Understanding the thoughts and emotions that went intot he development of fairy tales can be challenging at best but a good understanding Cross-Cultural psychology is still important to understanding fairy tales. It’s extremely important to note that this does not mean psychoanalytic is important. The work of Freud and Jung have been shown time and time again to be false. They put too much stock into there being specific deep seated thoughts which all people had or struggled with which could be analyzed like bad literature. The reality is that all people exist within a society and so their interpretation of the same story and events can be completely different. Two people could hear the Cinderella story and interpret it in two very distinct ways. In the modern Western society a “Cinderella Story” has come to mean the tale of an underdog rising to greatness. The reality, however, is that Cinderella was the wealthy girl and her step mother was the peasant. She was the one with princess feet, the original tale was about the danger of rising above ones station, about the dangers of marrying a peasant woman to be the “evil” stepmother of your child. Thus while the same fairy tale might spread from culture to culture its meaning will change according to the culture it’s in. As we go further back then it becomes ever more difficult to understand how stories impacted people psychologically.
Emotions and Events
With the advent of the industrial revolution the semi-educated and skilled labor classes suddenly found themselves without work. Few people after all needed a tailor when factories could churn out clothes in mass. Tailors then become travelers, people uprooted from their sedentary lifestyle who were then forced to go from city to city, begging for work. Suddenly there was a situation in which a skilled and often intelligent person was the vagabond who had to figure out how to survive. This is likely the reason the tailor features in so many fairy tales about intelligent and cunning vagabonds. Understanding this aspect of history then can help us better understand fairy tales, further such fairy tales can help us understand the views of at least one set of people of these events.
Connections with other people
There is this mistaken tendency to view various people of Eurasia as having lived in a bubble, developing their ideas without outside influence. As their being drastic differences between one group of people and their neighbors but the idea of solid borders between people is a modern invention, and even now borders tend to be porous with only a few exceptions.
Information traveled, one girl might travel a few villages over to be married, one group of soldiers might raid a neighboring kingdom or even a land thousands of miles from home and then settle down. Merchants, minstrels and various other vagabonds would hear a story in one village and carry it to the next. When fairy tales can last survive thousands of years we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they can survive thousands of miles and it is the similarities between fairy tales can be interpreted by and help us interpret the spread of information and of people. This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of fairy tales is the fact that they are able to travel from culture to culture, showing not only how each culture will interpret and alter the same tale but how information and ideas were able to spread thousands of years ago. For example the Germans and the people of India both held in their epics that the world was created from the body of the first being who’d died and been dismembered. The Germans Share their story of puss in boots with the people of Lithuania with the exception that in one country “Puss” is a cat and in the other they are a fox. The Greeks and the Japanese both have tales of girls who’s scarves allow them to be heavenly beings. The nymphs were one of the most important religious beings in Gaul, Rome, Greece, and Russia. Thus the interpretation of the confusing aspects of any one fairy tale can be interpreted through its relation to another culture.
Fairy tales today
Fairy tales have been passed down to us, to our generation and the culture and world in which we now live. This means that it is our turn to interpret, understand and yes even change the fairy tales to fit our own needs and desires. For this is what a fairy tale is, it’s an evolving cultural artifact one which connects us with the past but provides us with a moral compass for our own lives. Thus to understand what impact fairy tales well have one must understand what they will mean to people today.
It is unfortunate that most of the work done in this area is done by psychoanalysts. Certainly some of these people have been right here or there but this was despite rather then because of their approach to such understanding. Psychoanalysis as I’ve mentioned previously has been proven time and again to have too many errors to be truly useful.
We must than continue on to gain understanding of fairy tales within their social contexts utilizing literary, social psychological, anthropological, and similar interpretations. The challenge to this is that we tend to see what we want to see, or worse still we tend to see what no one else well, at least not with any practical ease. Even when a message is there it only matters if it has an emotional impact or if it reflects something. Thus to be useful the interpretation of fairy tales in the modern day must either reflect our society or the tellers and audience of the story or they must help to shape and or alter peoples perception. After all meaning isn’t assigned to a fairy tale, its not dragged out of it, meaning is what people understand.
For the moment I’m primarily working on a historical understanding of the fairy tale, I will however continue to write more about the modern interpretation of them over time.