Maleficent vs the Grinch: Angelina Jolie takes Professor Richard Dawkins to task for saying we shouldn’t teach children the myth of Santa Claus

June 7, 2014 12:20 pm 0 comments Views: 2350

  • Actress says fairytales play important role in how she raises her six children
  • Adds children should have a bit of childhood for as long as they can
  • Comes as Professor Richard Dawkins says fairytales may harm children
  • He questioned whether children should be led to believe in Santa Claus

As sparring partners go, a Hollywood actress and an evolutionary biologist would not appear to be a natural fit.

However, Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie, 39, and controversial scientist Professor Richard Dawkins, 73, have found themselves inadvertently at loggerheads over whether children should be allowed to read fairytales.

Miss Jolie, who plays an evil fairy godmother in her latest film Maleficent – a spin on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty – said fairytales play an important role in how she raises her six children, using ‘a little magic’ to impart important moral lessons.

Angelina JolieProfessor Richard Dawkins

Angelina Jolie, left, says fairytales are important to teach moral lessons. However, Professor Richard Dawkins, right, warned they could damage children

In a new interview, she said: ‘There are morals in these stories and you want a little magic – it’s important to have something that we’re a little bit in awe of.

‘The other day, one of the kids lost a tooth and I talked about the tooth fairy. Half of them are old enough to think: “What are you talking about,” yet they’re still not sure there isn’t something.

‘And I’m not lying to them. I say, “I really can’t tell you. I don’t really know. Mothers are sworn to secrecy.”

‘Kids grow up fast enough these days, so let’s allow them to have a little bit of childhood for as long as they can.’

Richard Dawkins acknowledged that the appeal of fairytales lay in their magic but believes they may be causing more harm than we think. He also questioned whether we should let children believe in Father Christmas at all


The comments put her at odds with Professor Dawkins, famous for his vocal opposition to religion, who this week branded fairytales ‘pernicious’ and warned they could damage children.

Talking at the Cheltenham Science Festival recently, the father-of-one, said: ‘Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism? I think it’s rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway.’

He faced a backlash after the appearance, even being branded a ‘soulless bore’ by former Labour MP Tom Watson.

Miss Jolie plays an evil fairy godmother in her latest film Maleficent, a spin on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty

Miss Jolie plays an evil fairy godmother in her latest film Maleficent, a spin on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty

Professor Dawkins has since tempered his views, saying: ‘I did not and will not condemn fairytales. My whole life has been given over to simulating the imagination, and in childhood years, fairy stories can do that.’

However, he reasserted his opinion on Thursday that there is an ‘interesting question’ surrounding the effect a ‘diet of supernatural magic spells’ might have on the development on children.

In contrast, Miss Jolie, who has three adopted and three biological children with partner Brad Pitt, 50 – Maddox, 12, from Cambodia, Pax, 10, from Vietnam, Zahara, 9, from Ethiopia, Shiloh, 7 and twins Knox and Vivienne, 5 – said she has loved fairytales all her life and that it was this fascination that drew her to the role in Maleficent.


Richard Dawkins has claimed that forcing a religion on children without questioning its merits is as bad as ‘child abuse’.

The leading atheist said he was against the ‘indoctrination of religion’ and teaching it as fact.

Dawkins’ best-selling book The God Delusion argues that belief in a supernatural creator is irrational and harmful to society.

In the earlier interview, he claimed he had been told by a woman that while being abused by a priest was a ‘yucky’ experience, being told as a child that a Protestant friend who died would ‘roast in Hell’ was more distressing.

In remarks to Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera, he said: ‘Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.

In the interview with Psychologies magazine she said: ‘I was fascinated by [Maleficent] as a child. I thought she was the scariest and the most interesting of all the Disney characters. But I wanted to know more about her. Who is that gorgeous, elegant creature? So I loved the idea of playing a Disney villain. It sounded so much fun.

‘I was afraid of her. But I loved her too because she was this elegant, sexy, evil creature. I was drawn to her.

‘I got really emotional because the script is very powerful. The kids loved it.

‘We tried to make this sophisticated enough that adults will read things into it that kids won’t. Parents watching the movie will identify with Maleficent in a different way, which I think is fine.

‘Little kids on set cried when they saw me. People would bring their children on to the set and one kid said “Mommy, tell that mean witch to stop talking to me!”

‘We have a choice about how we take what happens to us in our life and whether or not we allow it to turn us. We can become consumed by hate and darkness, or we’re able to regain our humanity somehow, or come to terms with things and learn something about ourselves.’


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