The Uses of Enchantment:
The Child’s Need for Magic: Bettelheim explains that the life of a fairy tale relies on the child’s framing of the world. As mentioned in the introduction of the book, the world a child lives in is one different from our own, because their lives are animated. The comet example he gives is a perfect example of the two worlds clashing: a child is interested in their hand made “comets” until they learn that it’s nothing but a piece of paper. These stories, fairy tales, myths, Biblical stories alike, are effective because they offer a validation of their respective experiences. I relate to people finding comfort in the hope and answers these stories give them, even if they are masked in metaphors and unrealistic things like magic. In the context of the reader’s life (mine included), it’s not all unrealistic–they’re shared experiences, and a justification of their feelings/thoughts.
Vicarious Satisfaction Versus Conscious Recognition: What good is it to share a story/thought if the audience doesn’t understand it? Fairy tales are constructed the way they are (morals, simple characters, magic) because they are targeted towards children. Unlike adults, children don’t get much out of realistic stories–they will have a difficult time relating to it and getting much out of it other than the obvious plot line. In order to connect with them, the storyteller has to make an effort to reach their imagination, a world they live in. Bettelheim mentions illustrations as distracting rather than helpful, which I thought was interesting, because my mom always said the same thing when my brother and I read comic books on the weekends. She’d say “it’s not necessarily that I think comic books are bad, but they fixate the story’s image and you leave no room for your own imagination.”
The Importance of Externalization: Again, this section taps into the importance of validating a child’s experiences. Bettleheim makes the point that although these children relate to these stories, they understand they are not real. These stories make the distinction very clear on purpose (magic, setting, characters) as not to confuse the child–if it gets too close to reality, then they start getting confused about how to translate the fairy tale. This helps the child identify and deal with his emotions. The idea of embodying destructive wishes was really interesting, because while the child may not realize what he is doing, as he is sorting out the good and the evil, and choosing who they want to be more like, they are essentially revamping their own character. I can look back at my childhood and remember how I would feel bad when I related to things an evil character did, and try my best to not repeat those thoughts/actions, because I didn’t want to be that character.
Transformations: In fairy tales, they often divide up one character to simplify them. As discussed, if a character is too complicated, then the child may not be as responsive to the story. So, they split up a complicated figure into two entities–the good and the bad (generally) for the child’s understanding of the story. This is where the step mother comes in: the good mother and the bad mother. This is particularly interesting to me because I always assumed the step mother characterization came from real life step mothers. I figured many kids in real life didn’t like their step mother (which makes the story relate-able), and many step mothers probably didn’t really like the kids either, especially when it was more unorthodox. The idea of split characterizations is new to me, and I buy it. With the two, you have both the good and the bad times that you’ve had with your mom, and by making them both in the same place of their social network (in this case, a mom, a power figure who is also supposed to give you love and nurture) it helps the two characters overlap.
Bringing Order into Chaos: This is about the stages a child goes through when becoming aware of his surroundings, hence the “chaos.” The child at this stage cannot handle two contradicting thoughts at once, so they tend to tune out one and go all light or dark. And to help with this, fairy tales depict characters the same way–either all good or all bad. The stories help sort out/organize these feelings and helps the child contextualize them so they can better understand their own experiences with the same feelings.
Reading this, I can’t help but reanalyze my own responses. I would always fantasize about being the main character of the story, and being proud of myself if I did something similar to what a main character would have done (share snacks with my brother, for example). It also allowed another world to exist for me, which was huge because it made me want to believe there are really good people and I could be one of them. It’s slightly weird but also eyeopening and cool to see a lot of the reading rings true for how these fairy tales impacted me when I was younger.