Here are a few of my favorites.
The Snow Queen. This awesome story is about a girl who travels to the evil Snow Queen's palace to rescue her best friend.
Snow White and Rose Red. This story is about two sisters who are kind and generous even when they are not rewarded. It's also a great reminder that you can't always go by appearances.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In this story a man uses his wits to win a princess' hand and save his life.
East o' the Wind, West o' the Moon. I really like this story. This woman is determined to find her love and has to travel around the world to rescue him.
I love the classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but I especially love some of the less popular ones.. I've heard women complain before that they don't want to be like a silly fairy-tale princess who has to wait for a prince (man) to save her. They apparently never read East O' The Sun And West O' The Moon or The Snow Queen or Hansel and Gretel. In all of these fairy tales, it's the woman (or girl) who has to save the man (boy). In ESWM, the princess literally follows her prince to the ends of the earth and then has to outwit a witch to save him. Both The Snow Queen and Hansel and Gretel show a young girl showing bravery, persistence, and wits to save their friend/brother. And don't forget The Little Mermaid. She doesn't exactly rescue her prince, but she does choose sacrificing her own life over betraying the one she loves. Now who dares say these ladies aren't strong?
Almost all of the fairy tales have some kind of good message. Some of the simpler ones, like the Twelve Months or Cinderella, extol readers to always be polite and kind, even when others are mistreating you. Others seem to have a slightly deeper meaning. The Snow Queen is a powerful story of love in the face of difficulty. To me, it's also a picture of how far you're willing to go to save your friend from darkness.
Of course, as many have pointed out before me, fairy tales have their fair share of darkness. In the original Little Mermaid, the mermaid had to cut out her tongue in exchange for her feet. And even after that, whenever she walked it was as if knives were cutting into her feet. This story has no happy ending, unless you think of self-sacrificing deaths as happy. That might be good, but I wouldn't call it happy. In The Goose-girl, the princess's servant has her horse, her only friend, killed and had his head hung on a wall. Of course, justice is served in the end; the wicked, usurping servant is stripped naked and put in a barrel of nails which was then rolled down a hill. I can't wait to tell that to my children. Not. Although I do appreciate some of the more gruesome elements. Fairy tales have no illusions about the goodness of the world. They portray the world as it is, a mix of good and bad, kind people and wicked people, princesses and witches.
I think that the lessons in fairy tales can also be found in many good works of fiction. They can teach us the importance of bravery and kindness and perseverance. Could your life use a little of that? If you look deeper than just the frogs and slippers and axes, you just might learn something.
And the most important message, I think, is that there is good in the world, and it will ultimately triumph over evil. As G.K. Chesterton put it, "Fairy tales are more than true--not because they tell us dragons exist but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."