There was this story I loved as a kid. It was about a rabbit who got trapped in tar by a fox and weasel. But the rabbit is crafty. He figures out a way to escape and then gets his revenge by frightening the fox and weasel when he comes back as a tar monster.
I loved this story. I wanted it read to me over and over. I heard the story so many times that I memorized it and then tricked my cousin into thinking I could read (I had learned valuable lessons in craftiness from Brer Rabbit).
Kids like stories where animals are the main characters. They like stories where the main characters fight bullies with their wit and skill. Kids face bullies in real life—even if the bully isn’t an actual bully (though sometimes it is). Their bully might be eating cereal without milk because their sibling used the last of it. Their bully might be the inability to draw fives correctly. Perhaps they get left out of a game because they are too small or because they can’t throw the ball in a straight line.
Reading stories about bullies when the main character is an animal allows them to have safe distance from the story while also relating to its events. As a child, I felt weak and helpless. I connected with an outwardly weak character who shows unexpected inner strength. I connected so much that I memorized the story—I was only three-years-old.
Childhood stories of outmaneuvering bad guys are formational tools for real life. Bad guys are less complicated when you’re a child and sometimes you have a grown up there to help you figure out how to find your inner strength to take on the giant. Learning how to slay dragons in imaginary tales only helps you slay the bigger, more crafty dragons of real life.
As a grownup, bullies become more complicated (but no less real). Perhaps it’s the struggle to pay the bills. Maybe it’s a difficult boss or coworker. It might be a leaking faucet or a broken hot water heater. Either way, adult bullies exist and they aren’t always in the form of a super-human seventh grader who steals candy from kindergarteners on the playground. The older we get, the more skilled we become at taking down the monster, the more we discover that the monsters and villains also become more skilled. They grow in their abilities to frighten us as we grow in our ability to take them out.
So we continue to grow. We continue to fight battles. We remember those childhood stories of trickster foxes and crafty rabbits. Back then, we imagined we were the hero.
Then we grow up and realize it’s true.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”― G.K. Chesterton
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
― Madeleine L'Engle
― Madeleine L'Engle