The Easter holiday served a sort of respite for me given events of the last couple of days preceding it. It afforded me the room to clear a backlog of stuffs, which included digging through bookmarked web pages and Twitter favorites. Among the interesting things I came across, one stands out; a blog post titled “8 Reasons Why Fairy Tales are Essential to Childhood” by Melissa Taylor. It had been published in relation to another post which appeared in the Telegraph. This was an interesting one for me as it revealed a much needed insight into the subject.
Before delving deeper, it helps to explain the relationship between fairy tales and folktales. The handy dictionary widget on my Mac defines a Fairy tale as a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings (characters) and lands (environments) while it defines a Folktale as a story originating in popular culture typically passed on by word of Mouth. Simply put, the origins of both go a long way plus they are both stories that transcend geographic boundaries and cultures. I’ll add that they are both educative too helping the audience, usually kids, inculcate moral lessons that aid in their development.
At Genii Games, as our apps continue their steady but slow embrace by the audience, it’s not been without the challenges listed in the Telegraph post. Specifically, we’ve had feedbacks from some parents saying they were disappointed by what they perceived as immoral, the underlying messages behind our folktale apps. Following such feedback, we introduced explicit moral lessons into our stories. On our part, we’d simply thought it as a matter of misunderstanding attributed to the cultural diversity that is of our audience.
On one occasion, I had a friendly mail from a parent and educator in the US who felt offended by one of our folktale apps saying it seemed to contradict the messages that they are trying to teach kids in the US. My first impression was that, every society regardless of what obtains on the news media is trying to drive home positive lessons to its younger generation. My friendly guest did try to explain her bias from a cultural perspective which was clearly understood. My take from that experience was that we had to go an extra mile to explain our context to audiences from a different cultural background to Africa’s. If any, African folktales are morally rich. In fact, the role of any folktale is to help a kid learn lifelong lessons around honesty etc. Even the grim angles to some of these stories serve to scare the kids into not doing some things. A practical example can be found in one of our early story apps where a character suffers a harsh consequence as a result of lying. While the consequence as depicted by the scenery was deemed too harsh for a kid by some (hence, its redesign), the original intention of the story as passed down over the years is to discourage kids from lying by painting a grim picture of what fate awaits any liar. In other related cases, some African folktales have been attributed to breeding superstitious beliefs that seem contrary to monotheistic religious faiths. That’s a delicate argument across different societies yet an understandable one hence, we have had to balance the original folktales with our bit of tweaks in some cases.
Nevertheless, these factors underscore the need for creativity and understanding of the modern realities facing these rich and interesting stories. The approach to preserving these folktales/fairy tales best lie with each storyteller and in my own experience, a continuous learning course. It is one that demands flexibility in handling too as the views of these parents and children cannot be overlooked. That said, Melissa Taylor’s reasons capture much of my opinion on the subject. I’ll continue with this piece in a future post tapping into my experience on this journey. Until then, look to the brighter side of these interesting stories :-).