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Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know

Mystery and wonder enfold all things


No one can understand the modern world without the aid of the imagination, and as the frontiers of knowledge are pushed still further away from the obvious and familiar, there will be an increasing tax on the imagination. The world of dead matter which our fathers thought they understood has become a world of subtle forces moving with inconceivable velocity; nothing is inert, all things are transformed into other and more elusive shapes precisely as the makers of the fairy tales foresaw and predicted; the world lives in every atom just as their world lived; forces lie just outside the range of physical sight, but entirely within the range of spiritual vision, precisely as the tellers of these old stories divined; mystery and wonder enfold all things, and not only evoke the full play of the mind, but flood it with intimations and suggestions of the presence of more elusive and subtle forces, of finer and more obedient powers, as the world of fairies, magi and demons enfolded the ancient earth of daily toil and danger.

In a word, the fairy stories have come true; they are historical in the sense that they faithfully report a stage of spiritual growth and predict a higher order of realities through a deeper knowledge of actualities. They were poetic renderings of facts which science is fast verifying, chiefly by the use of the same faculty which enriched early literature with the myth and the fairy tale. The scientist has turned poet in these later days, and the imagination which once expressed itself in a free handling of facts so as to make them answer the needs and demands of the human spirit, now expresses itself in that breadth of vision which reconstructs an extinct animal from a bone and analyzes the light of a sun flaming on the outermost boundaries of space.

This collection of tales, gathered from the rich literature of the childhood of the world, or from the books of the few modern men who have found the key of that wonderful world, is put forth not only without apology, but with the hope that it may widen the demand for these charming reports of a world in which the truths of our working world are loyally upheld, while its hard facts are quietly but authoritatively dismissed from attention. The widest interpretation has been given to the fairy tale, so as to include many of those classic romances of childhood in which no fairy appears, but which are invested with the air and are permeated with the glorious freedom of fairy land.

No sane man or woman undervalues the immense gains of the modern world in the knowledge of facts and the application of ideas to things in order to secure comfort, health, access to the treasure in the earth and on its surface, the means of education and greater freedom from the tyranny of toil by the accumulation of the fruits of toil; but no sane man or woman believes that a mechanical age is other than a transitional age, that the possession of things is the final achievement of society, and that in multiplication of conveniences civilization will reach its point of culmination.

We are so engrossed in getting rich that we forget that by and by, when we have become rich, we shall have to learn how to live; for work can never be an end in itself; it is a "means of grace" when it is not drudgery; and it must, in the long run, be a preparation for play. For play is not organized idleness, frivolity set in a fanciful order; it is the normal, spontaneous exercise of physical activity, the wholesome gayety of the mind, the natural expression of the spirit, without self-consciousness, constraint, or the tyranny of hours and tasks. It is the highest form of energy, because it is free and creative; a joy in itself, and therefore a joy in the world. This is the explanation of the sense of freedom and elation which come from a great work of art; it is the instinctive perception of the fact that while immense toil lies behind the artist's skill, the soul of the creation came from beyond the world of work and the making of it was a bit of play. The man of creative spirit is often a tireless worker, but in his happiest hours he is at play; for all work, when it rises into freedom and power, is play. "We work," wrote a Greek thinker of the most creative people who have yet appeared, "in order that we may have leisure." The note of that life was freedom; its activity was not "evoked by external needs, but was free, spontaneous and delightful; an ordered energy which stimulates all the vital and mental powers."


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