THE fairy tale has a place in the training of children which common sense and a sympathetic attitude toward childhood will not deny. Some rigid philosophers, who see no more of life than is to be found in logical science, condemn the imaginative tale. They regard the teaching of myths and stories as the telling of pleasant lies, which, if harmless, are wasteful. What the child acquires through them, he must sooner or later forget or unlearn.
Such arguments carry conviction until one perceives that their authors are measuring the worth of all teaching in terms of strictly intellectual products. Life is more than precise information; it is impulse and action. The fairy tale is a literary rather than a scientific achievement. Its realities are matters of feeling, in which thought is a mere skeleton to support the adventure. It matters little that the facts alleged in the story never were and never can be. The values and ideals which enlist the child's sympathy are morally worthy, affording a practice to those fundamental prejudices toward right and wrong which are the earliest acquisitions of a young soul. The other characteristics of the tale--the rhythmic, the grotesque, the weird, and the droll--are mere recreation, the abundant playfulness which children require to rest them from the dangers and terrors which fascinate them.
The fairy tale, like every other literary production, must be judged by the fitness of its emotional effects, Fairyland is the stage-world of childhood, a realm of vicarious living, more elemental and more fancy-free than the perfected dramas of sophisticated adults whose ingrained acceptance of binding realities demands sterner stuff. The tales are classics of a particular kind; they are children's classics, artful adaptations of life and form which grip the imaginations of little folks.
The diet of babes cannot be determined by the needs of grown-ups. A spiritual malnutrition which starves would soon set in if adult wisdom were imposed on children for their sustenance. The truth is amply illustrated by those pathetic objects of our acquaintance, the men and women who have never been boys and girls.
To cast out the fairy tale is to rob human beings of their childhood, that transition period in which breadth and richness are given to human life so that it may be full and plastic enough to permit the creation of those exacting efficiencies which increasing knowledge and responsibility compel. We cannot omit the adventures of fairyland from our educational program. They are too well adapted to the restless, active, and unrestrained life of childhood. They take the objects which little boys and girls know vividly and personify them so that instinctive hopes and fears may play and be disciplined.
While the fairy tales have no immediate purpose other than to amuse, they leave a substantial by-product which has a moral significance. In every reaction which the child has for distress or humor in the tale, he deposits another layer of vicarious experience which sets his character more firmly in the mould of right or wrong attitude. Every sympathy, every aversion helps to set the impulsive currents of his life, and to give direction to his personality.
Because of the important aesthetic and ethical bearings of this form of literary experience, the fairy stories must be rightly chosen and artfully told. In no other way can their full worth in education be realized. They are tools which require discrimination and skill. Out of the wisdom of one who knows both tales and children, and who holds a thoughtful grasp on educational purpose, we offer this volume of unusually helpful counsel.