Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?


I'm so glad K.T. mentioned the Boston Globe's article, "Fear of Fairy Tales" in her blog*. I knew having a card-carrying librarian as a friend would have its perks!

Anyway, I'm posting some of my reactions to the Globe's article here, instead of burdening K.T.'s comment section.

A lot of fairy tales had the original purpose of frightening children. They were warnings: Don't go into the woods alone. Don't trust strangers. Stay the hell away from the big bad wolf.

(Of course, depending on your flavor of literary interpretation, they can also be allegories about sex and gender and society and a whole assortment of other things.)

So now, we've become...afraid of being frightened? Or, afraid of frightening our children? Some might suggest that's because the world is already scary enough, but I don't think so. I think if you aren't exposed to fear when you are young, you'll just have a harder time dealing with it when you get older. In fact, maybe that's what has already happened.

And maybe that has happened to me, without even realizing it. My parents didn't shelter me from fairy tales (although I do remember thinking that the Grimm's version were some kind of transgression -- the naughty, scary, exciting version), but that doesn't mean they didn't shelter me from a lot of other things inadvertently.

Because that's what parents are supposed to do. They are supposed to protect their children. And that's why they need scary fairy tales -- to teach their children the value of fear without putting them in harm's way.

Fear is a survival mechanism.

Which leads me to an article in High Country News review two new books on fear and it's ecological and evolutionary role in nature:

A world without fear sounds nice, doesn't it? Liberated from our dread of nosy bosses, environmental catastrophe, cocktail-party conversation and clumsy dentistry, we could wander the planet with a spring in our step and a gleam in our eye. From our modern perspective, fear is an annoyance, an inconvenient emotion to be fenced out or shot down. But fear, as two new books make clear, has its uses -- not only as a critical survival strategy, but also as a supporting force for the entire natural world.


In case you don't want to read the review and skip straight to the books (The Better to Eat You With: Fear in the Animal World by Joel Berger; Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg), here's the punch line:
...a life without fear is the most dangerous of all.


It's no coincidence that the titles of both books harken back to the titles of fairy tales.

Any maybe my new-found fear of mountain lions isn't a crutch after all.

*Note: I used to read the Bookslut blog religiously until I started using an RSS reader. Then they didn't make the cut because they don't have an RSS feed. Whaaaa?

Image from flickr user emerald isle druid shared with a Creative Commons Attribution License.

1 comment:

irreverently said...

The idea that scary stories (fairy tales and others) help build and exercise the tools used to process fear makes perfect sense. Nice juxtaposition of quotes, too.