When I first became a parent, I worried about whether my daughter would be a reader. Books were an integral part of my childhood—ultimately leading to my decision to have a go at a career as a writer—and I wanted my daughter to love fables and myth as much as I did. I introduced her to technology and video games early, so in order to counteract that I always told her stories.
Myths and fables have been part of human culture since there has been human culture. Stories are how we explain things to each other. Yet if you are a fan of mythology or fables, you know how many of them contain violence and sexual situations, making them not so great for children. The great thing about these stories is that they are adaptable to a point.
The “moral” of the story is often what’s important for parents to impart to their children, but if it is too obvious, the lesson will be lost on the children. So it’s important to tell the tale in an engaging and exciting way. For example, take the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. It has a clear moral—follow your parents’ instructions—but can be tricky to tell a child, because Icarus dies in the end.
First, you should familiarize yourself with the story in its original form. In this case the oldest and most popular version comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a Roman adaption of Greek myth for that culture. Still, the basic story is simple: Daedalus tells Icarus to not fly on his homemade wings too close to the sun, but Icarus does and then dies.
As parents we have an impulse to shield our kids from ugly truth, such as the lesson of this fable. Sometimes as parents we tell our children not to do things that may have mortal consequences. How you deal with Icarus falling into the sea is up to you. You can tell it as written or soften the blow by having him fall onto another island, alive yet alone. What remains important is that you don’t alter the moral.
Everyone would like to think that Daedalus swooped down heroically and saved his son from drowning, but that would lessen the impact of the lesson. Tragic fables like these are a much kinder way to learn these terrible truths than finding out through personal experience. Children can relate to the fact that Icarus, caught up in the splendor of flight, forgot his father’s advice, which is why the consequences Icarus faces will also resonate with them.
Icarus died so that billions of future children would live (and clean their rooms, not take rides from strangers, and stay out of the mysteriously forbidden drawer that every house seems to have).
How do you handle the oftentimes tough morals of fairy tales and myths?