Once upon a time, fairy tales were the stuff of childhood bedtime stories, but now they are making a magical comeback for grown-ups. Rediscovering the enchantment they once held, these tales have captivated adult hearts and minds, offering a world of fantasy, adventure, and even life lessons.
But why are fairy tales making a resurgence? Perhaps it’s the desire to reconnect with our inner child or the comfort and familiarity these tales offer. In a world filled with uncertainty, fairy tales provide a sense of magic, wonder, and hope: a much-needed escape but also a chance to revisit our beliefs and perspectives on life.
Fairy tales explore a range of human experiences: joy, disbelief, disappointment, fear, envy, disaster, greed, devastation, lust, and grief. They shed light on our lives and the lives of others. They helped our ancestors understand the unpredictability of life. They showed familiar experiences of unfairness, misfortune, bad luck, and ill-treatment. They also demonstrated how courage, determination, and ingenuity could change the course of events, even for the most disempowered.
According to Laura Packer, a professional Minnesota-based storyteller who was inducted into the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence: “Fairy tales endure because they are, at their most basic, the stories of our lives in their most stripped down form“, she says. “They are stories of love and loss, desire and death, riches and ruin. They are the unadorned stories of what drives us, without the civilizing details of technology and manners. They teach us how to survive in this wily and wicked world. They are a shortcut to a common understanding of the way the world works“.
Fairy tales are certainly associated with children, but there’s nothing childish, nothing naïve or innocent or trivial, about fairy tales. They are so powerful to show a caleidoscope of experiences that belong to all of us.
In “Fairy Tale Wisdom. Stories For The Second Half Of Life“, 70-something authors Bill Randall and Andy Achenbaum, who spent long careers studying ageing as gerontologists, and psychoanalyst, Barbara Lewis, crawl inside an assortment of fables, parables, and other stories that they recall from their childhood and revisit them as older adults in order to help us re-examine and re-evaluate our feelings.
As an invitation to see those classic fairy tales with fresh eyes and celebrate the wisdom that lurks between the lines of our own lives, they re-read—and re-member—timeless tales like Hansel and Gretel, The Ugly Duckling, The Tortoise and The Hare, plus many others, through the lens of the still-unfolding stories of their own lives, with all the losses and loves the layers and learning that mature years involve.
“The adventure that awaits us in the second half of life is that of exploring and owning our inner worlds and reexamining fairy tales is a meaningful way to do this“, they said and we couldn’t agree more.
Reflecting on these stories with a blend of playfulness and seriousness, the authors find themselves asking questions, making out patterns, and stumbling onto truths (not always comfortable) to which they might otherwise be blind.
Page after page, tale after tale, they invite us to exercise a form of self-reflection asking ourselves questions like:
- Which characters do I identify with and has this changed from when I was a child?
- What personal memories do these stories evoke
- What sense do I make of these experiences now that I’m older?
- What images of ageing are embedded in these stories, and how do I relate to them?
The key concept here is that with age, we tend to move away from dualistic thinking and better appreciate paradoxes, often realising that our own stories are, by necessity, incomplete until the very end, and we come to accept that.
“We, like Hansel and Gretel, have survived. We were able to surmount difficulties – maybe even near-fatal experiences – and, even if scarred, lived through danger and frailty. You go over the past and take stock of key events and turning points in your life and hopefully come to some sort of positive assessment along the lines of ‘I did best with the circumstances I was given,'” they concluded.
What is your favourite story tale and why? Has growing older changed the way you interpret them? Leave a comment!