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Puss-in-Boots

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series The Fairy Tale Project

Although we understand that fairy tales were originally geared towards adults, we still know that children were often in the audience when these tales were read. These tales meant different things to the different audiences. Though children would have been interested in the funny characters in these tales, they wouldn’t have always grasped the other meanings. As the Brothers Grimm set about writing literature geared solely toward children, they cleaned up these tales and took out a lot of the more explicit parts. While this made it easier for parents to feel comfortable about allowing their children to read these stories on their own, Bruno Bettelheim would likely argue that the brothers went too far in their whitewashing. [ref]Bettleheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning.” latech.edu,
http://moodle.latech.edu/plugfile.php/1463935/mod_resource/content/0/Bruno%20Bettelheim.pdf.
[/ref].

While Bettelheim recognized the tendency of adults to only present content to children that is pleasant, he believed this is a mistake. Since, as he argued, children are faced with reality, this can include dark thoughts – thoughts that are angry, anxious, and even violent. Shielding children from fairy tales of this sort is a mistake. Instead children should be given the opportunity to read these tales that present situations that aren’t always pleasant and that don’t always end in a happy way because that is the reality of life 1.

Bettelheim has a valid point, but I think that there is a time and place for various versions of any story. Although it might be overly hopeful, I enjoyed the message of the Brothers Grimm ‘The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat’. While Bettelheim may have seen this solely as entertainment without substance, I think it presents a message that even if you aren’t uniquely talented, you can work hard and do the right things and be rewarded in life. In this tale, Hans worked for the cat for seven years and did everything that was asked of him. “He stayed close to home, and he just chopped wood day in and day out”. This is perseverance and it does demonstrate that hard work in life is rewarded [ref]Tatar, Maria, editor. “The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat.” The Annotated Brothers Grimm. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 346-353.[/ref].

The tone of Angela Carter’s version of this tale, however, is vastly different than the Brothers Grimm. I am not convinced that Carter’s version of ‘Puss-in-Boots’ would at all be acceptable to give to a child. Her work definitely moves back towards the original form of this fairy tale but does so in a way that would likely make most parents uncomfortable. While it does promote the notion of pursuing what you desire, it likely encourages the reader to do this in a deceitful way. There are many moral problems presented in this story including promiscuity and adultery [ref]Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber. Penguin, 1993.
[/ref]. While these are things that happen regularly, they are not the types of activities that we should present to children – especially since the characters seem to be rewarded for them. Though Bettelheim has a good point about not sheltering children from unhappy stories, I think we should use a little common sense in this instance.

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