I suppose that the reader will say: has it come to this now that the Standard Bearer busies itself with such things as fairies and fairy tales? If the Standard Bearer loses some of its prestige, I beg to be held excusable. We are obedient sons of the good brother who has the dictatorial powers of assigning articles for the year, and we write about anything that is commanded us, even about fairy tales, and even when we happen to know very little about it. I had hoped that my library would yield me something on this mysterious subject but I was sadly disappointed. This may however develop to my advantage since maybe we will have to be original. Considering that the Standard Bearer likes original material, perhaps, by force of necessity, the prestige of this paper can still be preserved and I get this article out.
If you have children going to school you have perhaps had occasion to look through their reading books. You may have found fairy tales in them. If your children go to a public school, very likely you will find a reader with several fairy tales in them. I have seen them too in books which our Christian schools use. You may have discovered that the children read them with a peculiar delight. The question may have arisen with you as parents whether such fairy tales make good reading for our boys and girls. That is the question which I am attempting to answer in this article.
Reading, we may say, is the art of absorbing anything written.
The primary purpose in teaching our children to read is above all that we may absorb the written Word of God. The very fact that God has revealed Himself to us in writing places upon us the necessity of reading and learning to read. God has limited us to and confined us to reading and hearing what is read, for God has expressed Himself in writing. There is nothing expressed in the Holy Scriptures. How important reading is one can gather from Paul’s letter to Timothy,, where he says to him: “Till I come, give attendance to reading. . . .” Apart from the question whether Paul means to exhort him to reading for himself or practice intelligent reading from the pulpit (I think it is the latter) it is evident that reading is very important. Hence our children must learn to read intelligently and efficiently. If our instruction in reading fails to equip our children to read Scripture, reading has certainly failed of its high purpose. Together with the reading of the divine Thought revealed in Scripture, they should be able also to read other spiritual literature which may help them to understand Scripture better. I do not mean to infer that a course in reading can enable anyone to understand the sacred Word, for without the Spirit even the wisest cannot comprehend’ the things of God, and if you give them the book they shall have to say: give it to someone else, I cannot read it. But reading does surely help the man of God to become thoroughly furnished.
Besides that, reading serves to educate us in many other things which it is well and necessary to know. All manner of thoughts are communicated to us by reading. It helps to educate us, keep us well informed concerning the things of this life which are necessary to know, helps us to attain a well-orbed world and life view, etc. Reading serves also as a pleasure, an enjoyment and a pastime, etc.
This primary purpose reading must serve.
In view of that leading purpose we may speak of reading.as having a content value and a training value. That is, in the reading courses in our schools the only or first question is not necessarily: what do they read, but: are they learning to read. Some stories in the reading books may be of content value, that is, the story or subject may intend to convey some important thought or teach some worthwhile lesson. Some other reading lesson may have little content value, it merely presents some interesting event, fact or fiction, the purpose of which is to acquaint the youths with some new words, longer sentences, plot development, etc. It teaches them to read and acquire efficiency in reading.
Looked at from that viewpoint, the fact, namely, that we must learn to read, we believe that there is room for reading which has training value even though it have little content value. We all recall stories we read when we were children, which were indeed no more than stories, but their very interest and fancy urged us to get the thought, and thus we learned to read. When we grow up we leave behind the childish things, but we carry with us into life the ability to read. And what is the important thing. Human nature being what it is and the child’s mind developing as it does, we can see where a certain amount of stories, tales, etc. in our reading books serves a worthwhile educative purpose.
As the child grows up, the home first, but also the school, must teach the child to make good use of his reading ability. There are many young men and women who seem to have learned to read, only to be able to absorb the trash which the modern news stand has to offer. In this branch, as in every other in our curricula, we have man’s sinfulness and total depravity with which to reckon, to crucify the desire for lust and learn to desire that which is wholesome, also in our reading habits.
Do not misunderstand me now to have said that the end justifies the means. I certainly do not mean to say that we can give our children anything to read, as long as it helps them to acquire reading ability. The Scripture exhorts us: ye that love the Lord hate evil. That antithesis must be maintained also in the matter of reading.
And on the basis of that fact I believe that the fairy tale stands condemned as something which is evil and should not therefore have a place in our schools’ reading books. A fairy tale is not quite the same as tales, anecdotes, fiction etc. A fairy tale is more than that. I will try to make this plain.
Fairies, according to the best authority I can get on this matter, “are imaginary creatures, coming from another world, who come out and play with delighted children”. They are, “always found assisting good people and no one who is cruel and cross need look for any help from them”. Farther, we are informed concerning fairies that they “reward the good and punish the evil.” All kinds of supernatural powers are ascribed to them. If the housewife’s cream turned suddenly sour, if butter would not come, if the apples fell prematurely from the trees, it was likely the work of offended fairies, taking vengeance.
From these few, scattered notices it is evident that the fairy tale is really a type of religion which mixes into itself superstition and cursed idolatry. Heathens looked upon their gods as beings who controlled men’s destinies, blessed or cursed at will, smiled upon you or took vengeance quite as the circumstances might demand. This is idolatry. But the fairy tale presents us that same idolatry, only it is written to amuse children. The fairies are virtually the gods, at least the messengers of the gods. Fairy tales play with spiritualism, with dualism and end in superstition.
Therefore I would condemn the fairy tale. It distorts the truth that “in Him we live and move and have our being” and “that He is not far from each of us”. God rules and controls the world, not by fairies, but by the Spoken Word of His power. The fairy tale teaches a religion, but one that is false. It ascribes to beings the power, will and justice which may be ascribed only to God.
Besides that, as we said before, it creates in children a certain brand of superstition. “Every flower cup may be a fairies’ bedroom, every mushroom a fairies’ dining table” etc. Sheer superstition. God is finally eliminated from His creation, and instead of seeing the Name of God written across the works of creation we see fairies and a mixture of gnomes, trolls and nixies. We confess (in Belg. Conf.) saying that we know God, first by the creation, preservation and government of the universe, which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, in which all creatures, great and small are as so many characters, leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His power and divinity. The fairy tale reduces the great God to nothing and puts the control of the world, punishments and judgments, etc. in the hands of imaginary creatures. And if we would talk about agencies which execute the will of God in this world, then let us speak scripturally and speak of angels. Not the fairies, but the angels are the messengers sent of God to labor in behalf of the heirs of salvation.
One might interrupt and say that when the children grow up they will put away also these childish things. But, if you see how full of superstition the worldly people are, you feel that idolatry is not so easily put away. And besides, it would be tempting God to nourish our children on things that in themselves are wrong, thinking that any good could come out of it.
For all these reasons our children in their training to read, ought not to use means which are harmful to the truth. Instead of that, we must bring them up in the nurture of the Lord, also when we train them to read.