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.
A disappointingly disjointed attempt to elaborate on fairy tales' psychological mission. Cashdan, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, begins with general statements about fairy tales that are then contradicted in subsequent discussion. For example, the author claims that fairy tales are not faithful representations of reality, while demonstrating that they are in fact products of their time and cultural environment. Further, Cashdan finds in many fairy tales the same dynamics of power, envy, and control as exist in the workplace. He traces transformations that over time shifted the plot of some of the best-known tales, showing that the changes were induced by the mores of each particular society. In a separate line of reasoning, Cashdan declares that fairy tales were originally conceived as entertainment for adults and not to teach children any moral lesson. However, the central argument is that fairy tales address pragmatic concerns, helping children to personify and combat the reprehensible parts of their own character and emotions. Hence the central position in many fairy tales of the witch, a carrier of such deadly sins as sloth, greed, gluttony, vanity, and deceit. The witch's inevitable death at the end of the tale serves to ensure the child permanent victory over the self's sinful side. To reinforce the effficacy of moral instruction in fairy tales, Cashdan provides suggestions on the use of specific tales in child education, and a reading guide for parents and teachers. When he ventures beyond psychology into literary and folklore studies, his analysis appears even weaker. Evidently not familiar with Vladimir Propp's seminal work, "Morphology of the Folktale,." which has informed folklore studies for the past 70 years, Cashdan invents his own superficial structural model of fairy tales. Most of the book merely retells well-known fairy tales, while the contradictory and confusing main argument could easily have been condensed to just a few pages. (Kirkus Reviews)