What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us about Content
If you thought fairytales were a way of impressing upon children the virtues of selfless endeavour and that good always triumphs over evil, then you are as naïve as most of the rescued princesses featured, and that’s where the content lesson comes in…
Richard Dawkins’ assertion that telling children fairy tales is harmful is bang on the money but not for the reasons he gives. Storytelling is powerful; stories shape how we see the world and what we believe in. Some stories have been around for centuries and fairy tales are among the most popular of these perennial fables. But what do fairy tales actually teach children and what can we learn from them about handling content? Well, if you thought they were a way of impressing upon children the virtues of selfless endeavour and that good always triumphs over evil, then you are as naïve as most of the rescued princesses featured, and that’s where the content lesson comes in…
What does Cinderella teach us? The moral of this tale is that there is nothing more important than shoes and that hard work is meaningless – you need the lady with the wand to get you out of the fireplace and into the palace. Our heroine’s indomitable spirit, formidable work ethic and cheery attitude in the face of tragic bereavement landed her nothing but mice for friends and (in the Disney version at least) a tiny, draughty bedroom. The mean-as-snakes stepsisters, on the other hand, were lazy and cruel but they got to sleep in a proper bed, wear nice dresses and have their meals prepared for them. It worked out for Cindy in the end but only because of the magic dress and those awesome shoes.
Three Billy Goats Gruff.
The grass IS greener – you’re right – it IS better over the other side and it’s just fine to take out a couple of endangered species in your quest to get there. In the goats’ defence, they do look after their own, little goat and the medium-sized one went across first, but the poor old troll was only doing his job and there were three of them and only one of him. And also, why did it take them so long to come up with that particular plan? Hardly rocket science.
Apples are NOT good for you. If there was ever a reason to be resistant to getting your five a day, Snow White would be it. Should you happen to get the wrong one, you may die and I seriously doubt that in this day and age a prince is likely to come trotting by on his noble steed, open your glass coffin and kiss your reeking corpse in the faint hope that you’re his one true love. I’ll just have some crisps if it’s all the same to you.
Try anything to get what you want. That couple were clearly far too old to conceive a child naturally, so they baked one instead. And as if baking a child wasn’t bad enough, when he came out of the oven they were so old they couldn’t keep up with him when he ran off and he was eaten by a fox. Just imagine the headlines and the review of social services practices that would have caused had it happened today.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Crime does pay. It’s fine to steal if you’re poor. No really. Just shimmy up that beanstalk / drainpipe and help yourself. After all it’s for your dear old ma, isn’t it…
It takes a man to rescue a female who has screwed up. And Sleeping Beauty screwed up badly. She KNEW that a spinning wheel would have a central role in her demise but still made a beeline for it. I suppose you do have to cut her some slack for her background. Being taken from your parents and being raised in a wood by some fairies is enough to unbalance anyone. But, really? Make an effort.
Unusually, this tale does contain a valuable lesson still worth heeding today. Yes, you do have to invite that grouchy old aunt who smells to the christening. Never mind that she makes dragons look cuddly, the consequences of missing her off the list are simply unimaginable.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Caught on the rob? Just leg it and don’t look back.
Little Red Riding Hood
Visiting the sick and elderly is a really bad idea, goodness only knows what could happen when you rock up with your basket of goodies. Miss Hood obviously hadn’t been for a while as she didn’t even recognise her own grandmother, but look what happened when she did finally make the effort.
What’s this got to do with content?
It’s all about getting the angle right. Everything is vulnerable to interpretation and the angle you intend might not be how others read it, so you need to consider alternative perspectives. All businesses have a range of stakeholders whose interests and needs vary but you can’t fully control who reads what, and you need to consider this when putting your content out there. Your story must be completely consistent across all platforms and you need to take into account how it may be viewed by, for example, investors, existing and potential clients, current and future employees. So, if you want to live happily ever after, make sure you consider all the angles.