PHS Digital Journalism Project: Why Fairytales?
By Braxton Perry Portland High School
A brother and a sister are abandoned in the woods, alone and frightened. As they make their way to a clearing in the woods, they are greeted by a house made out of gingerbread, cake, and candy. More hungry than they had ever been before, they tear into the outside of the house and eat. As they are indulging, they do not hear the door of the house open behind them. Behind the door, was an old witch who invited them inside to eat some more. Do you recognize this tale? It has been told to countless kids and adults alike in many different ways. The main idea stays the same in all the ways it’s told is the moral of the story, never trust strangers. However, we can forget these stories don’t always have a happy ending.
As time goes on, we manage to move away from the morals of the tales told to us and to a “brighter and happier ending”. For example, you might read Hansel and Gretel, which is a delightful story. However looking deeper, we can see that this story is set in Germany. In this time, a famine had hit and the mother and father of the family, of 2 kids, were starving. So the stepmother told the father to bring the kids to the woods so they would starve and the father and stepmother wouldn’t. They try once and fail because Hansel and Gretel overheard them and collected white rocks to lead them home. The next time they try, the plan works since the children couldn’t grab rocks. So they grabbed bread, which was eaten by birds before they could follow it to get home. After a few days they find a house, made of sugary sweets. An old witch catches them eating her house and brings them inside. She locks Hansel in a cage and feeds him. Eventually she gets pushed into a stove, burns alive, and lets the kids escape. When they find their way home, the mother dies and the father is happy to see them. Even though this isn’t proven to have even occurred, it still could have been a real thing. In the 1300’s, Germany did suffer a huge famine and families often became desperate. This date is theorized to be the setting of the story. The Brothers Grimm, who wrote this story in 1812, said they based it off a tale made in the 17th century by Hans Metzler and his sister Grete.
Mrs. Pohl’s class, Fairytales and Folklore, is a class that covers stories like Hansel and Gretal, Little Red Riding Hood, and many more. This is not to be confused with mythology. “ Mythology mostly consists of gods where good and evil are not as defined as fairy tales,” Raelynn Holliday. Mrs Pohl’s reason for starting this class is as follows,” I created this class because I love fairytales and I realized so many students don’t know most of the more common stories. Now everyone can have a chance at understanding them.” However this class doesn’t just scratch the surface of the stories, it looks into the history of each story which creates a cultural awareness while reading each tale. Most of the stories are passed down during times in history that we don’t like talking about. In this class, students will learn about all the different stories, their backgrounds, and who made them. They will make your own story using a main character ( werewolf or etc) and fit into the time you're writing it into. For example, if students wanted to write a story about a werewolf in our modern day and age, a student could describe what environment it’s in and if it has any special characteristics. Students will also make a podcast that will dive deep into the lore of the tales being told. Students are expected to do research to find what they need and present it on a podcasting platform.
You may be asking, why is class important? As our generations move away from all the pen and paper stories and into the electronic era of learning, details are bound to be lost. All these stories come from different places, in different times, from different points of view. In the Little Red Riding Hood, after the grandma gets eaten, so does the kid. In the original story, there is no woodcutter that saves the day. The story ends after the people are eaten and the wolf falls asleep. Perhaps the original story is often lost as well as the intended purpose. As time goes on, we make all the dark stories have happy endings because no one likes it when everyone dies, right? When we change the story, it changes the moral or learning lesson of it too. In the Little Red Riding Hood, the real moral is to listen to your caregivers and don’t tell strangers where you're going. In the newer version, the moral is to rely on others when in need. You see how much of a change that is? With our world ever changing, we need guidance to give us the right idea about the stories we read. This is why we need people (or a class) to address it.
With cultures disappearing with time, since the new age of technology is so distracting, the opportunity to look at those cultures should always be open. With a class, you are allowed to look in the past and see if the people were crazy or if what they said made sense, in a way.
This article is part of a series written by PHS Digital Journalism students taught by Ms. Chandra Polasek. The articles were written for posting on The Portland Beacon. All articles are original work of the students.