So many of us grew up on the fairy tales of our families' cultures. No matter where you are from, there are stories that are native to your history, and you probably know them by heart. But at some time in our personal history, we discard these tales as childish. We tuck them away to share with the next generation, and see them again through a child's eyes. In doing so, we lose the pleasure of a lifetime with these tales, and fail to get the full enjoyment of them.
When children hear old stories, they hear them at the level of the plot: A princess was born, her parents failed to invite a fairy, and that fairy got angry and set a curse on the child. Though the curse could not be cancelled, it was softened, and the princess was ultimately saved and lived happily ever after. An older child or adult, however, capable of thinking more symbolically, can see a whole different world in this tale. An adult may find that the king and queen are more empathetic than the princess, as they struggle desperately to protect their much wanted, and now doomed only child. The frustration and fear of the parents who destroy every spinning wheel in the kingdom, only to have a single wheel slip past them, and their precious daughter harmed. They too, ultimately sleep away their deep grief, a metaphor for profound depression after loss. Rapunzel's captor seeks to keep her a child forever, locked literally in a tower, never cutting her hair, and yet, she matures, and escapes the confining parent to find her partner, and build her own family, independent of her parents.
The innocence of the princess also carries a deeper meaning. The unwitting curiosity of the princess is what leads to her downfall. She cannot help but be tempted by the wheel. In some stories, she has been warned about the dangers of the wheel, and in some, she's kept ignorant. In both variations, she falls victim to the inevitable temptation, as she must. Themes of taking advantage of the innocent, and easy temptation are ongoing throughout the most classic tales. We see Hansel and Gretel tempted by a candy house, though the adults recognize that a pleasure so out of place might be a danger. Snow White is tempted by the shine on an apple, delivered by hand to her little hidden cottage in the forest, and takes it, and is poisoned. Red Riding Hood ignores her mother's instruction to stay on the path, and is nearly devoured by a wolf. Both parents and children share in the understanding of parental love and protection, and its consequences.
Sexual themes are generally approached gently, so that small children who are ignorant of sex may enjoy the story, yet remain ignorant until further in their development, but adults perceive those details immediately. In some retellings of Sleeping Beauty, the young woman is awakened through the act of sex, (though modern productions reduce it to a kiss) or even later, when the children are born of the act, and crawl up their mother's body to nurse. Such a tale may be the catalyst for children's questions about their bodies, and the reproductive process, and it can be, though it was probably not so in history, an opening for discussions about respect and consent, and sexual responsibility for children who are approaching maturity.
These plots are classic, often taken from oral histories, but the themes remain. As humanity grows and changes, some things remain eternal: the passionate intensity of new love, the watchful adoration of parents for their children, moving from the protection of the home into a world fraught with danger and deception. Some ideas fade into the history of a story, but new ones are born as ideas about who we are as human beings changes with time. The hearts of these tales still beat, and that is why we still tell them. That timelessness is their truest value.