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Friday: May 27, 2011


Morality through Narrative


For a long time now, we have had a fascination with the manner in which stories of our times shape our perception of the world. As children,

we read stories for many reason:


• to have some quality quiet-time with a parent;

• to begin to learn how to read;

• to expand our capacity for visualisation; and

• to discover the world-beyond-our-world.


Beyond those rationales, we should also consider the kind of stories we are told - after all, children's tales have a very distinctive character,

as genres go, that are created with a very special goal in mind. Given this design, perhaps the most important reason we are read children's

stories - as opposed to, for example, magazine articles or instruction manuals - is that, through this medium, we are taught two crucial

elements of how to get along, those being:


• morality; and

• our shared constructs of being (also known as archetypes).


Morality through narrative is not a new concept. Young girls and boys have been taught the elementary

concepts of right and wrong through the stories that they were told for a very long time. Cautionary tales,

such as 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' do not hide the fact that they are aimed

at giving their audience the vicarious learning opportunity to, respectively, avoiding associating with bad

people and lying.








On the right, we show Adrienne Ségur's colour illustration

for 'Le petit chaperon rouge' ('Little Red Riding Hood')

from ''Il était une fois ... vieux contes français'' (1951).


Adrienne Segur - colour illustration for 'Le petit chaperon rouge' ('Little Red Riding Hood') from ''Il etait une fois ... vieus contes francaise'' (1951)


Kay Nielsen - colour illustration for 'Rosebud' from ''Hansel and Gretel and other stories by the Brothers Grimm'' (1925)


The moral sentiments expressed repeatedly in the illustrated stories with the Spirit of the Ages Collection -

particularly those for the children of the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries - are more subtle in content but no

less influential in shaping the behaviour of girls and boy by the consequence of their sheer number. One such

tale is 'Rosebud' collected by the Brothers Grimm - known in modern times as 'Sleeping Beauty' - which

communicates that every good girl has a prince 'out there' waiting to find and save her.








To the left, we show Kay Nielsen's colour illustration

for 'Rosebud' from ''Hansel and Gretel and other

stories from the Brothers Grimm'' (1925).

'Cinderella' - a highly popular tale mad accessible to the masses in 1950 when Disney made it into an animated movie - also echoes

those sentiments and had been told and re-told in numerous versions for centuries. The first known example has been dated to as early

as the 1st Century BC in Ancient Greece. The more modern variant of the tale, however, has arisen from three traditions, the first of which

was written by Giambattists Basile in 1634 as 'The Tale of Cenerentola' with "Stories from the Pentamerone". More than half a century

later, Charles Perrault wrote the next significant variant, 'Cendrillon', in 1697. Later still, the Brothers Grimm collected the final of the major

modern variants, 'Aschenbrödel' in the 19th Century.

Warwick Goble - 'The Fairy appearing to the Prince in the Grotto' from ''Stories from the Pentamerone'' (1911)Harry Clarke - 'Cinderella and her Prince' from ''The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault'' (1922)Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban - 'Aschenbrodel' ('Cinderella') from ''Grimm's Marchen'' (1905)




The Fairy appearing to the

Prince in the Grotto


"Stories from the Pentamerone" (1911)


Illustrated by Warwick Goble




Cinderella; or, The Glass Slipper


Cinderella and her Prince


"The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault" (1922)


Illustrated by Harry Clarke





"Grimm's Märchen" (1905)


Illustrated by Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban


All of these versions share the common elements of a beautiful girl (the central character), wicked step-mother and step-sisters, magical happenings,

a missing slipper, and a hunt by the king for the owner of the missing slipper. Interestingly, the German variant introduced some macabre elements

wherein the Godmother was replaced by a magical tree which grew out of the grave for Aschenbrödel's mother, the step-sisters tried to trick the

Prince by cutting off parts of their feet to make the slipper fit and the Prince is alerted to the deception by birds with peck out the eyes of the

step-sisters so they end their lives as blind beggars. In the Brothers Grimm tale, the Prince is portrayed as being somewhat gullible and less heroic,

and, by contrast, Aschenbrödel seems more elevated in her status with both a strong will and determination. The story seems to have such a dogged

determination in its retelling that is is hard to dismiss the intended affect upon its listeners, namely, that downtrodden girls should work hard to be

loving and then they too will be discovered and married to a loving and powerful man (except in Germany, where the girls can be powerful too!).


Of course, the boys were taught in no less an ambiguous manner. In the aforementioned tales, males were not

the central characters but, nevertheless, were taught that they were to play the hero to the girls. There are many

tales which cast the male as the central character. Stories such as 'The Valiant Tailor', a folktale collected by

the Brothers Grimm, teaches its intended audience that setting forth into the world or adventure must be done

with cleverness as one's guide.








On the right, we show Kay Nielsen's colour illustration

for 'The Valiant Tailor' from ''Hansel and Gretel and

other stories from the Brothers Grimm'' (1925).

Kay Nielsen - colour illustration for 'The Valiant Tailor' from ''Hansel and Gretel and other stories by the Brothers Grimm'' (1925)


Arthur Rackham - 'At the dead time of the night in came the Welsh Giant' from ''The Allies' Fairy Book'' (1916)


This is a concept also borne out in 'Jack the Giant Killer' whereby Jack, a mere farmer's boy - who "confounds

the learned with his penetrating wit" and defeats a string of giants through his own good luck and cleverness to

win great rewards including public recognition of his greatness and marriage - goes on to live happily ever after.

Again, the subtext for females is no less clear that the message set for the boys, that is: adventure is the domain

of clever boys; and domestics that of good girls.








To the left, we show Arthur Rackham's colour

illustration for 'Jack the Giant Killer' from

''The Allies' Fairy Book'' (1916).

Going beyond the vicarious learning that children's tales offer, in our next Blog we will expand upon the concept that this genre facilitates hypnotic

messages regarding the ongoing construction of societal archetypes (a form of collective understanding about constructs like 'father', 'mother',

'hero' and 'villain') that lie at the very core of the beliefs by which our whole expectation of being is determined.




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Blog Archive


Saturday, 30 July, 2011

A Brief History of the Illustrated Book


Friday, 22 July, 2011

Masculinity and Femininity (Part 2)


Saturday, 16 July, 2011

Masculinity and Femininity (Part 1)


Monday, 27 June, 2011

Heroes (Part 3)


Friday, 20 June, 2011

Heroes (Part 2)


Tuesday, 14 June, 2011

Heroes (Part I)


Friday, 7 June, 2011



Monday, 16 May, 2011

"The Sea Battle" by Arthur Rackham

and comparisons between Buccheim's

variant and the description of Thor's

battle with the Midgard Serpent in

the original from the "Norse Edda of

Snorri Sturluson"


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Last modified: 10/03/11