The Uses of Enchantment ~ by Bruno Bettelheim

I did not like this book one bit. It’s dated and I disagree with Bettelheim on so many things.  This is kind of a shame because it’s one of the books I’d never read, but always wanted to. It was published the year I graduated college and it was exciting at that time. (A similar thing happened with Orientalism by Edward Said.)

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
by Bruno Bettelheim

1976 / 343 pages
read by Gerard Doyle
rating: 3 / psychology (?)
(both read and listened)

Yes, I disagree about the analyzed meanings of the fairy tales, especially the meanings to children, but also on general ideas like on page 118 where it says: 
“Other parents fear that a child’s mind may become so overfed by fairy-tale fantasies as to neglect learning to cope with reality.  Actually ,the opposite is true. Complex as we all are – conflicted, ambivalent, full of contradictions – the human personality is indivisible. Whatever an experience might be, it always affect all the aspects of the personality at the same time.” 

Ya? How about the effects of violent video games and movies – that’s what makes it dated. I don’t think kids today know what fairy tales are unless their parents took them to Disney movie.

I was in college when this book was first published. I might have really enjoyed it, I have no idea. That’s been 50 years ago, and a lot of changes now,

I’ve read that Bettelheim has distinctly Freudian ideas and from what little I know that seems right, although there are places he tries to distance himself.

I think Bettelheim cherry-picked some really old versions of the fairy tales he used and analyzed them in the way his audience would want to read.

Oh I have more problems with this book in 2021 but I’ll let it rest.

If you want a good book about making meaning of fairy tales (or folklore, myth, whatever) check out Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1992. (Estes is distinctly Jungian in her approach and who knows – that book might be dated by this time too.)

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1 Response to The Uses of Enchantment ~ by Bruno Bettelheim

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I think I read this, or bits of it when I was at Teachers’ College in the 70s, and yes, it was a different world then. Disney hadn’t ruined fairy tales, there were no screens, and the big issue then was the representation of women in fairy tales.
    I hate it when a book I thought I admired turns out to be a disappointment…
    Anyway, Happy New Year, may it be better than the last one!!


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