‘Folktales and fairy tales have no place in the modern world.’ How far do you agree?

A defining characteristic of homo sapiens that places us at the apex of Earth’s creatures is arguably our capacity for creative thinking and imagination. For a testament to that, one need not look further than our pantheon of folktales and fairy tales, fictional stories that have endured the test of time and have permeated throughout cultures, some even gaining global acknowledgement. Despite their name alluding to childhood naivety or ungrounded, unrealistic fantasies, their sheer tenacity in withstanding the tides of time suggest there is an undeniably inherent value in keeping them alive. However, skeptics may argue that modernity, typified by the glorification of scientific achievement and rationality, is proving to be an unwelcoming climate for continued perpetuation of these stories. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that folktales and fairy tales still retain their foothold in the modern world due to the timelessness of the values they impart, the feelings they inspire and their close ties to larger cultures. 

We are currently experiencing the Fourth Technological Revolution, on the threshold of achieving monumental breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and cosmopolitan cities across the globe are transitioning into digitally empowered smart cities. In an age where science has reached its zenith, the tomes of folklore that predated it seem archaic in comparison. At best, these unempirical works of fiction [seemingly] only retain nostalgic value and should have no place in modern society, or at best be relegated to the sidelines to entertain the imaginative minds of children. [In fact], even children and youth today have outgrown the tales of Hans Christian Anderson in favour of new media’s cast of characters, for example [those of] the fanatically popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although its band of heroes requires a viewer’s suspension of disbelief, its situation in a modern context means that science, in the form of cutting edge weapons or genetically modified super powers, is tightly woven into its narrative. As such, folktales and fairy tales are [less relevant’ for their purely fictional premises and hence have seemed to have lost [their] place in modern society. 

However, more judicious observers will point out that one need not believe in the fiction of folklore and fairy tales in order to reap [their] benefits in the modern world. Folklore and fairy tales simply use the medium of fiction to convey values, truths and lessons, hence they should receive the same respect mankind owes to other forms of storytelling like parables. When one views folktales and fairy tales as vessels for deeper meaning, it becomes apparent that they always should have a place in modern society. In fact, it can be argued that with the demands of modern society, fairy tales and folktales are gaining a newfound appreciation. 

With modern society encouraging a lifelong rat race, many youth and adults alike find comfort in the stories of fairy tales and folktales that hearken back to simpler times. It is common to see netizens share quotes from these stories on social media, [with] popular picks including French novel ‘The Little Prince’ and the endearing ‘Winnie the Pooh’. These characters share the commonality of having a pure, innocent and compassionate worldview, values that often take the backseat in a world that places a premium on academic and economic success. Hence, while folktales and fairy tales retain a nostalgic value that seems to skeptics as inconsequential in defending the enduring value of these stories, people’s continued gravitation towards them are a poignant reflection of what we hold dear to our hearts. 

Beyond just imbuing timeless values, these tales are also useful vessels to denote a shift in values by subverting the familiar premises of these stories to reflect progressive change. For example, Disney’s movie ‘Wreck-it Ralph 2’ in 2018 portrayed the well-lived princesses of age-old fairy tales in a new light. Instead of their traditional representation of damsels in distress, awaiting salvation from a prince, they inversely saved the protagonist Ralph, a burly male character. Using familiar source material to subvert gender stereotypes, Disney reflected the ongoing international fight for women’s rights, its ability to attract children making fairytales all the more an effective medium in this case. 

Lastly, folktales and fairy tales still have an irreplaceable role in society due to their irrevocable ties with larger portions of culture. These stories cannot be divorced from or perceived as separate entities from the cultures that conceptualized them. In many countries, these stories are still exalted and deeply intertwined with the practices and traditions of its people, [and their] becoming obsolete [would be] equivalent to the demise of [the] larger culture. Despite developed countries like China being at the forefront of scientific achievement, their success in that field does not correspond to an alienation from cultural folktales. The Chinese still dearly hold onto folklore surrounding the Chinese Zodiac, using it to read their fortunes for the year ahead and bringing the story to life during Lunar New Year celebrations. By acting as a proxy for culture at large, folktales arguably are a source of national unity, promoting a sense of belonging through stories unique to one’s culture. 

As such, [when we view] folktales and fairy tales as vessels for deeper meaning and culture, [they] arguably still have a cherished place in modern society.

Grace Wee (19-O1)