Fabulous fantasy: The power and magic of fairy-tales

Fabulous fantasy: The power and magic of fairy-tales

J.K. Rowling explores the powerful format of the fairy-tale in her new book “The Ickabog”.

Originally written as a bedtime story to read aloud to her own children,  it has become an international phenomenon. During COVID-19 Rowling wanted to do something for the children and carers stuck in lockdown, so she retrieved the manuscript from the attic and released it as a free online serial. Children were invited to illustrate the story they were reading each day, and the very best of those illustrations appear in the printed book that is now on sale at your local bookshop. It’s a beautifully packaged book, certain to be treasured by children for many years.

But why do children love reading fairy-tales, or having them read aloud? What is it about a fairy-tale that makes it universally popular across cultures and decades?

According to child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology  and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, even in our own age, fairy-tales still have a lot to teach children about life, and indeed give us key imaginary experiences that shape us throughout our lives.

“Fairy-tales are important not because they show children how life is, but because they give form to deep fears and dreams about life through fantasy,” Goddard Blythe says.

“The important thing to remember is that children take on these stories at the developmental level they are capable of. In fairy-tales, it’s always clear that this isn’t the real world. The characters might be unfamiliar to the child but the problems and the feelings that are dealt with are themselves often very true to life. Fairy tales give children a way, through stories that are safely set apart from themselves, to understand some of the really confusing and difficult feelings that they can’t yet articulate for themselves.”

Firstly, she explains, the black-and-white nature of fairy-tales helps children feel comfortable and that makes them perfect for learning important life lessons, such as those around behaviour and basic morality.

“The simplistic, good-versus-bad narrative of fairy-tales and the characters within them help children deal with uncertainty – it’s uncertainty that makes children anxious. By setting up this clear dichotomy from the beginning, and following this basic rubric throughout, whatever the story, fairy tales help children feel safe and comfortable with the story as it develops. So even if the hero or heroine at the centre of the tale experiences difficulties or hardship along the way, children can feel confident that they are going in the right direction.”

Conversely, the wicked stepmothers, witches, trolls, wolves and imps that make life generally difficult for everyone supply another important life lesson. “Learning that there are some wicked people in the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing for children,” says Goddard Blythe. “We don’t always help our children by allowing them to believe that the world they go into will always be easy or that other people will always understand them or make allowances for them.”

Fairy-tales allow kids a safe place to explore the idea that life isn’t always easy, that things can go wrong, and people don’t always have your best interests at heart. At the same time, as the “good” characters are usually rewarded at the end, it’s a way of reinforcing positively the importance of being kind, thoughtful and true.

Then there are the more specific lessons kids get from different fairy-tales, which can help them develop important life skills. “In The Ugly Duckling, for example, children hear about this duckling who doesn’t fit in, who isn’t the same as the others, and who all the other ducklings pick on and bully. They recognise this feeling of not fitting in; they understand it; it’s how many children feel in all sorts of situations, whether it’s their first day at nursery or school, or simply when they try something they are unsure or afraid of. So they learn to empathise, they understand that it is important to be kind. And then, of course, the duckling turns into a beautiful swan, which teaches them about not judging by outward experiences, and how people can change and evolve in life.”

In The Emperor’s New Clothes, children learn to speak out when they see something is wrong, even if everybody else is acting like it’s okay; the fact that you only have to say to a child “your nose is growing” for them to understand you know they’re telling fibs is testament to the lessons contained in Pinocchio; and Little Red Riding Hood has important lessons about the dangers of talking to strangers. All of which can be taken, translated and utilised by children in daily life.

Even as we grow up, fairy-tales stay with us – and according to Goddard Blythe, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (though you might want to consider trying a new film genre). “As adults, fairy tales are comforting to us because of their familiarity. They remind us of a time in our childhood before we had responsibilities and all the uncertainty and insecurity of adult life. And the message of each is ultimately positive – these happily-ever-after stories reassure us that somehow, in some way, with time everything will be alright in the end.” A pretty good lesson to take through life!



An original fairy tale: Read a review of The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling

Review | Our Review

10 November 2020

An original fairy tale: Read a review of The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling

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The Ickabog is coming... A mythical monster, a kingdom in peril, an adventure that will test two children's bravery to the limit. Discover a brilliantly original fairy tale about the power of hope and friendship to triumph against all odds, from one of the world's best storytellers. The kingdom of Cornucopia was once the happiest in the world. It had plenty of gold, a king with the finest moustaches you could possibly imagine, and butchers, bakers and cheesemongers whose exquisite foods made a person dance with delight when they ate them. Everything was perfect - except for the misty Marshlands to the north which, according to legend, were home to the monstrous Ickabog. Anyone sensible knew that the Ickabog was just a myth, to scare children into behaving. But the funny thing about myths is that sometimes they take on a life of their own. Could a myth unseat a beloved king? Could a myth bring a once happy country to its knees? Could a myth thrust two children into an adventure they didn't ask for and never expected? If you're feeling brave, step into the pages of this book to find out... A beautiful hardback edition, perfect for sharing and gift-giving. Brought to life with full-colour illustrations by the young winners of The Ickabog Illustration Competition.

Publisher details

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
J.K. Rowling
Children’s Fiction
01 February, 2017


The Tales of Beedle the Bard have been favourite bedtime reading in wizarding households for centuries. Full of magic and trickery, these classic tales both entertain and instruct, and remain as captivating to young wizards today as they were when Beedle first put quill to parchment in the fifteenth century. There are five tales in all: 'The Tale of the Three Brothers' Harry Potter fans will know from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; 'The Fountain of Fair Fortune', 'The Warlock's Hairy Heart', 'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot' and 'Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump' complete the collection. These narrative gems are accompanied by explanatory notes by Professor Albus Dumbledore (included by kind permission of the Hogwarts Headmaster's archive). His illuminating thoughts reveal the stories to be much more than just simple moral tales, and are sure to make Babbitty Rabbitty and the slug-belching Hopping Pot as familiar to Muggles as Snow White and Cinderella.This brand new edition of these much loved fairy tales from the wizarding world pairs J.K. Rowling's original text with gorgeous jacket art by Jonny Duddle and line illustrations throughout by Tomislav Tomic.The Tales of Beedle the Bard is published in aid of the Lumos (link to wearelumos.org), an international children's charity (registered charity number 1112575) founded in 2005 by J.K Rowling.Lumos is dedicated ending the institutionalisation of children, a harmful practice that affects the lives of up to eight million disadvantaged children around the world who live in institutions and orphanages, many placed there as a result of poverty, disability, disease, discrimination and conflict; very few are orphans. Lumos works to reunite children with their families, promote family-based care alternatives and help authorities to reform their systems and close down institutions and orphanages.
J.K. Rowling
About the author

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is best known as the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which were published between 1997 and 2007. The enduringly popular adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione have gone on to sell over 500 million copies, be translated into over 80 languages and made into eight blockbuster films. Alongside the Harry Potter series, she also wrote three short companion volumes for charity: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in aid of Comic Relief and Lumos, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in aid of Lumos. J.K. Rowling collaborated with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany to continue Harry's story in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in London in 2016 and is now playing in Europe, North America and Australia. In the same year, she made her debut as a screenwriter with the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a series featuring Magizoologist Newt Scamander, which was inspired by the original companion volume. J.K. Rowling has also written a standalone novel, The Casual Vacancy, and is the author of the Strike crime series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Both have been adapted for television. She has received many awards and honours, including an OBE and a Companion of Honour for services to literature and philanthropy. She lives in Scotland with her family.

Books by J.K. Rowling


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