Monday, August 25, 2008

Once Upon a Time...

So, Olivia's Pick this week has had me thinking. She really is on a serious "Peter and the Wolf" binge, and it is so interesting to watch her work through the story and all it represents. The anticipation of fear, the fear itself when the Wolf arrives on the scene, and the release of that tension in the end when the Wolf has been caught and all ends well, she is fully and emotionally engaged, each time we read the book or listen to the symphony.

I remember listening to it as a child, and I remember being a little frightened by it, just like she is. Perhaps it was the combination of music and storytelling, perhaps it was the majesty (to my very young ears it was majestic) of Prokofiev's melodies. Whatever it was, it had me pretty well hooked, despite the fact that I found it a little scary.

Or perhaps that's exactly what draws children--and adults--to it, and other enchanting tales, in the first place. I know that many parents find traditional fairy tales (I'm not talking about the dumbed down Disney versions) to be too dark or disturbing for their kids. And perhaps for some, Peter and the Wolf would qualify as too scary for their 2 year-olds.

Much has been written on this topic, from Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, an argument for the psychological and emotional instruction fairy tales provide to children, to Maria Tatar's Off With Their Heads! which does its best to tear apart Bettelheim's theories; there is no shortage of critical work in this area. A few years ago, Tatar wrote a kind of review for Slate of a Terry Gilliam film, "Brothers Grimm," and included much of her theory and opinion on the subject. It's a quick and interesting read, and she seems to have mellowed her anti-Bettelheim sentiments. She reconsiders our 21st Century quest and "endless efforts to invent child-friendly fairy tales."

I fall more into the Bettelheim camp, and am a believer that fairy tales provide a "safe" way for kids to work through darker, more difficult experiences and emotions that are part of the human condition. Moreso now than ever before, after watching Olivia play out the anticipation/fear/resolution scenario every time she sits down with the book. It really is quite fascinating.

So, we'll continue to forgo Elmo and keep Peter around instead. And we'll make sure to crack open the fairy tale anthologies fairly often, allowing enchantment and wonder to rule at least once a day, as long as she continues to enjoy it.

1 comment:

potty mouth mama said...

How strange - I was thinking about Peter and the Wolf just yesterday, I used to listen to it on an old record player.. I still feel that tension and fear even now!! Thanks for that nostalgic post, I love the classics too!