The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
Hansel and Gretel. Jack and the Beanstalk. Little Red Riding Hood. Fairy tales fill our bookcases, appear on our television screens and in our theatres, on the side of buses and in the choruses of our favourite songs. They’re virtually impossible to escape from such is their prevalence in everyday culture, yet they are much more than simply fantastical tales of beautiful princesses, talking animals and evil step-mothers.
Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, stated that it is through fairytales that one can best study the comparative anatomy of the psyche. In the field of Jungian analytical psychology, fairy tales are viewed as playing an essential role in the obtention of a wider understanding of human nature. This is because in stories such as Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White there is much less cultural-conscious material than there are in myths and legends, which means they are able to mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly.
In her 1970 book, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz describes fairy tales as ‘the purest and simplest expression of the collective unconscious psychic process... representing the archetypes in their simplest, barest and most concise form.’ Archetypes are defined as universal, innate models of people, behaviours or personalities that play a role in influencing human behaviour.
In her study, von Franz analyses the fairy tale of The Three Feathers by the Brothers Grimm to illustrate her theory. It tells the tale of a king who, in choosing his successor, sets challenges for his sons by throwing feathers and sending each one out to collect an item from the direction that each feather falls. After the youngest, and apparently most stupid, of his sons returns each time with the best item thanks to the help of a magical toad, he is given the throne and rules the kingdom.
Von Franz points to several motifs within the story as evidence of archetypes as defined by Jung. For example, the king represents the divine principle in its visible form, embodying the totem spirit of the tribe, and therefore has many characteristics that suggest he is the symbol of the Self archetype (the centre of the self-regulating system of the psyche). Dummling, the youngest son can be interpreted as the hero archetype, a motif based on overcoming objects and achieving certain goals, while the other two sons who are more intelligent yet miss out on becoming king, represent the typical basis for building up the two auxiliary functions in a human being.
Through this example, we can see how fairy tales play an important role in expressing archetypes, from the shadow and the hero to the anima and animus. The simple, stripped-down characters help us to identify archetypes in their starkest form and see how they exist within ourselves, perhaps in a more effective way than any other material is capable of doing.
The Jungian Confrerie offers you the chance to explore fairy tales in a safe, professional and confidential environment. Their psychoanalysts are fully-trained in methods of Jungian psychotherapy, with world-renowned services are offered across central London, Bermondsey, Southwark and London Bridge, as well as Colchester in Essex. To find out more call 07809 668193 or get in touch by email.
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