I've been thinking about fairy tales lately. About women who are portrayed as beautiful, helpless creatures awaiting their Prince Charming to come along and make them happy. And about women who are strong managers and leaders.

Sometimes when I read "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to my 3-year old granddaughter for the seventh time in as many days, I let myself go. I surrender myself to the story and I go galumphing in the magical world of her imagination. Other times the story makes me frumious.

I love it when Matilda pretends to dress up in a satin gown to attend a gala ball at the palace. But I also chortle with joy when my beamish girl bandersnatches a night crawler from the garden and holds it out for me to see, proudly displaying this wiggly creature that is nearly one-fourth as long as she is tall.

We often pause in our reading to talk. Wouldn't you love to live in a tiny cottage deep in the forest? I ask. Yes, I would, she says. But maybe you would make smarter choices. Maybe you would listen to your seven little friends when they warn you to be on your guard. Yes, I would. And maybe you would learn to take care of yourself rather than wait for a young prince to carry you off to his castle. Yes, maybe.

But I go easy on the moralizing. Why do they whistle? she asks. Because they're happy, I say. Sometimes it's better to keep things simple. "Tomorrow there'll be so much to do," as the Dixie Chicks remind us, "so tonight I'll drift in a dream with you." I want her life to be frabjous, not weighed down with mimsy.

Imagination. It's a wonderful thing. We should never outgrow it.

Another reason I've been thinking about fairy tales is Stacey, a young woman who wrote to me in advance of a writing workshop I recently taught at the Loft Literary Center. She told me she was "somewhat new to writing" but had "oodles of experience" in the theater.

"I have a master's in directing theater," she explained. "I haven't been able to work with the theater many years due to my kidlet and am excited by my new fondness for writing. Below is an excerpt of a writing sample from a fairy tale writing class I recently finished. I have a thing for fairy tales."

As well she should. Fairy tales, as we discussed in class along with the schemes and tropes of figurative language, can serve as a metaphor for life. Where would we be without imagination? Without it, where would we look to find our vision as managers and leaders?

In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass," Alice declares, "There's no use trying. One can't believe impossible things," to which the queen replies, "I daresay you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

How could we make a better world without imagination?

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.