5 Reasons Why Myths, Folktales and Fairytales Stand the Test of Time
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.
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.
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
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!
You can also hear some beautiful traditional stories from around the world in our Authors Live: Storytelling Relay event, available to watch on demand.