Myths, fables and legends
12th January 2013
In the following published in The Australian I argue that it's essential that children encounter myths, legends and fables.
Why kids should read fables, legends and fairytales
IN the first week of its Australian release, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey jumped to No 1, earning nearly $17 million and proving how enduring and popular JRR Tolkien's children's story is even though written more than 76 years ago.
Like Tolkien's other epic The Lord of the Rings, also made into a highly successful three-part film by Peter Jackson, The Hobbit involves a perilous journey, heroic battles, bravery, betrayal and the need to overcome fear and adversity. Tolkien's fantasy world is based on Norse, Icelandic and Germanic myths, legends and fables and, as well as being entertaining, provides children with an experience essential for their emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Following and experiencing Bilbo's journey, and also Frodo's in The Lord of the Rings, teaches children that fear and uncertainty can be overcome with courage and the loyalty and friendship of others. In the beginning of The Hobbit, Bilbo leads a comfortable, safe and secure life where danger is unknown and life is predictable. By journeying through dangerous and strange lands, fighting orcs and outsmarting Gollum, Bilbo grows in strength and wisdom.
The American psychologist Bruno Bettelheim argues that fables, myths and classic fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White deal with important human emotions and everlasting ideas such as the battle between good and evil.
Bettelheim also argues that children do not grow to maturity and understanding by accident - they have to be surrounded by stories and legends that teach them moral lessons as well as being exciting and entertaining.
Aesop's fables like The Ant and the Grasshopper, where the ant can survive winter because he has gathered food during the summer months instead of singing like the grasshopper, teach that hard work and planning ahead are better than being idle.
Another tale, The Boy who cried Wolf, shows that if you lie and try to trick people, then when real danger arrives, you will suffer because nobody believes you.
Children should also be introduced to classic stories such as The Iliad and The Odyssey because following heroes such as Odysseus and learning from their bravery and strength helps children to be resilient and overcome adversity.
Classic stories also excite a child's imagination and allow them to escape what sometimes can be a dreary and routine world for one full of excitement, drama and larger-than-life characters.
That fables, legends and myths contain important lessons for us all explains why they are popular with filmmakers.
During the past year, films such as Immortals and Snow White and the Huntsman join a long list of movies based on classic tales such as the Trojan War and CS Lewis's Narnia novels.
Even modern stories such as George Lucas' Star Wars film series have much to offer as good battles evil and Luke Skywalker learns how to overcome the dark side that had consumed his father, Darth Vader.
Surveys show that increasing numbers of children experience anxiety and fear, not helped by the rise of cyber bullying caused by SMS, the internet and social networking sites such as Facebook.
The popularity of computer games, often full of graphic scenes of death and destruction, means that children, especially boys, are caught in a virtual world of violence for its own sake. If children are to deal with adversity, they must learn to draw on their own resolve and to deal with difficult emotions and feelings.
One of the best ways for parents to help is to surround their children with fables, myths and legends that, while often violent, embody important moral and ethical lessons.
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12th January 2013
In the following published in The Australian I argue that it's essential that children encounter myths, legends and fables.Why kids should read fables, legends and fairytales &nb...
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