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Friday 20 April 2018

Fairy tales help us live happily ever after

Lay of the Land

'If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales'.
'If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales'.

Fiona O'Connell

Regular readers of this column might notice my propensity for fairy tales. Growing up, I used to plunder the library for their magic, having devoured to dog-eared death the ones at home. I had no wish to graduate to more grown-up genres.

Indeed, I've been accused of writing fairy tales myself, when it comes to my descriptions of the treatment of animals at human hands. If only the ferocious facts behind the atrocities inflicted on our fellow creatures were make believe!

But those who mock these airy-fairy works of fiction clearly haven't read enough of them. Otherwise, they would know that the last thing they are is a soft soap on reality. The stories collected by the Grimm brothers in the 18th Century depicted life as generations of Europeans knew it; capricious and often cruel.

The tales were softened over time, but they never lost their edge. Usually the hero has to face his fears, having strayed off the path into, "a dark wood", as Dante's Inferno puts it, before having any chance of picking up a princess.

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales," Einstein said. "If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales." For fairytales not only feed the imagination, which Einstein considered more important than knowledge, but are relevant to life.

Who hasn't felt like a Cinderella at times, marginalised and unloved, while the ugly sisters of the world go to the ball? While anyone who has made their vision a reality, despite a lack of support and doses of derision, can surely identify with "Henny Penny".

I have had my own experience of "The Elves and the Shoemaker" this summer. With my cupboard bare, I stepped out the door one morning to find two plastic bags crammed full of vegetables.

I looked up and down the street, in case a caped crusader might be lurking nearby. Then I considered all possible suspects. Number one was the gardener who had employed two pigs to plough her field; perhaps she was thanking me for saving their bacon? But she was eliminated after I bumped into her.

The mystery deepened when it happened again last week, with yet another bag bursting with goodies swinging from my door knob; a sweet little swede, glossy courgettes, and an abundance of divine smelling apples.

But reader, there is a happy ever after, or a happy ever whodunnit, to this tale of a turnip and other pleasing plants. I discovered that my elf was a gardener. Kind-hearted Karen has been gifting many in town with her surplus bounty. What a Princess Charming!

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