In The Witch Must Die, Sheldon Cashdan explores how fairy tales help children deal with psychological conflicts by projecting their own internal struggles between good and evil onto the battles enacted by the characters in the stories. Not since Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment has the underlying significance of fantasy and fairy tales been so insightfully and entertainingly mined.
In a thematic survey of the stories the world tells its children, noted psychologist Cashdan (Abnormal Psychology) explores why fairy tales maintain their enduring power. Despite the elaborate Technicolor animation in which traditional stories often appear, most are watered-down forms of original versions that were devised not for the moral education of children but for the entertainment of adults. According to Cashdan, this partly explains the lifelong attraction of the deeper psychological journeys and moral quandaries that fairy tales address. Focusing on the drama of basic human attachments and temptations (abandonment, vanity, greed, envy, lust, sloth--each of which he examines in individual chapters), Cashdan interprets fairy-tale plot elements in relation to basic psychological development while discounting psychoanalytic interpretations as convoluted and at times illogical. Ultimately, Cashdan contends that fairy tales work their magic by acknowledging our identification with the darker parts of ourselves. In order ``for a fairy tale to have a lasting effect on young readers," he writes, "the hero and heroine must... be tempted by the same temptations .'' Though some of his insights are fresher than others, one of the pleasures of his study is the breadth of his examples: Cashdan offers not just familiar Disney, Grimm and Perrault tales but lesser-known variations, some of which have not survived the delicate sensibilities of the modern age, fueled as they are by adultery and aggression.