Siobhan Maloney writes in Humane Pursuits on the “three functions of fairytale,” relating those functions through her father’s annual reading of J.R.R. Tolkien:
Tolkien isn’t suggesting the denial of or escape from reality. Instead, as Stratford Caldecott aptly describes, fairytales provide “…an escape into reality. It is the world of the everyday—boring, banal, dull, meaningless—that is the prison from which this kind of fantasy seeks to liberate us, not by distracting us from the real but by showing us the deeper patterns and meanings that lie concealed within it.” (Caldecott, A Hidden Presence, pg. 2). Fantasy enables you to escape the boundaries of time and space, in order to remind you that you are made for the eternal. The fairytale, Tolkien says, is the human attempt to satisfy the desire for a world that is deeper, richer, and more beautiful than the present one. It’s the recapitulation of our longing for a “paradise lost.” Fairytales make you remember.
This reminds me of a line from Roger Scruton’s BBC documentary “Why Beauty Matters.” At one point he remarks (I’m paraphrasing) that the purpose of art is “to show the real, in the light of the ideal, and so transfigure it.”
This is also what fairytales like Tolkien’s can do, and what folklore more generally can do. They can take our everyday experiences and help us see those real things in a fuller context. That enhanced perspective can transform our experiences by suggesting there is value in them beyond the obvious.