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Developing Character: The Value of Fairy Tales

Marie read Grimm's fairy tales to her mother as early as age six. Fairy tales continue to be part of her 60-year reading repertoire.

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales; if you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. --Albert Einstein

Now older, the once little girl is still reading.

Now older, the once little girl is still reading.

The Book in the Attic

Many years ago a little sunlit-haired girl, whose friend lived far away and had no one else with whom to play, found an old book in the attic. The book had belonged to her father many, many years ago when he was a little sunlit-haired boy. The pages of the book were yellowed and time had chipped away at some of the pages’ edges, but the pages were altogether and the words were still clear upon those pages. The title of the book was Grimms' Fairy Tales.

William and Jacob Grimm (1785-1863)

William and Jacob Grimm (1785-1863)

The Lives of the Brothers Grimm

The brothers, Jacob and William Grimm, were born in Ganau, Germany, during the time when the new United States was only nine years into its independence from England. William was one year and three weeks Jacob’s junior. With such proximity in age, it was natural for the brothers to be close companions to one another. Both became well educated, studying law like their father had, but something called them into another field of study—literature, both German and foreign, yet maintaining an interest in the sciences. In 1840 Prince Wilhelm of Prussia became their sponsor, thus enabling the brothers to move to the University of Berlin, where they began to lecture and work. William died on December 16, 1859 and Jacob followed on September 20, 1863. Grimms' Fairy Tales, translated by Taylor and Edwards, was published after the brothers' deaths in 1876 by R. Meek & Company in London. The brothers had written 200 fairy tales and ten children’s legends.

From "Beauty and the Beast," Beauty is dining with the beast.

From "Beauty and the Beast," Beauty is dining with the beast.

The Story

The little girl opened the book and turned to the story of “Beauty and the Beast” and she read silently to herself.

Once upon a time there lived a merchant with his three daughters. The youngest, Beauty, was kind and good. The other two sisters were selfish, always wanting things but never pleased.

“She was lucky to have two sisters,” thought the little girl.

The merchant’s older daughters were very jealous of Beauty because she was every bit as beautiful as she was kind.

“Well, maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have any sisters like that,” the little girl considered. And, this little girl began to identify with Beauty, who kept the house and always managed to be cheerful.

Although they were poor, Beauty accepted her lot in life without complaint.

“I help clean the house for my mother sometimes,” thought the little girl, “just like Beauty does for her father and sisters.”

The story continues.

One day the merchant’s ship came in, and he was suddenly a wealthy man. So, he asked his daughters what they would like for him to get them. The two older girls were excited and both asked for dresses. But, Beauty didn’t want to take advantage of her father’s wealth and said she didn’t want anything.

“Please, Beauty,” said the merchant. “It would do my heart good to bring you back something from the village.”

Beauty thought. “All right,” she said, “I would very much like to have a rose.”

Of course, as the story goes, Beauty goes through the hardship of living with a horrible beast on her father’s account. In the end, however, her sincere heart transforms the beast with her tears and the spell of many years over the beast is finally broken. He is really a prince, and Beauty becomes his princess wife.

Remembering the Magic

I am that little girl, and Beauty’s virtues have remained with me in the deep recesses of my conscience through the five decades that followed the reading. When I last visited my brothers at the farmhouse in Michigan, I borrowed that old book for a short while. As a former student of literature and aspiring writer, some of those old stories struck me as being quite ridiculous. How could I ever have read them as a child?

But then I remember the magic I felt as a little girl lying next to my mother on the bed and reading the stories as she listened and fell into her afternoon slumbers. The magic filled my heart that I had helped my mother to relax from her daily routine of hard work that she did out of love for me.

I spent many hours as a child reading fairy tales, not only Grimm's Fairy Tales, but Andersen's Fairy Tales, The Enchanted Princess and Other Fairy Tales, The Red Fairy Book, and Cecily M. Barker's Flower Fairies of the Trees, Flower Fairies of the Spring, and Flower Fairies of the Fall. These flower fairy series were rhyming poems with watercolor illustrations that accurately depicted a variety of flowers and trees for identification purposes. Each fairy had garb that resembled the flower with its sepals or a tree with its fruit.

Except for the poems, many of the fairy tales had some basic elements in common:

  • good overcame evil
  • magic, especially causing human transformation to animal or beast
  • one to three impossible tasks or tests the main character(s) had to do
  • recognition of angels and/or elementals (fairies, talking animals)

The following is a partial listing of virtues from various stories and the books (or publisher) from which the stories were read:

VirtueStoryBook or Publisher


The Breman Town Musicians

Grimms' Fairy Tales


The Little Red Hen

Golden Books


The Little Engine That Could

Platt & Munk


Kari Woodengown

The Red Fairy Book


The Woman in the Wood

Grimms' Fairy Tales


The Repentant Thief

The Enchanted Princess and Other Fairy Tales


The Angel Guest

Grimms' Fairy Tales


Beauty and the Beast

Grimms' Fairy Tales


The Three Spinners

Grimms' Fairy Tales


Snow White and Rose Red

Grimms' Fairy Tales

kind speech

Diamonds and Toads

Grimms' Fairy Tales

self esteem

The Ugly Duckling

Andersen's Fairy Tales

Cecily Mary Barker (1895-1973)

Cecily Mary Barker (1895-1973)

Flower Fairies by Cecily M. Barker

Because of her poetry and intricate illustrations, any child or adult reading her books will develop a deeper appreciation of and respect for nature.

Here is a link to view her charming works online:


Thumbelina Song

"Thumbelina" was a story that appeared in Andersen's Fairy Tales. This song version is in folk style. Goodness and kindness are key messages.

A Happy Ending

Stories, including fairy tales, were passed by word-of-mouth from parents to children to encourage good behavior. The main character in every tale either displays a wonderful virtue or special gift--or he/she goes through a transformation until a life's lesson is mastered, resulting in unconditional happiness. There are many exceptions to this premise; however, the best fairy tales have this intrinsic theme.

© 2013 Marie Flint


Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on December 04, 2014:

The new version of the "Thumbelina Song" is soothing and done in folk style with guitar and voice. The visual illustrations are charming, too.

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on August 03, 2014:

That's what I seem to do best, Dirt Farmer. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this hub article. Fairy tales, in most cases, assure us that good does triumph over evil, and that is reassuring. Blessings!

Jill Spencer from United States on August 02, 2014:

I've always loved fairy tales. Not until I read The Uses of Enchantment, however, did I realize why they were so psychologically satisfying. I very much like the way you've written this hub, weaving your own narrative into the rest. Lovely.

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on July 22, 2013:

An elaborately written hub with Beauty and the Beast serving as an ideal example. Congrats on the well-deserved HOTD. Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Awesome & Interesting. Voted up

Better Yourself from North Carolina on July 21, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD! I'm a big fan of fairy tails and it was fun reading your hub and learning a little history. Great job!

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on July 20, 2013:

Thank you, Zanaworld, for letting me know about the Facebook connection. It's nice to know that link is working a little!

SA Shameel from Bangalore on July 19, 2013:

First of all, dear Marie Flint, congratulations on getting this hub on HUB OF THE DAY. It is indeed very written holding the interest of a reader.

I got here from your FB link in your timeline. Marking this as interesting and voted up.

closed profile from Earth on July 19, 2013:

Good to hear there's still a lot of concern about the value of fairy tales. I rarely hear about this concern, at least not in my hood.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on July 19, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD well deserved! There is a new television series called Grimm which is loosely based on the Grimm fairy tales (definitely with an adult twist). I just loved this hub! Fairy tales have always fueled the imaginations of children around the world throughout the years. I can't imagine a world without fairy tales. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Chuck Nugent from Tucson, Arizona on July 19, 2013:

This is an excellent Hub and reminded me of not only my parents reading stories from Grimms' Fairy Tales to me as a child but also of me reading the stories from Grimms' Fairy Tales to my own children when they were young. I agree that, in addition to being entertaining stories these tales, with their good vs evil themes, also are good for helping to build character in children.

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on July 19, 2013:

Thank your for doing this hub. It really touched my heart to think of all the good that come from something as simple as the three little pigs and what principles it can teach.

Anna Santos from Canada on July 19, 2013:

Congratulations on your HOTD. I always love fairy tales and up to this point, I make sure I still have these fairy tells told to my kids. I think being a kid would never have been complete without these nice stories where imaginations travel. Oh, I love that feeling...Nice one! This article really deserves to be a HOTD! Again, congratulations for a job well done!

Audrey Howitt from California on July 19, 2013:

Beautiful and well written article! And I love fairy tales! Congrats on the HOTD!

Leslie A. Shields from Georgia on July 19, 2013:

Wonderful! Thank for writing this.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on July 19, 2013:

Congrats on the hub of the day award!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 19, 2013:

Congratulations on your HOD accolade for this article. Very interesting topic and information. Thanks for this wonderful presentation.

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on July 19, 2013:

Yes, Cperuzzi, I remember "The Coal, the Bean and the Straw." That was one, after reading it as an adult, I wondered why I ever bothered with it. Everyone's perception is a little different, and the reader contributes 50% of his perception to the story--the author does the rest.

Some of those images from fairy tales, especially Grimm's, are horrendous, but one teacher explained it this way: We feel relieved when evil gets its due.

If nothing else, the stories from way back when show us how we have evolved as a culture and a race (at least, I hope we have!).

I generally don't read the genres of which you speak. Each to his own, but I would encourage you to adjust your focus a little when reading anything "horrible." More often than not, there is a gem beneath the terror.

Thank you for taking the time on reading my hub and comment. May God bless you in all your endeavors!

Christopher Peruzzi from Freehold, NJ on July 19, 2013:

Congrats on the Hub of the Day!!

I see your view of fairy tales is almost the polar opposite of mine. While looking at these stories in context of the times they were written, I can't help but think of the innate sickness that came with incest, murder, cannibalism, matricide, patricide, and just plain old torture. So much so that I was able to easily publish a horror story based on the Brothers Grimm's Briar Rose. At the same time, the rest of the stories within the "Once Upon An Apocalypse" anthology were able to get half of those married to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

I found both the works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson both horrific and depressing as a child - especially Anderson's "The Little Match Girl".

To be fair, some of the Grimm's fairy tales were enjoyable, like Snow White and Rose Red, as well as "The Coal, The Bean, and The Straw".

Once again, congrats!

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on July 19, 2013:

Hub of the Day? (So, that's what that little symbol is--you learn something every day.) I thank HubPages team for choosing it and everyone who has read it. I am blessed!

Marie Ryan from Andalusia, Spain on July 19, 2013:

I have always felt the usefulness of using fairy tales in the classroom, just as fellow hubber 'pstraubie' commented above. They are an interminable fount of intrigue and morality, yet clearly understandable and entertaining at the same time. What better source of knowledge for children beginning to comprehend human nature?

Thanks for such a beautifully crafted article.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 19, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD...Fairy tales have been a huge part of my life and the lives of those that I was fortunate enough to have as students in my classroom. My middle school kids loved them as much as the little guys

thanks for sharing...Angels are on the way to you ps

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on July 19, 2013:

So many memories of Danny Kaye movies and reading fairy tales when I was young. Thank you Marie for writing such a beautiful hub and showing how fairy tales can be a positive experience for children. My two children enjoyed being read to when they were young, and especially for my daughter as 'Beauty and the Beast' was her favourite. This hub certainly deserves HOTD, well done. Voted up, beautiful and pinned.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on July 15, 2013:

I am fascinated of this girl in yellow dress reading. As I was searching for something to read here in HP, I came across of this photo and I immediately read this hub. You see, I have a painting in my house, the same as this. Well not the same child, but another one. It was painted by my hubby years ago and it still fascinates me.

I love reading fairy tells when I was a child and now I read them to my small nieces. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story of your childhood. Have a great day!

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on June 20, 2013:

Yes, Carly, I read Carl Jung's autobiography and agree that the fairy tales do connect us with our archetypes, as you have said. In discernment and wisdom, we learn to keep that "dragon" under our feet! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I'm adding you to my "Follow" list.

Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on June 19, 2013:

Marie, this is a great hub! I think people often underestimate fairy tales. I believe fairy tales connect with us on many levels. One of which is indeed is our childlike mind. However, in Jungian psychology Fairy tales also connect to our archetypes or different universal aspects of ourselves.

We are all the beast as well as we are all beauty at some time. We have the wicked witch inside of us as well as sleeping beauty. When we are confronted with a modern day struggle fairy tales can help us be resourceful and teach us lessons on how to get through a stressful passage, as you mentioned. They do this for children too. Helping them see through darkness to light, hurt to healing, death to living again.

Voted up and shared!

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on June 14, 2013:

Fairies are our friends. Did you read the hub on how to train your pet fairy? (Again, exact titles seem to escape me.) I enjoyed it immensely. The author used some kind of voice recognition technology on the introductory video. That was something I hadn't seen before on HubPages. I loved the hub, especially the part about feeding honey to your pet fairy. If you are interested in viewing the hub but can't find it, let me know and I'll try to send you a link. Blessings!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on June 13, 2013:

Yes, I haven't read "The Little Fir Tree" but it would be similar to that, ie, the "hero" wants something that seems unattainable, only to find that it wasn't worth it after all. I suppose those stories are supposed to warn you to be content with your current life! I have also spotted a spelling mistake in my previous post where I used "die" instead of "dye" - probably a Freudian slip because the nightingale did indeed die to dye the rose. I love this hub and you have given me some information on some fairy stories I missed in the past and will have to catch up on - even if it's with the excuse of reading them to my grandchildren!

Marie Flint (author) from Jacksonville, FL USA on June 13, 2013:

Yes, Meg, there are a lot of "warning" stories with the purpose of teaching children to be aware and safe, as you say. This hub was written almost entirely by memory. I had to look up a few books because I couldn't remember the title of the story, and these get changed so much, depending on who is retelling the tale. "Tom Thumb," for example, was "Hop-O-My-Thumb" in my father's GRIMMS' FAIRY TALES. And, there are many stories which I have never read. I remember "The Nightingale," which I think was a Hans Christian Andersen story, but I'm not familiar with the "and the Rose" version. It sounds a bit like "The Little Fir Tree" (is that the right name?) where the little tree couldn't dream that he would become so decorated for Christmas. It ends when the family throws the tree out and the children tear off its branches. These kinds of stories reach deep inside us and our reaction to endings which seem less than "happy" tell us something about ourselves--do we maintain our own happiness or do we allow ourselves to feel troubled and ponder the story again and again over time? I prefer the stories where absolute good triumphs over absolute evil. Somehow, these latter types reassure me that "God is in His Heaven" and all is well; I am loved and safe. And, I'd like to add a lot more to that "table of virtues," but I was really having trouble remembering titles (there were a lot of stories that never made it to the present-day classics list). So, I as more details come to me in the future, I may edit this hub. For now, I'm happy with it.

Thank you so much for visiting!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on June 13, 2013:

I have always loved fairy tales and still do! I get every bit as much pleasure out of reading them to my grandchildren as I did to myself, when younger. They stretch the imagination from the prosaic to the "what if" that leads to great creativity. I think, though, that many fairy stories also had a warning element, such as "The Red Shoes", "Red Riding Hood". and there was one that always saddened me with its futility - "The Nightingale and the Rose", where the nightingale gave up its own life to die a white rose red, in order to provide a little pleasure to a student, who totally ignored the gift.