The great thing about fairy tales? Anyone can connect with them. They’re highly accessible. The only price of admission is being human.
There’s a reason we give fairy tales to children. It’s about all they can connect with. They haven’t yet been told how to “get” Sartre, or Barthes, or any other tricky-to-pronounce French author. (With the exception of Antoine de Saint-Exupery and his Little Prince, of course.)
To be fair to children, plenty of adults don’t “get” Sartre or Barthes either. And when I say this, I intend no judgment. Often I’m not sure what they’re talking about either. Not everyone was given instruction on how to read these writers.
But then again, no one needs instruction on how to read a fairy tale. A good fairy tale speaks directly to you, unobstructed, while the tricky-to-pronounce French authors of the world (and their equally opaque American literary counterparts) require a whole lot of backstory to figure out. Complicated intellectual frameworks, cultural & historical context, sympathy with a certain political position: all are often necessary to penetrate many authors of the world’s authors who are said to be important.
Though… said by whom? A pretty good question, not asked often enough. Usually said in school by professors or out of school at parties when you’re cornered by a once-upon-a-time liberal arts major who finds that post-structuralism really speaks to their experience working the espresso machine. (Before you cry foul, I’m also a once-upon-a-time liberal arts major, and I’ve worked plenty of barista-esque jobs in the my life.)
But here’s an even better question than “Who says these challenging writers are important?”— Why does anyone even need to say these writers are important in the first place? If they’re so important, shouldn’t it be self-evident? Or is it all explained by a line of reasoning Nassim Nicholaus Taleb brought out in his book Antifragile— where anything heavily advertised is unnatural to us, and the best things in life never need a banner (or an academic) to announce how great they are. Coca-Cola spends an advertising budget the size of a small nation’s GDP every year to contribute their part to the world’s growing diabetes crisis, but no orchard needs to advertise a good, healthy, natural food like apples.
So while I’ve heard plenty of conversations where one person was trying to explain what’s so great about, say, Walter Benjamin (and I admit, I’ve been that person defending Benjamin before), I’ve never heard anyone have to explain what’s so great about Roald Dahl. What’s great about Roald Dahl’s books, or any other fairy tale, is as intrinsic to the human condition as what’s so great about apples. And they should be consumed in the same way—as a nourishing part of daily life.
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