The problem of evil is probably the most disturbing issue that human beings have to face. What is evil and where does it come from? Do we deserve it? This type of questions haunt us all of our lives, and the way we deal with them will most certainly define who we are. It is not often that we come to think about our first contact with this matter: I don’t mean experiencing real evil, but rather, how we came to know its existence in the world. In most of the Western world, this comes through fairytales.
The stories that we grew up with are the ones that the Grimm brothers, Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault wrote based on European oral tradition. Yet, through time they have been modified and censored to suit the current public. Is it perhaps that children nowadays are more sensitive to cruelty, in other words, to the problem of evil? However, haven’t there been many complaints from parents about videogames and movies making children violent and tolerant towards brutality? The concern about what the young should know and think is continuously present in society because adults are aware that the stance that one takes about the problem of evil is crucial in order to shape morally responsible people.
What can indeed be tricky is deciding what to include and what not to include in children’s stories. Often, extreme censorship is lead by parents who enjoy economic stability and to whom poverty and hunger are far an issue, and who want to protect their babies from learning that the world is not all unicorns and bubbles. Denying evil to children is quite problematic, since it is a matter that all human beings have to face and think about.
It is fine to include a wicked witch or a bad wolf in fairytales; these characters will introduce children to important human questions.
P.S. The fact that most villains in traditional fairytales are independent women is another interesting topic that may be considered in another entry in this blog.