Cover Photo: from Märchenbuch, a German book of fairy tales (c. 1919) / image via wikimedia
from Märchenbuch, a German book of fairy tales (c. 1919) / image via wikimedia

The Stepmother or the Saint: How Fairy Tales Depict the Different Facets of Motherhood

In fairy tales, the only good mother is a dead one.

This isTales for Willful Readersa monthly column by Cate Fricke on the lasting power of folk and fairy tales, how they have influenced us individually and collectively, and the lessons they offer for modern life.

But babies bring joy, and we don’t want to grow old without a family—what a lonely thought! Sometimes I can’t help but bristle at the announcements of newly expectant cousins, as though each new member of the extended family casts a shade of pity on my husband and me—a shade I wouldn’t mind shrugging off. None of us wants to be lonely. Many of us want children because we don’t want to be childless.

image via New York Public Library Digital Collections

image via wikimedia

Spinning Straw into Gold,

The Uses of Enchantment

The Uses of Enchantment

image via wikimedia

What kind of mother will I be?

At work and at home, I battle with the sudden drops in mood that accompany a day or two of forgetting to take my anxiety medication, a medication that I might have to wean myself off of in order to carry and feed a child the way my body was designed to do.

Rosemary’s BabyThe Babadook,Mommie DearestThe Orphanage,

image via wikimedia

But sad, haunted Bettelheim has more to say about families in fairy tales; despite his own disturbing end, he assures his readers that in both fairy tales and in life, “with good will and effort things can be righted again.” His assurances, again, were intended for children, but as every matron was once a child herself, I think we adults can also take his words to heart. If we are indeed agents of our own transformation, then I would like to think that even on my most wicked days, with good will and effort, I can push through and become the saint again.

Cate's fiction, plays, and book reviews have been published by The Masters Review, Fairy Tale Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Sycamore Review, Bookslut, Slate, Stage Partners, and more. She lives in State College, Pennsylvania.