I have been teaching fairytales for over ten years. Themes of abandonment, separation, alienation, evolution, and finally, transformation are central issues in the tales and in children’s lives. Children walk into the forest alone, and must exit these woods as fully formed, mature people, ones who have transcended the major psychological conflicts of the id stage—oral gratification, oedipal issues, intense sibling rivalry, a general lack of impulse control. Such a lack of impulse control is strong during the toddler years and during adolescence, times when a child must separate from his or her parents and form a core identity. Identities are formed as children learn to tackle their demons and, as a consequence, develop healthy egos, ones that enable them to cope well in the world. The hero or heroine needs to learn the skills of self-maintenance. In order to sufficiently mature, a child must fend for him or herself and discover thoughtful ways to overcome challenging situations and circumstances. When I teach this aspect of fairytales, the focus is on rescue—a child learns how to rescue him or herself so that he or she may lead a healthy and productive life. Boys emerge out of the forest with gold and riches; girls come out of the woods with a handsome prince.
In the twenty-first century, girls no longer need princes; they can rescue themselves, and this has been proven repeatedly. Before Cinderella’s foot fits into the glass slipper, she has managed to get herself to the ball while taking care of her stepmother and stepsisters. Why the prince? Snow White has negotiated a house of seven dwarves, no easy task. Gretel saves her brother from the wicked witch. Classic fairytales prove female competency, yet they still rely on the prince as a rescuer. There are too few fairytales that conclude with the young girl receiving her rightful place in the world.
Today’s young women, like those of yesteryear, are competent and capable. Young girls don’t need a prince when they can control the kingdom quite well. But where are the fairytales that relay the importance of the female heroine? It is imperative that contemporary fairytales conclude the exit out of the forest for a young girl where she is the one in charge.
The tales in this book are about girls who have wide wings to fly with, and whose destinations are unlimited. They are mostly fairytales, but I have also included some wonderful folktales and fables. As Jessica Milton speaks in her brilliant tale, “Princess Isabella”:
“As she flew into the kingdom, the people in the street stopped whatever they were doing to gaze up at the breathtaking bird that was Isabella… This bird seemed to carry a sense of hope and peace as it flew over their heads.”
Afterwards, the beautiful princess tells her brother:
“A princess can say what she pleases, and read what she wants, and learn, and defeat witches and save the day. Now, a princess shall be your ruler.”
Pay heed to the words in this anthology, THE HEROIC YOUNG WOMAN: FAIRYTALES, FABLES AND FOLK TALES. The authors are students in my children’s writing class at City College, and at Park Slope Senior Center. They are dynamic, intelligent writers, kings and queens of their kingdom. Their words reign supreme.
By Pam Laskin