Why does the story "The Rocking Horse Winner" begin like a fairy tale?
The story begins like a fairy tale because it uses magic and is designed to teach a moral, that you should focus on those you love and not material possessions.
The story begins with a description of a woman.
There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck.
This is a very fairy-tale like beginning, because it introduces the woman as being beautiful (common in a fairy tale), but also comments on her luck.
There is also an element of magic in the story, just as with a fairy tale. The boy uses the rocking horse to put himself into a magical trance-like state so that he can determine the winners of the horse races.
The boy insisted on putting a thousand on the horse, Bassett went for five hundred, and Oscar Cresswell two hundred. Lively Spark came in first, and the betting had been ten to one against him, Paul had made ten thousand.
Finally, there is a clear moral to the story. Because Hester is more concerned with money than her son, and she loses her son because of it.
He neither slept nor regained consciousness, and his eyes were like blue stones. His mother sat, feeling her heart had gone, turned actually into a stone.
It is his mother’s greed and unceasing desire for money that causes her son’s death. She thinks only of herself, and she pays with her son’s life. He wanted to take care of her, to help her. His was a self-less sacrifice, and hers was a completely selfish act.
The short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner" begins like a fairy tale to set the scene for the remainder of the story, which incorporates many elements of the fairy tale genre. First of all, many fairy tales begin with "Once upon a time . . . " This story begins in much the same way, with "There was a woman," and in paragraph two, "There were a boy and two little girls . . . " This structure echoes that of the classic fairy tale's "once upon a time."
Secondly, fairy tales typically have a magic object. Of course, in this tale, that is the rocking horse. Thirdly, the protagonist, Paul, must overcome an obstacle: "no money." This task, unfortunately, leads to his death. In addition to an overarching obstacle, fairy tales typically have an antagonist who has an evil motivation. The mother is this antagonist—she is driven by her own greed for personal gain. Lastly, fairy tales teach a lesson. One of the main themes of this tale is that materialism and greed can lead to destruction. Therefore, this story could easily be discussed as a fairy tale in much the same light as "Hansel and Gretel" and other well-known fairy tales.
The story begins like a fairy tale because it will introduce an element of the supernatural, which is common in the fairy tale genre. Whether we realize it or not, we are cued how to read a story by elements in the story, and so Lawrence begins with the fairytale motif of filling in background quickly without providing specific names or places. This gives the story its mythic, timeless quality. It also introduces us to the classic fairytale "witch" in the form of the mother who is incapable of loving her children.
Lawrence will move into some small sense of place or time; the Derby clues us in, for example, that the setting is England, but the story largely continues in a generic way. We don't know what city the family lives in, the name of their street, or their last name, although we do learn Uncle Oscar's last name.
This fairytale quality makes us accept the magic of Paul being able to predict winning racehorses by riding his rocking horse furiously, a situation that would make no sense in a realistic story. It also allows the story to act as a fable with a moral.