Fairy Tales

   "Once upon a time ..." is a phrase we all recognize from fairy tales we heard as children. These stories occur in every culture, and a number of themes are familiar to us all.
   The Jataka Tales, ancient Indian stories taken from Buddhist writings, tell of animal and human kindness. Their theme is goodness contrasted with evil. The same theme underlies the story of Cinderella. Her fairy godmother represents good, and evil ¡s personified in the wicked step-mother and stepsisters. In the Chí­nese version of this tale, the fairy god-mother's role is played by a talking fish, but the slipper, the prince, and the wedding are all there. In the Algonquin Indian version, the gods, rather than the prince, search for the true Cinderella. One collector of fairy tales estimates that there may be almost 300 different versions of the Cinderella story.
   Another worldwide theme is that of the sleeper and the awakening. A wicked witch or fairy gives a curse, and the sleeper sleeps until awakened by a person of good will. We know this theme in Sleeping Beauty. In an Indian story, the Hindu king Muchukunda is awakened by the Lord Krishna. In an ancient Roman legend, the beautiful maiden Psyche sleeps her magic sleep, in which she is married to Cupid.
   A third universal theme is that of magical transformation, usually brought about by love. Pinocchio turns from a wooden puppet into a donkey, and finally into a real boy. In a Chinese fairy tale, Mrs. Number Three is turned into a donkey and back again.
   Psychologists see fairy tales as a way in which societies pass their values along to their young. Such tales also provide vivid examples of differ­ent kinds of human character. And they communicate eternal human concerns, dreams, and fears—the triumph of good, the power of nature, and the chance of success even for the most unlikely people.