Examples of Morals & Life Lessons in Fairy Tales

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature in India and tutored in the US.

Fairy tales can not only transport us to faraway kingdoms but also teach us important lessons. In this video, we'll examine some popular fairy tales, the morals they present and what we can learn from reading them.

Learning Your Lesson

Somewhere between ''Once upon a time,'' and ''They lived happily ever after,'' our favorite fairy tales have a way of not only entertaining us with tales of beautiful heroines, magical forests, and enchanting creatures, but also have a way of teaching us some important life lessons along the way.

Though they may not be expressly stated, the idea that these stories, passed down from generation to generation, contain morals is not all that unusual. The first tales of this nature were written specifically to teach lessons to readers. Since then, fairy tales have spawned many variations, but still manage to convey important messages about how to live and love, how to treat others, and how the world works.

Let's take a look at a few of the countless examples of morals available inside of fairy tales.

Examples of Morals & Life Lessons

From ''Little Red Riding Hood'' to ''Cinderella,'' fairy tales present some unique learning opportunities for readers. Here are some morals, or life lessons, that can be taken from a few popular fairy tales.

''Little Red Riding Hood''

''Little Red Riding Hood'' is the story of a young girl who encounters danger on her way through the woods to visit her grandmother. It's a classic tale repeated in various cultures throughout history. As readers, we can almost anticipate Red Riding Hood's fate when she first meets the wolf in the woods, even though the wolf is on his best behavior. In fact, the wolf's kind appearance teaches us a lesson in itself: be careful who you trust, especially people who appear to be overly kind at first.

''The Three Little Pigs''

''The Three Little Pigs'' is the tale of three little pigs who are sent out into the world to make their own way. Unfortunately, two of the three pigs take shortcuts and build their houses out of weak materials, which is easy for the enemy to breach.

The three little pigs teach us a lesson about doing things the right way.
three little pigs

The lesson here is laziness may be fun for a season, but it will eventually catch up with you. Another good lesson here is that taking shortcuts can seem like a good idea at first, but can ultimately lead to disaster. A third moral, if you're really looking, could be that it's important to build on a steady foundation in life.

''The Princess and the Pea''

''The Princess and the Pea'' is about a queen who's on the hunt for a princess to marry her son when she stumbles across a rather un-princess-like maiden with messy hair and clothes. To test her, the maiden is invited to spend the night in the castle, where the queen hides a pea under her mattress. Only a princess would be able to feel such a small level of discomfort. The next morning, the maiden complains about her poor night of sleep, and the queen has found her son's wife. This story tells one of the oldest lessons of all time: don't judge a book by its cover (or a person by their initial appearance). People are more than their hairstyle and clothing.

''The Elves and the Shoemaker''

''The Elves and the Shoemaker'' is a tale about a band of elves who decide to pitch in and help out a poor shoemaker down on his luck. For several nights, the elves crafted shoes to keep the shoemaker in business. After the shoemaker and his wife catch sight of the little naked elves working, they decide to sew some clothes for their secret helpers. The lesson here is do things for others without any thought of getting something in return. The elves worked for the shoemaker with no thought other than to be helpful.

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Additional Activities

Write Your Own Fairy Tale:

As the lesson explains, fairy tales are stories that contain simple moral lessons for readers: lessons children as well as adults can understand and benefit from taking to heart. These lessons help fairy tales transcend culture (many cultures have retellings of "Cinderella") and time (the first version of "Cinderella" is estimated to be well over a thousand years old). In this exercise, you are going to write your own fairy tale to convey a moral lesson/value that matters to you. Your fairy tale should be between 300 and 500 words long; it can have similarities to other fairy tales (retelling "Rapunzel" with a different culture and system of magic, for example) but must be uniquely your own.

Tips for getting started:

Brainstorm a list of your favorite fairy tales. What do they have in common? Do they have similar plots, similar characters, similar moral lessons?

Consider what values or traits in other people appeal to you. What would make you want to be someone's friend? What in life has taught you to value kindness, friendship, love, etc., or to be careful about judging people by their appearance or their past?

Plotting:

After you decide on your moral, decide on characters and a setting.

Characters:

You should have a protagonist whom you want the audience to root for, and an antagonist, or villain, who creates problems for the protagonist (keep in mind some fairy tales, such as "Beauty and the Beast," turn an antagonist into someone to root for). However, your antagonist could be either another character or something abstract like fate or injustice. Ask yourself what your protagonist wants, and how the antagonist will create an obstacle for their attempts to get what they want (Cinderella wants to enjoy the ball; her step-family do not want her to go and so ruin her dress).

Setting:

Fairy tales include a magical element. Maybe the protagonist is on a quest to find a magical item, maybe their antagonist is a dragon, maybe they have elves helping them. Otherwise, your story can be set in any culture. Magic works best when it helps reinforce the moral: for example, the fairy godmother helps Cinderella because she's kind, and the Beast is transformed into a Beast because he is not kind (but then is restored when he learns to be a better person).

Have fun!

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