Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New

 

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New
York: Knopf, 1976.

Here is an orthodox psychoanalyst "doing his thing" on fairy tales. The reader must begin with
the Freudian assumptions that nothing is as it first appears and that one must look beneath the
obvious to see the substance out of which the obvious is constructed. Bettelheim asks, Why are
fairy tales so popular? Why are they repeated generation after generation? The Freudian answer
comes back: the stories contain the important symbols which children must learn. Of course these
symbols are not understood by the kids - or for that matter by the adults who tell the tales to kids.
Fairy stories are functional in that they teach children symbolic techniques necessary for survival.
They are devices for overcoming fear reactions. They are teaching devices which allow the child
to handle his or her world.

On the surface of the stories themselves, there is not much to go on. The stories seem to say little
more than what they seem to say. However, if one uses the Freudian perspective, one is enabled
to see that these tales deal with real situations, situations with which the child is familiar. Thus,
the child fears and cannot name the fear as "separation anxiety." The child can fear loss but not
know how to deal with it. However, in hearing the story of, say, Cinderella, the child learns to
identify with fairy heroes and heroines and, by such identification, learn the tools of coping with
this confusing world.

I began this book prejudiced. I was sure that I would find a great deal to scorn, but as I plodded
on through it, it grew to be a whole; it came to be a more or less consistent perspective of the
world of a child. However, it is certainly possible to do other kinds of analyses using these same
"data," the stories themselves.

For the purposes of this bibliography, this book is an excellent example of alternative
interpretations possible in all things.