Forming the Moral Imagination Through Fairy Tales
By Cortney Wright
Teacher of Classical Composition, Literature, Grammar, Spelling, Bible Study, and French
You may not have heard of Charles Perrault, the French author born on January 12, 1628, but you have definitely heard his stories. First published in 1697, his Histoires ou contes du temps passé contained classic stories such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Blue Beard, Puss in Boots, and Sleeping Beauty.
Perrault’s work, based on folk stories, formed the foundation of the European fairy tale genre. His collection of stories was published in English in 1729. One hundred years later, his stories influenced and were adapted by the Brothers Grimm.
Charles lived during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. At the time, the world looked to France as the center of art, music, literature, and culture. Charles himself advised Louis XIV to build 39 fountains representing Aesop’s Fables.
Perrault’s fairy tales were especially popular with the aristocracy in the late 1600s. But their popularity did not end there. For hundreds of years, Perrault’s stories have been retold for instruction and entertainment.
However, at Belmont, we know that fairy tales are more than just children’s stories. They shape our moral imagination. As Russell Kirk once wrote, "[t]he moral imagination is an enduring source of inspiration that elevates us to first principles as it guides us upward towards virtue and wisdom and redemption."He continues, adding that "[o]ut of the early tales of wonder come a sense of awe and the beginning of philosophy... that body of literature... helps to form the normative consciousness of the rising generation."
Today we seek out the best books, learning at a young age the truth of Proverbs 23:12: "Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge."
This historical thought was delivered by middle school students at devotional on 1/12/23. Each week one class leads the student body in prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, scripture recitation, a meditation, and an historical thought. Family and friends are welcome, Thursdays 8:30-9:05 am.
As our Head of School Jared Carman pointed out during this devotional, January 12 is also the birthday of Edmund Burke, a philosopher and statesman who first coined the term "moral imagination" in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Not only does the birthday of Burke invite us to consider the importance of forming the moral imagination of the rising generation, but it is also an opportunity to consider the importance of virtue and religion in a free society.