The Uses of Enchantment

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The Uses of Enchantment
The Uses of Enchantment.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Bruno Bettelheim
Country United States
Language English
Subject Fairy tales
Publication date
Pages 352
ISBN 978-0-14-013727-9
LC Class GR550 .B47

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales is a 1976 book by Austrian-born American psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, in which Bettelheim analyzes fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychoanalysis.

In the book, Bettelheim discusses the emotional and symbolic importance of fairy tales for children, including traditional tales at one time[clarification needed] considered too dark, such as those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm. Bettelheim suggested that traditional fairy tales, with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in remote, symbolic terms. If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Bettelheim thought that by engaging with these socially evolved stories, children would go through emotional growth that would better prepare them for their own futures.

Structure and contents[edit]

The book is divided into two main sections. The first, "A Pocketful of Magic," outlines Bettelheim's thoughts on the value of fairy tales for children. The second part, "In Fairy Land," presents psychoanalytical readings of several popular fairy tales, specifically:


In the U.S., Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment won the 1976 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism[1] and the 1977 National Book Award in category Contemporary Thought.[2]

Accusations of plagiarism[edit]

In 1991, University of California anthropologist Alan Dundes accused Bettelheim of copying key passages from A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales: their origin, meaning, and usefulness (1974) by Julius Heuscher without giving appropriate credit. This accusation of plagiarism is not conclusive.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

The Uses of Enchantment has been cited as an influence in many subsequent works that utilise fairy tales in adult terms, including the 2011 Catherine Hardwicke film Red Riding Hood and the 2014 fantasy horror film Red Kingdom Rising. It was claimed by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine as the inspiration for their 1986 musical Into the Woods.[4]


  1. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  2. ^ "National Book Awards – 1977". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
    There was a "Contemporary" or "Current" award category from 1972 to 1980.
  3. ^ Sharman Stein (February 7, 1991). "Bettelheim Accused Of Plagiarizing Book". Chicago Tribune. 
  4. ^ Stage - Into the Woods, Frank Rich, New York Times, November 6, 1987