Although many morality tales date back quite a long way, most notably they began getting woven into many tales around the Victorian era because it was a skillful way to ‘control’ “After World War II, the prewar world was an Eden, an age where Britain ruled, colonized, and controlled. Many of the books of this “Golden Age,” even though we may read them today as delightful, benign adventure stories, are stories of colonization.”https://slate.com/culture/2016/08/how-did-childrens-literature-evolve-from-prim-morality-tales-to-the-likes-of-captain-underpants.html. This is the cold hard truth, many of the tales that cropped up were ways of soothing the horrible truths of the deaths that were being caused by the same daddies that bought them beautiful dolls and tin soldiers, it was not always wonderful.
Dickens himself wrote about the alteration in a letter: “I mean to protest most strongly against alteration—for any purpose—of the beautiful little stories which are so tenderly and humanly useful to us in these times when the world is too much with us early and late; and then to re-write Cinderella according to Total-Abstinence, Peace-Society, and Bloomer principles, and expressly for their propagation. [Pilgrim, Vol. VII, p. 121].” http://www.djo.org.uk/household-words/volume-viii/page-97.html
The preservation of tales to entertain children was something that I believe early storytellers had in mind, although I think Dickens missed that many origins were moral in nature, I think he is pointing to alterations of our tales, in which we change our characters and give them a more glossy G rating, I know this is true in Cinderella which was altered several times. Cinderella in the original version was not given her many things by a ‘fairy godmother’ but instead by a tree that she cried over. There are also parts of the story that refer to her stepsisters physically mutilating themselves for the slipper and then losing their eyes for trying to deceive. The same is true in Rapunzel, there were alterations to her story to clean it up and remove the more ‘uncomfortable’ bits. Many of the stories we know contain uncomfortable truths that make us confront uncomfortable facts, but that’s why I kind of like moral stories, or at least ones that make me wonder about the moral or lesson I am being given, there is always some kernel of wisdom that I can learn from, something that I can use to better myself.
I believe when you write children’s books today, it is important to focus on weaving some amount of truth, but this does not mean you have to weave in heavy-handed morals. If your writing fairytales, you can keep them out, keep them light, jovial, and fun, stay away from the cliche of Squirrel Nutkins Tells A Lie and such, as children are very wise and can usually spot when you are trying to tell them something. If you want to do morality tales try to keep them in the fictional tale like Scrooge and Oliver Twist, keep them in the veil and hidden, give them objects and archetypes that can be the vehicles to convey truth. Use ‘in your own shoes’ methods to explore morality in similar aged characters that are experiencing surprisingly similar situations as your child.
Keeping fairytales more ones in which the worlds of fantasy can hold sway and for just one second we can escape to the landscape that has magic, that fairies fly and elves hop, skip and jump, where frogs turn into princes, and we can ride magic carpets give us moments in which we can be just for that tiny second back in our Neverland. To me it’s a moment that I cling to as a mother, it’s that moment when they are still that little tiny being that held you tight, saying ‘Just one more mommy’, it is that moment when your bookmark was worn as you read Paper Bag Princess for the sixth time, its the moment when you ride the wave and back, crashing on the shores with Max and siting with the Wild Things. I still believe that fairytales keep a special place in our hearts, and in these, they hold a doorway that exists and is forever ‘pure’ in away.
Morality tales too hold that place, they are where we became the good [or at least I hope you are] persons that we try so desperately to be. They are what builds us, but they are only tools. It is important throughout life, that we as authors, use morals appropriately, and know when to bend them, break them, and showcase the best/worse of humanity, through this, this glimpse, at both the light and the shade, we give the gift of forming humanity, and one that is hopefully at least morally good, or maybe at least attempting to lean that way. It is my firmest hope that no matter what we do in life, we attempt as writers to be visionaries like Dickens, and see the world as something that can change, or is changeable, and perhaps we like Scrooge, become enlightened and change our ways.