In the 1970s, Bruno Bettelheim revolutionized popular thinking about fairy tales by arguing for the usefulness of “enchantment” in educating children to expect and cope with life’s challenges. One advantage of fairy tales is that they encourage children to use their imagination and thus to understand the positive value of creativity. Because they grow accustomed to reading fairy tales that do have happy endings, they come to accept that most difficulties they will face in life will be successfully resolved. They also learn to identify with the child heroes of fairy tales, thereby identifying with noble qualities such as resourcefulness, courage, and perseverance. If children read only safe stories that did not include crises, they would form unreasonable expectations of life and would be ill-equipped to deal with real problems that inevitably arise.
Both animals and malevolent humans serve the purpose of giving material form to childhood fears and anxieties. These creatures are thus interpreted as manifestations of processes that are already underway in the child’s unconscious. The fairy tale’s structure, usually echoing the heroic quest of traditional sagas and epics, occurs in specific stages. The separation of the hero—who is often a child—from the safety of normal life and subsequent passage through a series of physical dangers are two important phases. The hero’s success in defeating larger-than-life dangers, such as fire-breathing dragons or sorcerers with supernatural powers, provides the child with role models. The safe conclusion, back at home or even in a better environment, builds their confidence that real life will work the same way.