Imagination, Story Telling And 'Irrational' Fairy Tales

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Richard Dawkins

Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a miserable troll called Richard Dawkins.

Richard had a book to promote, so he decided to magic up a Twitter Storm.

Strange utterings came gushing out of his mouth. He pronounced that fairy stories could be harmful to children and should be banished from the kingdom. It was written in the Daily Mail, and so it was believed.

And hence, the Twitter Storm erupted and poured rain upon Richard the Troll, and he lapped it up greedily.

But the miserable troll was still miserable, because there was no wonder in his soul.

Children saw the troll sobbing to himself under the rickety rackety bridge. "Dear troll, why are you so sad?" they asked.

"I'm sad because a frog will never turn into a prince," he wailed. "It's statistically improbable."

"So is this," said the children, and their fabulous imaginations conjured up an enormous fire-breathing dragon who ate Richard the Troll.

The End.

And the moral of this story is: if you are an evolutionary biologist, butt out of our children's literary education.

In case you missed this and have no idea what it's all about, Dawkins, the prominent atheist and author The God Delusion, is reported as saying parents shouldn't read fairy stories to their children because they instill a belief in the supernatural.

He suggested it could be "pernicious to instill in a child the view that the world is shaped by supernaturalism."

He's come out fighting since – saying his quotes were taken out of context and twisted by the media.

Dawkins says he was simply raising 'questions' about the effect of fairy tales and has now jumped onto Twitter to announce that fairy tales might be all right after all. A bit like Jack climbing down his beanstalk.

So let's look at some of those questions. Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawkins is quoted as saying: "Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are?"

Well yes, I think we've now established, it is. It's called developing their imaginations. It's called encouraging them to read in the first place.

Try telling my five-year-old that she's not allowed to read her endless books about fairies. Try telling the two-year-old that her love of the Three Billy Goats Gruff is potentially harmful to her education.

As I write this, she is rampaging around the kitchen pretending to be a dragon. I don't think she believes she really is a dragon. I think she can tell the difference between fact and fiction. An important lesson to learn. Even at the age of two.

Dawkins is also quoted as saying: "There's a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable."

Thanks. I think all of us needed that clearing up. Of course, statistically possible things can also be untrue...

Obviously, Santa Claus is a big no-no. But then I shouldn't imagine Dawkins is a big fan of Christmas as a whole. He says he saw through the Santa myth at the age of 21 months. That's probably because he's Really Clever. Instead of encouraging such childish fantasies, he says, we should be 'fostering a spirit of scepticism'.

That's all well and good. I'm a fan of scepticism. I'm one of the most sceptical people I know. I'm also a fan of imagination, of the magic of story-telling and the glory of children's literature.

How much poorer would my childhood have been without The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Dark is Rising, The Chrestomanci series, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Lord of the Rings, and countless others?

We also read Greek myths, Norse legends and Bible stories. We didn't adopt any of them as a belief system. It is possible, you see, to let your imagination run wild and appreciate the beauty of story-telling, without being brainwashed into a specific faith.

So I think we've answered your questions, Prof. Dawkins. Now off you go, back under your bridge.

What do you think?

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