There has been quite a bit of uproar about Richard Dawkins supposed opinions on Fairy tales and their effect on children.
Do listen to https://audioboo.fm/boos/2226602-richard-dawkins-fairy-tales-can-be-beneficial-for-children to hear what Richard Dawkins actually said on Radio 4 and if you want some silly fun, follow
#DawkinsKidsBooks on Twitter.
I don’t intend to comment on over-simplified reporting or whether Mr Dawkins stirred up controversy for the sake of notoriety – whilst these are interesting topics, this is a blog about writing after all.
What I do want to do is to celebrate the love for fairy tales and fantasy I share with thousands of others – and to think about why this is a good thing.
First of all, stories must entertain – and stories with magic of one sort or another can absolutely enthrall both children and adults. The glorious inventiveness of, say Catherynne M.Valente or Frances Hardinge, uses enchantment to engage. We delight in sheer ingenuity - and that I think has much to do with Einstein’s point of view.
Secondly, all stories that last act as settings for things we hold precious. They let us experience the results of hope and courage, love and steadfastness for example. They teach, more or less obviously through fable, and the wonder of the fairytale world helps us remember what we learned all the more.
Of course, realistic fiction can do this too – but for those with a taste for the extra-ordinary, characters like Iorek Byrnisson or Eowyn thrill us more. There’s more connection with these invented characters, their largeness and other-worldliness gives us space to explore ideas and emotions.
My third and final point is more contentious. The first two could be agreed with by the most ardent rationalist – unless they regard all fiction as irresponsible lies.
However, I do hold with ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. It is the storyteller’s role to leave room for the numinous. My experience is that the deepest, most treasured parts of human life cannot be measured, weighed, dissected or rationalised - and the wisest stories allow for this.
It should remain for the reader to explore how much is metaphor or magic – and how much is ‘real’.
I leave the last word to Joanne Harris via Katherine Langrish’s excellent blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.
A story can bring down a government; or steal away a child’s heart; or build a religion; or just make us see the world differently. Storytellers come and go, but stories never die. And if that isn’t magic, then I don’t know what is.