Since the earliest forms of writing, relationships have been a part of literature. In the Bible, there are both romantic and family relationships; Shakespeare wrote of star-crossed lovers, feuding families, and friends who were supposed to hate each other. Relationships in literature have transcended time and are continually used within writing. Today the variety of relationships within fiction is vast. Children's books are beginning to explore the idea of alternative families; Romance novels continue to follow the same formula, leading some to believe there is a "normal" way to fall in love, when really the way suggested isn't normal at all; and, as always, fairy tales teach the fundamental basics of healthy relationships. While the variety in nature of relationships is great, one thing remains certain: literature and relationships are intricately intertwined.
The intertwining of literature and relationships can be seen in books aimed at children of a very young age. Typically, most children's books feature a household in which there is one Mom and one Dad. Recently though, a movement has begun to include alternative families. These alternative families may be those in which a child is raised by their Grandmother, two Mothers, two Fathers, or a Step-Parent. Often times, literature acts as a mirror, reflecting the qualities we value in ourselves.It is fortunate then, that books are being published which allow children to see diverse families in a positive way. The movement to include alternative families in children's literature is growing, and along the way assuring children that no matter the type of family they are grow up in, there is always a book with a similar character to relate to.
Relationships are the foundation of society. Within the parameters of social interaction, we develop complex relationships with the people around us. We learn to love strangers, hate family, adore celebrities, and worship mentors. Whether it is the close relationship you have with you mother/sister/best friend or the volatile hatred you feel for the jerk two cubicles down, you maintain a relationship. And for centuries, myths and legends have outlined healthy social interaction. Fairy tales, with vivid visuals of heroes and villains, depict not only good triumphing over evil but also how to carry on healthy relationships. They teach children the value of being a true friend and adults the benefits of looking beyond what they see with their eyes. Through fairy tales we learn to interact with the people in our lives with kindness, care, and love.
While fairy tales appear to transcend time in order to teach how to have healthy relationships and children’s literature seems to be getting more and more diverse with every generation, romance novels seem to be stuck in time ever since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While certain aspects of the romantic paradigm lead to more interesting literature, women getting the same unhealthy cyclical relationship hammered into their head over and over can be warped into misconceiving aspects of a truly unhealthy relationship, and may ever prevent a women from finding her own happily-ever-after.
Whether you agree that fairy tales depict healthy relationships or that romance novels are stuck back in the period of Jane Austen, one cannot disagree with the powerful connection between relationships and literature. They form our friendships, love affairs, and familial interactions. Good or bad, literature influences the relationships in our lives – even if we don’t want it to. So sit back and enjoy "Through a Child's Eyes", an essay about diverse family roles in children's literature; "Tale as Old as Time", an essay looking at how fairy tales teach us to have and maintain healthy relationships; and "Don't Try This at Home", an essay exploring the misleading story line of romance novels.