Almost all critics of fairy tales observe the ways in which children and adults can fit themselves into these tales to better make sense of their lives. Much of this criticism is indebted to Bruno Bettelheim, who in turn is indebted to Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Bettelheim’s canonical work, the Uses of Enchantment (1976), takes as its premise the following idea: “The fairy tale is therapeutic because the patient finds his own solutions, through contemplating what the story seems to imply about him and his inner conflicts at this moment in his life … the fairy tales’ concern is not useful information about the external world, but the inner process taking place in an individual.”
But Bettelheim was not the first writer to come to this conclusion. In his 1936 essay “The Storyteller,” Walter Benjamin observed, “The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales. Whenever good counsel was at a premium, the fairy tales had it, and where the need was the greatest, its aid was nearest” (102). In other words, fairy tales and myths guide us through natural processes and natural feelings, showing at once how weird and normal they are – and they allow us to solve our own dilemmas through the experience of the heroes and heroines.
Try this: Look back on a point in your life when you were lost in some way. Free-write a fairy tale to serve as a guide to that earlier version of yourself.