I’ve said this before – one good part of having your own blog is that you can be repetitive – but I do so love fairy tales! Right now I’m writing a paper on mother-child relationships in “Once Upon a Time” and in doing so I got to look back at a lot of old fairy tales.
Now, if you’ve never looked back at the older versions of fairy tale – not original, mind you. Considering the first known version of “Beauty and the Beast” was the Ancient Greek myth “Cupid and Psyche” and that nearly every culture, and nearly every time period, has their own version of “Cinderella,” ‘original’ is hardly a word I’d apply to any fairy tale. But if you look back at European fairy tales, before they were written and changed and came to America, you might be surprised at what you find, especially since they dominate our culture now.
Did you know there’s a version of “Red Riding Hood” where Red does a striptease for the wolf and then convinces him she has to go to the bathroom – no indoor plumbing – and runs out and escapes on her own? It’s my favorite version, especially since the wolf tries to convince her to just go in the bed. Unfortunately,when the European tales came over to America, we lost a lot of our female tricksters – characters like Brer Rabbit, Tom Thumb, or Captain Jack Sparrow; witty yet loveable con artists.
Or have you ever heard of the fairytale called Donkeyskin – written by Charles Perrault – wherein a king, ordered by his dying wife only to marry one as good and beautiful as she, falls in love with his own daughter, forcing her to hide in servitude in a neighboring castle? Probably not, but there’s more than one fairy tale along those lines, none of which made it over to America.
Rapunzel was kicked out of her tower because none of her clothes fit her expanding waistline after her prince’s many visits; Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother was originally their evil mother; the princess changed the frog back by throwing him violently against a wall during a tantrum.
All this is to say that fairy tales are actually very important reflections of society. You want to know what a society is talking about? Fairy tales/folk tales are a great place to look. Seeing the older versions, seeing the most popular versions, seeing the most recent versions – besides entertaining, it’s a great sociological experiment.
Compare the Grimms’ versions to modern retellings in books and media, like “The 10th Kingdom,” “Once Upon a Time,” or the works of John Moore, E.D. Baker, and Gail Carson Levine and you might surprise yourself with your thoughts and observations. And the more deliberately subversive works, like Robin McKinley (and her dark yet excellent Deerskin, based on “Donkeyskin”) and Angela Carter deserve some attention, too.
Look at Rick Riordan‘s retellings of the Ancient Greek myths in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series to connect and compare cultures thousands of years apart. Heck, even looking at the evolution of Disney films over the last near-century can be enlightening. And oral folk or fairy tales are even more amazing – if you know someone who’s telling them, be sure to listen!
Fairy tales, I think, are often overlooked or dismissed as “children’s stories” when in fact they’re a really cool way to engage with and talk about our society – and I’m not just talking about Disney princesses setting up unrealistic expectations for girls. If you like fairy tales, you should read them, regardless of your age. They are so important! And when you read them, give a thought or two as to what you think they mean in the context of the society you live in.
What do you guys think? Love fairy tales or hate them? Have a favorite author, retelling, version, or fairy tale? Is there one version you absolutely can’t stand? Or have you a good suggestion for non-European fairy tales? Leave a comment with your thoughts!