My eldest about a year ago became old enough to enjoy proper stories. However, it proved surprisingly difficult to find a contemporary story book that was substantial enough to provide a decent bedtime read (say, 10 to 15 minutes) but not so long that it spilt over into the following evening. Then I remembered the library of Ladybird story books that I'd loved as a child. Mum, rather miraculously (but on reflection, predictably), still had them.
It's been deeply satisfying to revisit these neat little stiff-backed books with their traditional fairy tales. I guess it gives you some insight into memory to say that the illustrations have provoked the strongest resonances. The pastel-coloured boots made from the supplest velvety suede fashioned overnight by elves, their pale cold little legs clothed in rags (Elves and the Shoemaker). Beast lying in his garden under a rosebush, the dew no doubt beginning to chill him as he died from a broken heart (Beauty and the Beast). The evil dwarf prostrated, toes skywards, having been felled and killed by a single blow from a vengeful bear-prince (Snow White and Rose Red). An ogre so furious that rage made his nostrils flare and hair curl (Jack and the Beanstalk).
It was a going-back to when the spell was cast, making you ever-after susceptible to the enchantment of stories. Not just imagining this moment but in a small way partaking of it again.
Inevitably you think about them as well as wonder at them. The morality of these stories is interesting. Morals are present but it never feels as if they provide the raison d'etre. Mostly the endings are merely happy rather than being morally justified by the actions of the protagonist. Things turn out (very) well if you own a cat with an extravagant talent for bullshitting (Puss-in-Boots). Or one that is good at catching mice and happens to do it for an Eastern potentate (Dick Whittington and his Cat). Or if you happen to be a lazy sod who nevertheless has a talent for burglary (Jack and the Beanstalk).
This to me seems more realistic than some contemporary stories which have a real world setting but are weighed down by ponderous moral baggage as substantial as cardboard.
The other striking thing is the refreshingly brutal, often murderous, acts of retribution. Dwarves, trolls, witches are all fatally beaten, drowned, thrown to their deaths without a second thought. And certainly without observing due process and the presumption of innocence. Children relish this.
I'm conscious here of more than likely echoing some of the observations to be found in Bruno Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment, a book I enjoyed tremendously when I read it over twenty years ago. I remember someone telling me subsequently that it was 'wrong'. I can't remember why; or who it was; but I do remember they had some academic claim to be right. I wonder where the current orthodoxy lies?