The End of Fairy Tales

Well, it appears we have reached the end of fairy tales in America. I have observed with increasing curiosity in recent months and years the proliferation of prequels, sequels, or other alterations of fairy tales (e.g., Once Upon a Time, Merlin, and Neverland). I will readily admit that several of these stories are quite interesting and entertaining. So my goal here is not be legalistic in saying families shouldn’t watch this or that altering of a fairy tale. Rather, I hope to offer an observation of the cyclical de-evolution of story in great societies. Bruno Snell, an important 20th century philologist ,observed that in Greek society tragedies progressed from  stories where good and bad were clearly defined (if you do good you are rewarded and  if you do  bad you are punished) to tragedies where it is hard to tell who the good and bad guys are (e.g., Oedipus Rex). Eventually tragedies by the Greeks become nothing more than social or philosophical commentary (e.g., Sophocles’ Frogs). So too art in America has devolved and has been devolving for some time. This reality can be observed by watching a few celebrated movies from each decades from the 60’s to the present. Note that I am not suggesting that humans are becoming more sinful but that we celebrate deviant lifestyles more and more as a society.

Furthermore, I am not suggesting that the altering of fairy tales in any way approaches the moral deviance of a Tarantino film, but certain foundations of Western cultures are, in my view, being pecked away—For example, in Once Upon a Tim e a vulnerable and disenchanted Snow White as a character trapped in the real world, decides to participate in a night of sexual pleasure with little regret. And the men are less sure of themselves than the portrayal of men in the original fairy tales. They aren’t exactly emerging as the hero to save the damsel in distress.

As a side note, do I have a problem with teaching girls to be confident and independent? Absolutely not, I have 3 girls of my own, and I hope that we are training them to be independent free creatures before Christ, ready to do His bidding. One or more of them may end up doing Kingdom work anywhere in the world. At it would be difficult to send them alone to some settings, but I want them to see folks like Lottie Moon as an ultimate hero (i.e., I am not seeking to lock them into a “I can only be happy if I have a family reality”). Now, for most women (same for most men) marriage is the best route to fulfilling Kingdom potential (see Paul’s writings on the issue). And I hope I teach them to have very high standards for the type of man they choose. I joke with Emma, oldest, that the man you marry needs to know more theology than you, and I guarantee this girl is going to know some theology before she leaves our home.


Now back to the issue of fairy tales. Plato noted the importance of monitoring the stories young people read. Note I am not suggesting a legalistic standard for adults, although we as adults need to be carefully monitoring what we watch as well. But Plato realized that a steady diet of complex tragedies, where good and bad are hard to distinguish, would create a morally weak citizen. If Plato could come to this conclusion without the Holy Spirit, surely we as Spirit-filled 21st century Christians can make healthier choices for our kids.

We try to not let legalism reign in  our house, but I will be encouraging my boys to at least read the real stories of King Author and Camelot before settling for the entertaining prequel “Merlin,” which clearly rides on the curtails of a legendary story line.

One response to this post.

  1. You’re absolutely right, and spot on with Bruno Snell’s assessments. The same can be found in every civilization, and in some it’s especially apparent! The Romans began as a culture with great moral poles and devolved into a milieu for amoral experiments. Of course the entire renaissance period makes a great case study.


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