Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fractured Fairy Tales

People study fairy tales in college, write erudite books on their psychological implications, compare cultural similarities among fables and folktales, etc. I don’t know enough about any of that stuff, because I never gave the whole fairy tale situation much thought. I mean, as a kid I read them, saw the movies. But when Ely sent me the above cartoon a while back, I thought it might make for an interesting discussion and October’s contest!

Lots of fiction is based on classic fairy tale themes. I like the Cinderella idea so much I actually named one of my heroines Cynthia Elling, gave her two nasty stepsisters and a vile stepmother and hooked her up with Sir Harry Chalmers in the first book I ever finished, Bride by Midnight. Midnight, get it? Subtlety is apparently not my middle name. I guess the whole idea of rescue and transformation appeals to me, although Cynthia and Harry actually rescue and transform each other.

What’s your favorite fairy tale? Why do you think they’re so enduring? Do you approve of the Disneyfication of them? Which contemporary author writes the best new twist on an old tale? One commenter wins a happily-ever-after romance and other fun stuff! Winner picked and a new post on Thursday, October 11.

Fairy tales can come true,
it can happen to you
if you’re young at heart.
For its hard, you will find,
to be narrow of mind
if you’re young at heart
(in the words of Leigh/Richards…sung by Frank…almost believed by me)


Atherley said...

Oh, how I love that cartoon, Maggie! It's funny, but I haven't thought about fairy tales for a looooong time. All right, maybe it's not funny, because either it's an indication that I'm overrun by reality or that I've lost my ability to fantasize, LOL!

I have three favorite fairy tales, actually: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. I've no idea why, though I can guess it has something to do with endings that are provide hope ever after, not necessarily happiness ever after.

Oh! I nearly forgot: I tend to refer to classical music incarnations: Rossini's opera La Cenerentola for Cinderella, Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty for--what else?--Sleeping Beauty, and--ta da!--Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS for all the rest.

J.K. Coi said...

Hi Maggie, I thought it would be a good time to visit your blog, since I love fairy tales.

I think it's because they are such a contradiction. We have grown up with the idea that the term "fairy tale" equals "happily ever after", when in reality, the fairy tales we think we all know and love were pretty brutal stories without the happy ever after.

For kids, I think it's good that Disney has put such a spin on the fairy tales, it gives them something to watch besides Sponge Bob or Barney that will be sweet and carry a good message.

But I enjoy the darker read. I think that the original fairy tales, tell a lot about the politics and times in which they were written, and being a history geek, I like to look behind the literature of the times to see those indications into the people and places of our past.

Gillian Layne said...

I adore fairy tales (handy that I had three girls!), but I remember clearly my favorite two: Sleeping Beauty, since I could toddle about, and Beauty and the Beast, since the wonderful Disney movie came out, right before my first was born.

I have no problems with Disney.

Christina Dodd does (did?) the fairy tales well. But then she does everything well!!!

Hellie Sinclair said...

Story-wise, my favorite fairy tale is The Tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Just the thought of 12 girls disobeying, partying all night with handsome men, and having a riot of a time appeals to me. Then the handsome, battle-scarred soldier is kind to the old lady who gives him a magical cloak--and he figures out the great mystery of where the girls go, and he gets to marry the girl at the end.

Disney-wise, my favorite is: Beauty and the Beast. Obviously works for my fatal flaw of "bad boy" syndrome and "I can fix him with my love" mentality.

Fairy tales are enduring, I think, because they appeal to the fantasy within us--the fantasy that the good are truly rewarded; that love does conquer all--even bad boys who are really beasts; that if you're patient, your hero will come to your rescue--you just need to get some beauty rest.

Terri Osburn said...

When I was young my grandmother used to get books from Reader's Digest all the time. We ended up with original (somewhat I'm sure) versions of the Brothers Grimm tales. Kris is so right, those things were dark. And I like them that way.

But everything has to fit the politically correct, everyone's happy all the time theme these days. At least Disney still makes the villian really bad. Not as much as the first ones but still, not everything is sugarcoated.

Janga said...

I find Cinderella the most interesting because so much has been done with it. I have forgotten the exact number that Bruno Bettelheim gives in The Uses of Enchantment, but I know it is several hundred. Versions of it exist in dozens of different cultures. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen romances written by autobuy authors that use the theme.

If you haven't read Jenny Crusie's excellent essay “This Is Not Your Mother's Cinderella: The Romance Novel As Feminist Fairy Tale,” I highly recommend it.
In the conclusion, Crusie identifies what I see as the essential connection and modification between romance and fairy tales: "No matter how much the genre has evolved over the years, there is always a prince, and the heroine always wins his devotion. But the romance delivers more, promising the modern reader that she will win love only if she remains true to herself--active and passionate." I think those last words define the difference in the early Disney versions some of us grew up with and the fairy tales in the romances we love today.

Now that I have given my unsolicted lecture--:) I will add that on a purely personal note, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. From Cupid and Psyche to Hoyt's The Raven Prince, I love versions of that story. Judith Ivory's Beast, Teresa Medeiros's The Bride and the Beast, and Amanda Quick's Ravished are all in my all-time top 100 romances, although my favorite version may be Beauty, Robin McKinley's YA fantasy.

MarcAntonia said...

as far as the endurment of fairy tales, i think it has something to do with the idea of a perfect love. i mean, romance novels are like modern day fairy tales. they all live happily ever after, and we all want to too, don't we?

but me, of all the fairy tales, i adore beauty and the beast. i can't help it. and, though the 'disneyfication' of the tale did take away from its story, i do find it much more appealing.

and i loved 'the bride and the beast' by teresa medeiros...

Anonymous said...

Lol Love the cartoon. I think my favorites are Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Am taking an informal poll here. Beauty and the Beast was mentioned by MsHellion, Jessica, Janga, Marcantonia, and Gillian. It seems to be the clear winner so far.

Janga, you may be as professorial as you wish here---you always elevate the discourse!

Gillian, I have three girls too. I wonder if fairy tales are seen as mostly "female" stories?

Terrio and Kris, interesting that you mention "darker." When I was little, my Viennese grandmother sent me a book of fairy tales written in German, all of which were guaranteed to give me nightmares with the illustrations. Thank goodness I couldn't understand the words! Did anyone see the Brothers Grimm movie with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, which I believe was as dark as could be?

Anne, thanks for reminding us that fairy tales are fodder for the musical world as well as literature.

Hellion, I've never read the 12 Dancing Princesses. Sounds like something I'd like!

Marc and Jessica, thanks for visiting! (and of course thanks to the rest of you regulars!)

Anonymous said...

Elyssany, I love the cartoon! Very funny!

By far and away (pun intended) my favourite fairy tale is Cinderella. I just adore the 'love conquers all' theme which is evident throughout a lot of classic fairy tales.

Being that this is my favourite fairy tale, you could imagine my excitment when I stumbled across Julia Quinn's 'An Offer from a Gentleman'. I just had to have it! This novel has since become my all time favourite, not just of JQ's, but of all historical romance novels.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Kizza! A fellow Cinderella addict! And yes, big thanks to Elyssa for the cartoon, which is one of the funniest I've seen. Ely, do you know we're talking about you? *g*

Anonymous said...

Hey Maggie! I jumped over from Eloisa and Julia's BB and I just had to share this very funny fairy tale I remember reading (and bookmarking!) a few years ago. I'm a great fan of fairy tales and still read them on daily basis so I was glad to see others interested in them as well!

Anyway, the story I wanted to share is Will Shetterly's The Princess who Kicked Butt and it's really worth reading. :)
The Princess Who Kicked Butt

Keira Soleore said...

Maggie, I love, love, love that cartoon. My favorite fairy tale story is "Snow White." However, I like fairy tales in general, so all of Grimm's, Anderson's, Aesop', etc. I'm also a huge fan of the Nordic and Irish mythologies, which are fairy tailish in the plot, except that the characters purpotedly actually lived.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Alarwyn, that fairy tale kicked butt!

Keira, Snow White was the first Disney movie I ever saw. I was absolutely awed (and about four).

Keira Soleore said...

Maggie, Snow White was my first Disney movie, too. :) Perhaps that's why I have a soft spot for it.

irisheyes said...

I'm going to be totally unoriginal and say Beauty and the Beast with a strong second being Cinderella. It's just good storytelling, IMHO. Who can resist the tortured hero finding true love or the down on her luck heroine getting all she deserves and then some?

Carey Baldwin said...

My favorite fairy tale is a parable called The Camel Dances

It's about a camel who longs to make every movement a thing of grace and beauty. She practices long hours, but when she gives a recital for her friends, they make fun of her lumpy, bumpy, clumsy form.

But the camel continues to dance, and it gives her many years of pleasure. I love that story!

Tessa Dare said...

Janga beat me to all my erudite comments! (And said them way better than I could) I went to library school at a university with a huge folklore focus and world-class collection of folktales. The endless variations on archetypal themes fascinate me, as do the ways these stories can fill emotional and informational needs for us, a la Bettelheim.

I really believe that romance novels are a way for women to keep reading variations on Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and other favorite stories - the idea that people ever 'outgrow' these stories is a modern fallacy, IMO. These kinds of tales resonate with us in a very elemental way.

And Robin McKinley's Beauty is definitely my favorite fairy tale retelling.

Tiffany Clare said...

I love the actual cinderella fairytale. I'm not so fond of it being retold in a romance novel. Fav disney is beauty and the beast.... I like those beasty men. And when the prince needs to be redeemed... be still my heart.

Ladytink_534 said...

I love that cartoon! I actually have it saved somewhere. I've always been a big faerie tale fan (and a reader of W.B. Yeats as well) but I have to say that my favorite traditional faerie tale would have to be Beauty and the Beast. One of the first guys I ever loved called me Belle lol.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Welcome, Ladytink! You join the long line in the Beauty & the Beast camp. Tiff, you and your werewolves wiggle over and make room for Irish, too.

Tessa, it's always hard to top Janga, but you came close. Again, I wonder if fairy tales seem exclusively "female," since they resonate with women far past their girlhood. I wonder if boys/men are as enthralled with the themes. Who's a fairy tale expert here?

India, I feel a lot like your camel, lumpy and bumpy! I never read that tale but will look for it.

Elyssa Papa said...

Ohhh, I feel so special. *g* I thought I had posted it earlier on in the week but obviously I was dreaming. I don't know where I found the cartoon, but it's definitely a funny one.

I'm torn in two with fairy tales: I love Cinderella because of the whole comeuppance factor and I love, love, love Beauty and the Beast. Especially the Disney version because it was the first heroine who read and loved books, plus she was a brunette. And as a 16-yr old girl (when the movie came out), I harbored notions that I, too, could make a beast become a man. Or at the very least, that people could fall in love, warts and all.

RevMelinda said...

Hi Maggie and friends,
It's Cinderella for me. I had my dad read it to me every night for like a year when I was a tyke. And I saw it ten times when I was two (in the theater, in those dark ages before DVD). Obviously it has Shaped My Developmental Trajectory.

Though I do love Chip and Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth. And from The Little Mermaid, fabulous Sebastian and the song "Kiss the Girl."

(Maggie, I got my hair cut!)


Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

RevM, tres glam! This must be the season for reinvention, cause I just got my bob bobbed---not quite like Posh Spice, but along those lines. Like you,I saw all my Disney movies in the theater too. My actual favorite is Lady and the Tramp, which is of course not a fairy tale, but beloved just the same. It IS a romance!

Ely, you ARE special! Cinderella and B & B seem to be everybody's favorites. You are in good company. And a huge thank-you for the cartoon!

Anonymous said...

....and remember Tess Trueheart?

Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie! Thought I'd pop on over from the BB.

I guess I fall in with the Cinderella/Beauty camp...but I do have a few other faves. Love, love, love the story called "Snow White and Rose Red"...which is a totally different Snow White. Also, just becuase I've always like frogs, "The Frog Prince" has always had a special place in my heart.

Anonymous said...

Ooops...I forgot to put my name down for the last entry...Sorry Mags.

Anonymous said...

Hey Maggie...I found a link to the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" for you.

Also, wasn't sure if you'd read "Snow-White and Rose-Red" before, so here's the link for that.

MICHELE said...

I agree on The Dancing Princesses as my favorite. How fun to escape every night to an underground ballroom!I'm a children's librarian and folktales are a bit of a hobby, so I love this thread.

If you're interested, there are a lot of great modern, feminist, and/or fractured folk and fairy tales out there. The Practical Princess and Other Fairly Liberating Tales by Jay Williams and Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Fairy Tales by Alison Lurie are both favorites. And both out of print, unfortunately. Tales From the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by the always wonderful Vivian Vande Velde has some good parodies, and Donna Jo Napoli and Robin McKinley do superb retellings for older kids/teens/adults.

For adults, the Faerie Tale series, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, is highly recommended. Most of the novels, based on traditional tales and ballads, are dark and complex. Some favorite authors in the series are Sherri Tepper, Jane Yolen, Pamela Dean, and Charles DeLint.

(Jumped over from the EJ/JQ BB, where I'm librarygrrl64)

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Michele, welcome! I work in a high school library, and I've noticed a lot of YA that's fairy tale based lately...and the girls are checking them out with great regularity.

Crystal Anne, thanks so much for the links. I'm going to put my dancing shoes on!