Monday, September 1, 2014

Fairy Tales in World War II

During a war, when another country is perceived as your enemy, often their culture becomes the enemy too. In World War II this was the case, and it even affected the fairy tales people consumed.

On both sides of the war, fairy tales from the opposing countries were viewed with suspicion. Hitler banned Perrault's French "Tales of My Mother Goose" in Germany during his regime in favor of the Grimms' German tales; while the violence and anti-Semitism of the Grimm tales were viewed as dangerous by Allied countries. (This is all more ironic when you realize how much influence the French fairy tales had on the Grimms' collection).

Fairy tales were also used as propoganda. Peggy Riley writes "With the rise of the Nazi party, both this romanticism and this pessimism would be crushed and the “innocent” folktale become an ideological weapon.  As one party official declared, “The German folktale shall become a most valuable means for us in the racial and political education of the young.” 

German fairy tales around the time of World War II shifted to a different focus: Cinderella's Prince rejected the stepmother for racial impurity, Red Riding Hood was covered in swastikas and her savior was a Nazi officer. Puss in Boots was a Hitler-like figure who was heiled by throngs, and of course any of the already anti-Semetic tales were exploited for their racist messages.

Dawn Heerspink says "fairy tales held a central place in wartime society as a means of socializing children through the use of familiar tales with a new context, as an area of hybridization of childhood and adulthood to confront wartime reality, and as both a way to deal with trauma and a critical discourse on war."

This collection of Allied Fairy Tales from World War I (1916) indicates a way of unifying the Allied Forces through celebrating the fairy tales of the group of nations. In his introduction to the book, Edmund Gosse says it is "folklore of the fighting friends of humanity." The English identified with their hero Jack, while the enemy the giant. Even Disney joined in, representing the Big Bad Wolf with a swastika, and using Donald Duck to show that "taxes defeat the Axis."

Even with all the flippant comments you hear about the childishness or insignificance of fairy tales, it's kind of chilling to realize how much power they have wielded in the past. They have been used as tools to promote war and death and have a way of reaching the public through subconscious levels. If anything, the perception of fairy tales as unimportant is what makes them a secret weapon-people tend to associate them with the idyllic past and link us to our ancestors. Fairy tales can be used to communicate messages secretly, just as in the time of Perrault, the other French writers used them for satire, and the seemingly simple stories escaped censorship. 

Never underestimate the power of fairy tales...

-Leslie Fiedler's Introduction to "Beyond the Looking Glass: Extraordinary Works of Fairy Tale and Fantasy", Edited by Jonathan Cott
-Nazi Fairy Tales, Peggy Riley
-Nazi Fairy Tales Paint Hitler as Red Riding Hood's Savior, Allan Hall
-"Reading the Grimms' Children's Stories and Household Tales," from Maria Tatar's Annotated Brothers Grimm
-Found it in the Archives: War and Fairy Tales, Jessica Short
-No Man's Land: Fairy Tales, Gender, Socialization, Satire, and Trauma during the First and Second World Wars, Dawn Heerspink


  1. Ooh, here's another one I can add to. The Japanese used the fairy tale hero Momotaro in their propaganda. I mentioned it briefly in my "Folk Tale Secret Stash: Momotaro" column.

    And I knew there was a Nazi Big Bad Wolf somewhere out there!

    1. I didn't even look into Japanese examples. This is a really interesting topic, this post only barely scratched the surface!

  2. Hi, I am currently doing some research for a dissertation on the political use of fairy tales. I have found this post and comments very useful. Could you point me in the direction of any other blogs/articles/authors that would help me?

    1. Other than the sources linked at the bottom of the post, I don't really know of's a topic I really know very little about, sorry!