Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, argues that fairy tales aren’t just for kids, though these stories do teach children that the world is a rough and tumble place full of hurt and strife. These stories also remind us we are capable of courageous and intelligent action that enables us to cope with the challenges of life:
The point is that myths don’t need happy endings; they are not ways of resolving the unfairness of our experience or the frustration of our emotions. They provide a framework for imagining our human situation overall. But the fairy tale has its roots in a mixture of what Warner calls “honest harshness” and “wishful hoping”, depicting the hardest challenges we face as human beings and the possibility of “alternative plot lines”, ways out or through. But when we become culturally more suspicious of ways out, something changes: stories have to be coloured with a tragic palette, a recognition of what can’t be wished away.
I’d add that the same holds true for all fiction. Like religious faith, good literature not only opens us to beauty and contemplation, but to the central message of human existence: that there are things beyond our control, but we are never alone nor helpless in facing life’s challenges.