Why We Love Fairy Tales

Do you remember when you could fly? When you believed in magic? When any thing was possible?

Fairy Tales
Photo credit: Jeroen Kransen (Creative Commons)

There is a piece of all of us, a sliver of innocence left from our youth, lying dormant, that comes alive when we read a good story, watch a movie, or experience art. This is our truest selves, the part that still believes in fairy tales.

ABC recently came out with a new show called Once Upon a Time. Here is a summary:

Welcome to a world where fairy tales are real. Anna Swan is like any other 28 year old, until she discovers she’s a lost princess destined to save her world from darkness. Experience the passion project of executive producers/creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (Lost, Tron). Once Upon A Time is a thrilling twist of our most beloved stories.

I have to say: watching the trailer, I got pretty excited. I love tales of good versus evil, because they call out the hero in each of us. And this looks like a pretty good show.

My excitement caused me to wonder: Why do we love fairy tales — even as adults?

If you look around at recent movies and plays, many are reinventions of old epics and fairy tales or mere modern adaptations. In particular, I’m thinking of Red Riding Hood and Wicked, to name a couple creative revamps of old, familiar stories.

So, why we do adore these jaunts into fantasy?

I believe we love fairy tales because they are surprisingly relevant to real life. And in our deepest core, we know it. Here is how fairy tales speak to us in three acts:

Act 1: The Setup

We are thrown into the midst of a story we don’t fully understand. We understand that there is good and evil and we are caught somewhere in between those two forces. But that is about it.

We sense that there is conflict and hardship that must be overcome. We know that greatness is being demanded of us.

This is the setting for many fairy tales. Everything begins somewhat serenely, but soon you notice that all is not well.

There is a curse in the land that must be broken or an enemy force gathering strength — some underlying tension that you can sense in the story. And it is soon to emerge.

Act 2: The Complication

Life is full of surprises. It’s hard. And before it gets better, it often gets harder. This is what the second act is all about — struggle, defeat, failure.

It’s about learning perseverance through trial.

Screenwriters know that by the top of the second act, they must introduce “the complication” — some event that sends the adversary in motion. You see it in The Two Towers and Empire Strikes Back. It even appears in the Rocky movies.

The problem becomes bigger than you realized. It is a setup for the final act, when the hero’s courage will be tested and proven worthy.

This act is the one with which we can relate the most, because we are living in the midst of it.

Act 3: The Resolution

Life, as noted in Act 1, is full of tension begging to be resolved. There is conflict — pain, suffering, injustice. We all sense it.

We all know that some great rescue must be coming. And we haven’t yet seen it. Not yet. This is what the third act is all about: resolution.

But not only resolution — restoration and reconciliation, the renewing of all things. The hero returns home, with a renewed appreciation for what he once took for granted. He sees his loved ones again, and they celebrate life together.

We experience these three acts in our lives. Many of us are stirred by fairy tales, because we see those same scenes unfolding around us — tension, conflict, suspense. As we make sense of the overarching narrative, of what life is really about, we begin to make sense of our own lives. We begin to believe.

It doesn’t surprise me that ABC is picking up this show. I don’t think we’ll ever see the end of fairy tales — at least not until we experience that Act 3 resolution.

Until then, we’re all wondering: When will the hero emerge? But maybe — just maybe– it’s you.

Do you believe in fairy tales? Why? Share in the comments.