5 Reasons Why Myths, Folktales and Fairytales Stand the Test of Time

Naomi Howarth
Category: Reading

Tug of War is a beautiful new story from Naomi Howarth about the power of brains over brawn. The book is a re-telling of a well-known fairytale, and to celebrate its release we asked Naomi to tell us why she thinks myths, folk tales and fairytales continue to capture our imaginations.

 

Folk and fairytales evoke a sense of place, culture and social history

The essence and feel of a place can be captured so evocatively through folktales. Having grown up in Scotland, my favourite tale is of the Selkie. 

Cover of Stories by Firelight by Shirley Hughes
Selkies are transformative creatures who can shed their seal skins and turn into humans. There are many stories of Selkies integrating themselves amongst humans, only for there to be sad consequences. The Selkie tales capture the wild beauty and loneliness of my favourite parts of the world.

When I was researching Selkies, I found an account that reported that women in Orkney would paint the sign of the cross over their chests if they were walking by the sea, in order to ward off the Selkies. This is a fascinating insight into the social history, the culture of that community, and the power and belief in storytelling and folklore. 

Shirley Hughes' book Stories by Firelight contains a lovely children's adaptation of the Selkie myth. 

They are proof of the power and breadth of imagination

Many myths provide fantastic explanations of natural phenomena. Why not explain these incredible things in incredible ways?

One of my favourite examples is of the Greek Myth of Persephone and Hades. Persephone is taken into the underworld by Hades, who wants her for his wife. Persephone’s mother Demeter, the goddess of the earth, is so sad that all the plants wither. Persephone falls in love with Hades, but still misses the bright earth, so it is settled she will divide her time between the two worlds. When Persephone comes back to the earth, Demeter is so happy that all the plants grow again, and as soon as Persephone returns to the underworld, they wither. This becomes known as Summer and Winter. 

Cover of Greedy Zebra
Through folktales, some of the most playful and imaginative explanations about the characteristics of animals are told. A beloved childhood staple of mine was Greedy Zebra by Mwenye Hadithi. It is a very funny story of how the Zebra got his stripes.

 

They can serve as a strong moral compass

We can learn so much through these tales about right and wrong, how to treat others and self-belief. They are a way to teach children and adults alike about the consequences of choice and action, through opening up a space for thought and discussion. Importantly, they present children with the concept that life will confront them with dark times, whilst equipping them with the tools to understand and navigate these times. 

An obvious example of this is the Grimm’s Fairytales. Evidence in themselves of the longevity of fairytales, they have been retold by everyone from Phillip Pullman to Walt Disney. My favourite retelling as a child was depicted in the stunning illustrations by Jan Pienkowski. 

 

They can unite us with their timeless and universal messages

No matter what age, race, background or gender you are, storytelling transcends barriers. In particular, folktales and fairytales are stories of human nature - the strength and fragility of it - and they deal with universal issues. In a world where walls seem to be going up, it’s more important than ever to share the joys and tribulations of human experience through the simple but powerful means of storytelling. 

 

They are a strong link to past generations

Cover of Russian Fairy Tales by Alexander Afanasyev
Not only can these stories unite us in the present, they have provided us with an unbroken thread to our past. My Grandmother, who was half Russian, read a lot of Russian fairytales to me and my sisters. It gave us a sense of connection to this otherwise seemingly distant culture and background.

A particular favourite tale was that of Baba Yaga - A witch with iron teeth who eats children and lives in a hut on chicken legs. It is very dark, and was absolutely thrilling, especially when Granny would read it to us, gnashing her teeth on cue!

Tug of War by Naomi Howarth is out now!

To find more recommendations of fantastic picture books, check out our book lists, including this selection of fairytale-inspired books for 3-7 year olds.

You can also hear some beautiful traditional stories from around the world in our Authors Live: Storytelling Relay event, available to watch on demand.

Naomi Howarth

Cover of Tug of War
Naomi Howarth was born and brought up in Edinburgh. She studied Costume for Performance at the London College of Fashion, where she graduated with a First in 2010. Naomi’s illustrations combine lithography with watercolour, and she has a strong interest in myth, legend and folklore. Naomi's books tell timeless and meaningful tales that engage young readers to think about the inspiring wonder of the natural world. In 2014 Naomi won a place on the inaugural Picture Hooks mentoring scheme and was mentored by Catherine Rayner. Her work has been exhibited in the National Gallery of Scotland and Jagged Art in London.

Naomi’s first book, The Crow’s Tale, was shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Her second book, Tug of War, is inspired by a well-known myth from West Africa. Both are published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.  

For more information about Naomi Howarth you can visit her website to find out more about her books and see examples of her art and design work.

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