How fairy tales help us think

“Once upon a time.” Four words. I don’t need to say anything more, and yet you know at once what it is you’re about to hear. You may not know the precise contents. You may not recognize the specific characters. You may have little notion of the exact action that is about to unfold. But you are ready all the same to take on all of these unknowns, the uncertainties, the ambiguities. You are ready to succumb to the world of the story…

First, there is that semblance of distance. We are not in the now, but rather in some place in the removed past…

Distance is a psychologically powerful tool. It can allow us to process things that we would otherwise be unable to deal with—and I mean this in both a literal and a more metaphorical, emotional sense—and it frees up our mind in a way that immediacy does not.

Second, there is the vagueness, the deliberate lack of specificity…that which scares us in real life—the lack of definitions, rules, clearly defined borders and boundaries—is not only unscary but entirely welcomed in the fairytale…I can indulge in abstraction and play, engage my curiosity and foster my creativity, and remain the whole time protected by that vague veneer of “once”.

An insightful article and nice tribute to Maurice Sendak.