale that is literature will be found which
does not lay claim to some one of these qualities which appeal to the
broadly human emotions.

Applying the test of emotion to fairy tales, _Cinderella_ possesses a
just emotion, Cinderella's cause is the cause of goodness and kindness
and love, and deserves a just reward. _The Town Musicians of Bremen_
exhibits vivid emotion, for all four characters are in the same
desperate danger of losing life, all four unite to save it, and to
find a home. Andersen's _Steadfast Tin Soldier_ is a good example of
steadiness of emotion, as it maintains throughout its message of
courage. The Tin Soldier remained steadfast, whether on the table just
escaped from the toy-box, or in the street after a frightful fall from
the window, or spinning in a paper boat that bobbed, or sailing under
the crossing, or lying at full length within the fish that swallowed
him, or at last melting in the full glare of the hearth fire. It is a
very good example, too, of vividness of emotion. _The Little Elves_
illustrates steadiness of emotion, it is pervaded by the one feeling,
that industry deserves reward. The French tale, _Drakesbill_, is
especially delightful and humorous because "Bill Drake" perseveres in
his happy, fresh vivacity, at the end of every rebuff of fortune, and
triumphantly continues his one cry of, "Quack, quack, quack! When
shall I get my money back?" _Lambikin_ leaves the one distinct
impression of light gaiety and happy-heartedness; and _The Foolish,
Timid Rabbit_ preserves steadily the one effect of the credulity of
the animals, made all the more prominent by contrast to the wisdom of
the Lion. Variety of emotion appears in tales such as _Cinderella,
Little Two-Eyes, Sleeping Beauty_, and _Three Pigs_, where the various
characters are drawn distinctly and their contrasting traits produce
varied emotional effects. All the great fairy tales appeal to emotion
of a high moral quality and it is this which is the source of their
universal appeal. It is this high moral quality of the spiritual
truth, which is the center of the tale's unity, holding together all
the parts under one emotional theme. This is the source of the
perennial freshness of the old tale; for while the immortal truth it
presents is old, the personality of the child that meets it is new.
For the child, the tale is new because he discovers in it a bit of
himself he had not known before, and it retains for him a lasting
charm so that he longs to hear it again and again. The beauty of
truth, the reward of goodness, and the duty of fairness, give a high
emotional quality to _Little Two-Eyes_; and _Sleeping Beauty_
illustrates the blighting power of hatred to impose a curse and the
saving power of love to overcome the works of hatred.

Considering folk-tales from the standpoint of emotion, if asked to
suggest what author's work would rank in the same class, one is rather
surprised to find, that for high moral quality, variety, and worthy
cause, the author who comes to mind is none other than Shakespeare.
Perhaps, with all due respect to literature's idol, one might even
venture to question which receives honor by the comparison,
Shakespeare or the folk-tales? It might be rather a pleasant task to
discover who is the Cordelia, the Othello, the Rosalind, and the
Portia of the folk-tales; or who the Beauty, the Bluebeard, the
Cinderella, the Puss-in-Boots, and the Hop-o'-my-Thumb, of

The little child is open to emotional appeal, his heart is tender and
he is impressionable. If he feels with the characters in his tales he
develops a power of emotion. In Andersen's _Snow Man_ it is hard to
say which seems more human to him or which makes more of an emotional
appeal, the Snow Man or the Dog. He is sorry for the poor Shoemaker in
_The Little Elves_, glad when he grows rich, delighted for the Elves
when they receive their presents, and satisfied at the happy end.
Since literature depicts life and character in order to awaken noble
emotions, it follows that one must omit to present what awakens
repulsive or degrading emotions. And it is for this reason, as has
been mentioned under the heading "Elements to be avoided," that the
tales of the witch and the dragon must be excluded, not for all time,
but for the earliest years, when they awaken horror.

Through fairy tales we have seen that the emotional power of the child
is strengthened. This has been effected because, in the tale just as
truly as in life, action is presented in real situations; and back of
every action is the motive force of emotion. This cumulative power of
emotion, secured by the child through the handling of tales, will
serve daily a present need. It will be the dynamic force which he will
require for anything he wishes to accomplish in life. It will give the
child the ability to use it in any situation similar to that in which
it was acquired. It will make a difference in his speech; he will not
have to say so much, for what he does say will produce results. This
growing power of emotion will carry over into feelings of relation and
thus lead to judgment of values. This evaluation is the basis of
reasoning and answers to the child's daily call to think from causes
to consequences. This increasing power of emotion develops into the
æsthetic sensibilities and so results in a cultivation of taste and an
understanding of life. Emotion therefore leads to appreciation, which,
when logically developed, becomes expression. Fairy tales, thus, in
conducting emotional capacity through this varied growth and toward
this high development, hold an educational value of no mean order.

(2) The power to appeal to the imagination. Emotion can be aroused by
showing the objects which excite emotion. Imagination is this power to
see and show things in the concrete. Curry says, "Whenever the soul
comes vividly in contact with any fact, truth, etc., whenever it takes
them home to itself with more than common intensity, out of that
meeting of the soul and its object there arises a thrill of joy, a
glow of feeling. It is the faculty that can create ideal presence."
When through imagination we select spontaneously from the elements of
experience and combine into new wholes, we call it creative
imagination. - The creative imagination will be viewed here as it
appears in action in the creative return given by the child to his
fairy tales. - When we emphasize a similarity seen in mere external or
accidental relations or follow suggestions not of an essential nature
in the object, we call it fancy. Ruskin, in his _Modern Painters_,
vol. I, part III, _Of the Imaginative Faculty_, would distinguish
three classes of the imagination: -

(a) _The associative imagination_. This is the power of imagination by
which we call into association other images that tend to produce the
same or allied emotion. When this association has no common ground of
emotion it is fancy. The test for the associative imagination, which
has the power to combine ideas to form a conception, is that if one
part is taken away the rest of the combination goes to pieces. It
requires intense simplicity, harmony, and absolute truth. Andersen's
_Fairy Tales_ are a perfect drill for the associative imagination.
Literature parallels life and what is presented calls up individual
experience. Any child will feel a thrill of kinship with the
experiences given in _The Tin Soldier_ - a little boy's birthday, the
opening of the box, the counting of the soldiers, and the setting of
them upon the table. And because here Andersen has transformed this
usual experience with a vivacity and charm, the tale ranks high as a
tale of imagination. _Little Ida's Flowers_ and _Thumbelina_ are tales
of pure fancy. Grimm's _The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean_ and _The
Spindle, the Shuttle, and the Needle_ rank in the same class, as also
do the Norse _The Doll i' the Grass_ and the English _Tom Thumb_.

(b) _The penetrative imagination_. This power of imagination shows the
real character of a thing and describes it by its spiritual effects.
It sees the heart and inner nature of things. Through fancy the child
cannot reach this central viewpoint since fancy deals only with
externals. Through the exercise of this power the child develops
insight, intuition, and a perception of spiritual values, and gains a
love of the ideal truth and a perpetual thirst for it. He develops
genuineness, one of the chief virtues of originality. He will tend not
to have respect for sayings or opinions but will seek the truth, be
governed by its laws, and hold a passion for perfection. This power of
imagination makes of him a continual seeker, "a pilgrim upon earth."
Through the penetrative imagination the child forgets himself and
enters into the things about him, into the doings of Three Pigs or the
adventures of Henny Penny.

(c) _The contemplative imagination_. This is that special phase of the
imagination that gives to abstract being consistency and reality.
Through the contemplative imagination the child gains the significance
of meaning and discerns the true message of the tale. When merely
external resemblance is caught, when the likeness is forced, and the
image created believed in, we have fancy. The contemplative
imagination interprets the past in the tale and relates it to the
future. It shows what is felt by indicating some aspect of what is
seen. Through the exercise of this power the child develops the
capacity to see. This capacity has received a high estimate from
Ruskin, who said, "Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think,
thousands can think for one who can see." For language-training the
capacity to see gives that ability to image words which results in
mental growth.

The labor of the spirit seeking the full message of the fairy tale,
often is rewarded with bits of philosophy which are the essence of its
personal wisdom. Even the Woman Suffragists of our day might be amused
to find, in _The Cat and Mouse in Partnership_, this side-light on one
of their claims. The Mouse said she did not know what to think of the
curious names, Top-off, Half-Out, and All-Out, which the Cat had
chosen. To which the Cat replied, "That is because you always stay at
home. You sit here in your soft gray coat and long tail, and these
foolish whims get into your head. It is always the way when one does
not go out in the daytime." Sometimes the philosophy of the tale is
expressed not at all directly. This is the case in Andersen's _The
Emperor's New Suit_, a gem in story-telling art - more suited to the
second grade - where the purpose of the story is veiled, and the satire
or humor is conveyed through a very telling word or two. - "'I will
send my _old, honest_ minister to the weavers,' thought the Emperor.
And the old, honest minister went to the room where the two swindlers
sat working at empty looms. 'Heaven preserve me!' thought the old
minister, opening his eyes wide. 'Why, I cannot see anything!' - But he
did not say so." The entire tale is a concrete representation of one
point; and the concreteness is so explicit that at the close of the
story its philosophy easily forms itself into the implied message of
worldly wisdom: People are afraid to speak truth concerning much
through cowardice or through fear of acting otherwise than all the
world. The philosophy underlying _The Steadfast Tin Soldier_ is even
finer as a bit of truth than the perfect art of the literary story:
That what happens in life does not matter so much as the way you take
it. The Tin Soldier always remained steadfast, no matter what
happened. Kipling's _Elephant's Child_ is more charming than ever when
looked at from the standpoint of its philosophy. It might be
interpreted as an allegory answering the question, "How should one get
experience?" a theme which cannot be said to lack universal appeal.
_The Ugly Duckling_ is full of sayings of philosophy that contribute
to its complete message. The Cat and the Hen to whom the duckling
crept for refuge said, "We and the world," and could not bear a
difference of opinion. "You may believe me," said the Hen, "because I
tell you the truth. That is the way to tell your friends." Their
treatment of the Duckling expressed the philosophy: "If you can't do
what I can you're no good." The Hen said to him, "You have nothing to
do, that's why you have such strange ideas." The Duckling expressed
his philosophy by saying quietly, "You don't understand me."

These bits of philosophy often become compressed into expressions
which to-day we recognize as proverbs. The words of the Mother Duck,
"Into the water he goes if I have to kick him in," became a
Scandinavian proverb. "A little bird told it," a common saying of
to-day, appears in Andersen's _Nightingale_ and in _Thumbelina_. But
this saying is traceable at least to the third story of the fourth
night in Straparola, translated by Keightley, _The Dancing Water, the
Singing Apple, and the Beautiful Green Bird_, in which the bird tells
the King that his three guests are his own children. "Even a cat may
look at a king," is probably traceable to some fairy tale if not to
_Puss-in-Boots_. The philosophy in the fairy tales and the proverbs
that have arisen in them, are subjects which offer to the adult much
pleasure and fruitfulness.

But one must ask, "Does this philosophy appeal to the child? Is it not
adult wisdom foreign to his immaturity?" The old folk-tales are the
products of adult minds; but the adults were grown-ups that looked
upon the world with the eyes of children, and their philosophy often
was the philosophy of childhood. For childhood has its philosophy; but
because it meets with repression on so many sides it usually keeps it
to itself. When given freedom and self-activity and self-expression,
the child's philosophy appears also. And it is the inner truth of the
tale rather than the outer forms of sense and shapes of beauty which,
when suited to the little child, appeals to this child-philosophy and
makes the deepest impression upon him.

In the literary fairy tale there often appears a philosophy which is
didactic and above and beyond the child's knowledge of the world. It
remains a question how much this adult philosophy appeals to him.
Although his tales were written for his grandchildren, so finished a
telling of the tale as we find in Laboulaye, with its delightful hits
of satire, appeals more to the grown-up versed in the ways of the
world. But the sage remarks of worldly wisdom of Uncle Remus could not
fail to impress a little boy: "Go where you will and when you may, and
stay long ez you choosen ter stay, en right dar en den you'll sholy
fin' dat folks what git full er consate en proudness is gwine ter git
it tuck out 'm um." - Uncle Remus treated the little boy as if he was
"pestered with sense, like grown-ups," and surely the little boy
gained much amusement from sayings such as these: "If you know the man
thab would refuse to take care of himself, I'd like mighty well if
you'd point him out." - "Well, well," said Uncle Remus soothingly, "in
deze low groun's er sorrer, you des got to lean back en make
allowances fer all sorts er folks. You got ter low fer dem dat knows
too much same ez dem what knows too little. A heap er sayin's en a
heap er doin's in dis roun' worl' got ter be tuck on trus'." - The
child does not get the full force of the philosophy but he gets what
he can and that much sinks in.

It is through the contemplative imagination that the child realizes
the meaning of particular tales. He learns: that _Cinderella_ means
that goodness brings its own reward; that _Three Pigs_ means that the
wise build with care and caution, with foresight; that _Star Dollars_
means compassion for others and kindness to them; and that _Red Riding
Hood_ means obedience.

The power of the contemplative imagination is based on the
indistinctness of the image. It suggests, too, the relation between
cause and effect, which reason afterwards proves; and therefore it is
a direct aid to science. In the tales there are expressed facts of
truth symbolically clothed which science since then has discovered.
And now that folk-lore is being studied seriously to unfold all it
gives of an earlier life, perhaps this new study may reveal some new
truths of science hidden in its depths. The marvels of modern shoe
manufacture were prophesied in _The Little Elves_, and the power of
electricity to hold fast was foretold in _Dummling and his Golden
Goose_. The wonders of modern machinery appeared in the magic axe of
Espen that hit at every stroke; and the miracle of modern canals sees
a counterpart in the spring which Espen brought to the giant's
boiling-pot in the wood. The magic sleep from which there was an
awakening, even after a hundred years, may have typified hypnotism and
its strange power upon man. These are realizations of some of the
wonders of fairyland. But there may be found lurking in its depths
many truths as yet undiscovered by science. Perhaps the dreams of
primitive man may suggest to the present-day scientist new
possibilities. - What primitive man has done in fancy present-day man
can do in reality.

(3) A basis of truth. All fine emotional effects arise from truth. The
tale must hold the mirror and show an image of life. It must select
and combine facts which will suggest emotion but the facts must be a
true expression of human nature. The tale, whether it is realistic in
emphasizing the familiar, the commonplace, and the present, or
romantic in emphasizing the strange, the heroic, and the remote, must
be idealistic to interpret truly the facts of life by high ideals. If
the tale has this basis of truth the child will gain, through his
handling of it, a body of facts. This increases his knowledge and
strengthens his intellect. And it is to be remembered that, for the
child's all-round development, the appeal of literature to the
intellect is a value to be emphasized equally with the appeal to the
emotions and to the imagination. Speaking of the nature of the
intellect in his essay on _Intellect_, Emerson has said: "We do not
determine what we will think. We only open our senses, clear away as
we can all obstruction from the fact, and suffer the intellect to
see." Attention to the intellectual element in literature gives a
power of thought. The consideration of the truth of the fairy tale
aids the child to clear, definite thinking because the experience of
the tale is ordered from a beginning, through a development, to a
climax, and to a conclusion. It assists him to form conclusions
because it presents results of circumstances and consequences of
conduct. Continued attention to the facts, knowledge, and truth
presented in the tales, helps the child to grow a sincerity of spirit.
This leads to that love of actual truth, which is one of the armors of
middle life, against which false opinion falls harmless.

(4) A form, more or less perfect. Form is the union of all the means
which the writer employs to convey his thought and emotion to the
reader. Flaubert has said, "Among all the expressions of the world
there is but _one_, one form, one mode, to express what I want to
say." - "Say what you have to say, what you have a will to say, in the
simplest, the most direct and exact manner possible, with no
surplusage," Walter Pater has spoken. Then the form and the matter
will fit each other so perfectly there will be no unnecessary

In regard to form it is to be remembered that feeling is best awakened
incidentally by suggestion. Words are the instruments, the medium of
the writer. Words have two powers: the power to name what they mean,
or denotation; and the power to suggest what they imply, or
connotation. Words have the power of connotation in two ways: They may
mean more than they say or they may produce emotional effect not only
from meaning but also from sound. To make these two suggestive powers
of words work together is the perfect art of Milton. Pope describes
for us the relation of sound to sense in a few lines which themselves
illustrate the point: -

Soft is the strain when zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows.
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse, should like the torrent roar.
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw.
The line too labors, and the words move slow:
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn and skims along the main.

When a kindergarten child, the most timid one of a group, on listening
to the telling of _The Bremen Town Musicians_, at the description of
the Donkey and the Dog coming to the Cat, sitting in the road with a
face "dismal as three rainy Sundays," chuckled with humor at the word
"dismal," it was not because she knew the meaning of the word or the
significance of "three rainy Sundays," but because the sounds of the
words and the facial expression of the story-teller conveyed the
emotional effect, which she sensed.

The connection between sound and action appears in _Little Spider's
First Web_: The Fly said, "Then I will _buzz_"; the Bee said, "Then I

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryLaura F. KreadyA Study of Fairy Tales → online text (page 4 of 23)