From sleeping beauty to the frog prince – why we shouldn’t ban fairytales



File 20171213 31706 1k3e5cs.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The famous ‘kiss’ scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Disney

Michelle Smith, Monash University

Recently, an English mother, Sarah Hall, prompted worldwide media coverage in response to her suggestion that Sleeping Beauty should be removed from the school curriculum for young children because of the “inappropriate sexual message” it sends about consent.

It’s not the only time fairytales have come under scrutiny recently. They are increasingly being targeted for “banning” within schools or avoidance by parents because of their perceived sexism, passive princesses, and reinforcement of marriage as girls’ ultimate goal. But can fairy tales actually be harmful as their critics believe?

‘Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm, as illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia.
Flickr CC

Fairy tales were once told – and then written – by adults for adult audiences. Early versions of many tales were often bawdy, salacious and replete with sexual innuendo. Since the Grimm Brothers removed these elements to reconfigure the fairy tale for children in the early 19th century, fairy tales have been seen as ideal, imaginative stories for young people. Almost all of us know the most popular stories from childhood reading or Disney films.

Tradition is not reason enough to continue a cultural practice that has become outmoded. Nevertheless, there are a range of reasons why these calls to restrict children from reading fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty are misguided.

Children’s literature needn’t model ‘ideal’ behaviour

Initially, most children’s literature was didactic and preoccupied with instructing children in correct morals and drilling them with information.


Read more: A new twist on an old fairytale as a daughter dances away from the patriarchy


Adult readers today would struggle to find any pleasure in children’s literature prior to 1850, let alone today’s kids. In order to provide “delight” as well as “instruction”, children’s books represent a range of behaviour, including, in the case of fairy tales, the attempted murder of children, and punishments such as feet being severed and birds pecking out human eyes.

In Charles Perrault’s version of Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper (illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia) Cinderella leaves behind a glass slipper.
Flickr CC

Charles Perrault was the French author who added the famous motifs of the glass slipper and pumpkin coach to the Cinderella tale. In his version of Sleeping Beauty, after the Princess and the Prince marry in secret and have two children, the Prince’s mother is entirely unimpressed. Unsurprisingly within a fairy tale, the Prince’s mother is descended from ogres and she demands that the two children be killed and eaten for dinner by the whole family, with the macabre detail that the boy is to be served with Sauce Robert.

As in Snow White, in which the Huntsman refuses to kill the heroine and substitutes an animal heart for that of Snow White’s, no actual harm comes to the princess or her children but not before the ogress has prepared a tub full of vipers in a typical last-ditch attempt at villainy.

When we consider the norms of evil and violence in fairy tales – most of which are usually punished – it is bizarre to imagine every detail serving as a behavioural model for children. If we insisted that every character in children’s literature behaved precisely as we wish to teach children to behave then we would likely be presenting bland stories that no child would actually read.

Maleficent’s curse came to pass on the Princess’ 16th birthday…but the good fairies changed the curse so the Princess would not die, but sleep ‘til awakened by true love’s kiss.
Flickr CC

Considering plot points in context

If we focus on one plot point, like the kiss in Sleeping Beauty, we can overlook the overall narrative context.

Within the tale, it becomes legend that the sleeping spell that has been cast on the Princess will only be broken after one-hundred years by the kiss of a king’s son. The narrative premise includes a premonition about how the magic will unfold and demands the resolution of the prince’s kiss to “save” the princess who must wait to be returned to consciousness.

While we might critique the emphasis on romance and passivity from a feminist perspective, the idea that the tale is promoting the equivalent of a Steubenville scenario in which an unconscious young woman is sexually assaulted ignores the magical logic of the fantasy world.


Read more: Once upon a time: a brief history of children’s literature


By that measure, we might see Prince Charming as a maniacal stalker as he demands all women in the kingdom try on the glass slipper in order to track down the attractive girl who failed to slip him her address before running off from the ball.

In Sleeping Beauty, it is significant that the Prince is told about the Princess being doomed to sleep until she is awakened by a king’s son. The Prince recognises that he is one of few people who can end the curse and resolves to tackle the brambles and thorns that surround the castle in which she is trapped in slumber.

Significantly, in the Grimms’ version, Little Brier-Rose, numerous young men try to push themselves through the thorny hedge and die miserably in the attempt. However the hedge turns into flowers for the Prince and allows him through. Only the right man, with the right motivations, and the one who can release the Princess from the curse – is permitted through.

Rather than being a parallel to a kiss taken without consent, the Sleeping Beauty kiss is akin to a paramedic giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an unconscious person who would most usually want to be revived.

Many versions of every fairy tale

The version of Sleeping Beauty targeted in the UK is part of the “Biff, Chip and Kipper” series designed to teach children to read. These books aim to educate children in the mechanics of reading and, as such, some of the literary nuance, symbolism, and visual artistry present in many fairy tales and picture books based upon them are no doubt lacking.

It is important to recall that there is no definitive version of a fairy tale. Calls for “bans” of a particular tale ignore variations between, say, Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty complete with cannibalistic, viper-wielding ogress and the Grimms’ less violent adaptation.


Read more: Friday essay: why grown-ups still need fairy tales


Rather than eschewing fairy tales entirely, parents and educators would be better placed to look to quality adaptations and retellings by outstanding children’s authors, such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, which merges Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle.
Flickr CC

In this tale, the Queen sets out on a journey armed with a sword to save the Princess and is the one who rescues her through a kiss.

There is even a picture book version called Sleeping Bobby in which the gender roles are entirely reversed. Numerous parodies such as John Scieszka’s The Frog Prince Continued, in which the Princess’s married life with the frog is far from “happily ever after”, can also be a way for older readers to begin to question and play with the conventional gender expectations of some fairy tales.

Reweaving old stories into new

Fairy tales have been undergoing a continuous process of being rewoven into new stories for hundreds of years.

Just as many old tales have fallen out of favour and are no longer known, so too might some contemporary favourites eventually stop being told to children, potentially replaced by reworked versions or entirely new stories.

The ConversationThis storytelling method of old wine being poured into new bottles has a rich tradition and does not require our intervention. After all, the people who ban books in stories are always the villains, not the heroes.

Michelle Smith, Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Friday essay: why grown-ups still need fairy tales



File 20171116 19845 16kf5ly.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Edmund Dulac’s 1910 illustration of Sleeping Beauty.
Wikimedia images

Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle

For as long as we have been able to stand upright and speak, we have told stories. They explained the mysteries of the world: birth, death, the seasons, day and night. They were the origins of human creativity, expressed in words but also in pictures, as evidenced by the cave paintings of Chauvet (France) and Maros (Indonesia). On the walls of these caves, the paintings, which date back to around 30-40,000 BC, tell us myths or sacred narratives of the spirits of the land, the fauna of the regions, and humankind’s relationship to them.

A hyena painting found in the Chauvet cave.
Wikimedia images

As humanity progressed, other types of stories developed. These were not concerned with the mysteries of the meaning of life but with everyday, domestic matters. While they were more mundane in the issues they explored, such tales were no less spectacular in their creativity and inclusion of the supernatural.

These smaller, everyday stories, combining the world of humans with fantastical creatures and seemingly impossible plots are now classified as fairy tales or folk tales. Such tales, originating in pre-literate societies and told by the folk (or the average person), capture the hopes and dreams of humanity. They convey messages of overcoming adversity, rising from rags to riches, and the benefits of courage.

Hansel and Gretel by Arthur Rackham.
Wikimedia images

Fairy tales are also extremely moral in their demarcation between good and evil, right and wrong. Their justice references the ancient tradition of an eye for an eye, and their punishments are ruthless and complete. Originally for adults (sometimes for children), fairy tales can be brutal, violent, sexual and laden with taboo. When the earliest recorded versions were made by collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, the adult content was maintained. But as time progressed and Christian morality intervened, the tales became diluted, child-friendly and more benign.

Despite these changes, it is apparent that fairy tales are still needed today, even for grown-ups. In an uncanny, sometimes inexplicable way, we consciously and unconsciously continue to tell them, despite advances in logic, science and technology. It’s as if there is something ingrained in us – something we cannot suppress – that compels us to interpret the world around us through the lens of such tales. And if we are not the tellers, we are the greedy consumers.

‘Fairy tale’ princesses and ‘wicked witches’

The 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, for example, has been cast – like her life – as a fairy tale. Throughout the year, she has been commemorated in articles with headings such as “a troubled fairy tale”, “beyond a fairy tale”, and “just another fairy tale”. While these articles have endeavoured to deconstruct the familiar narrative, they have not been entirely successful.

Fairy tale wedding? Prince Frederik and Princess Mary.
Jerry Lampen/Reuters

The notion of a fairy tale princess has also characterised the coverage of Princess Mary of Denmark and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge. Even after 13 years of marriage, our own “Aussie princess” is described as living a fairy tale, evident in 2017 media stories with titles such as “Princess Mary and Prince Frederik’s fairy tale royal romance”. Likewise, Kate, once a commoner, now a princess, has featured in articles titled “Prince William and Duchess Kate’s fairy-tale love story” and “Kate’s Most Royal Fairy Tale Gown (To Date)”. As the titles of some of these stories show, they also feature the mandatory prince charming (William), or the prince who is revealed to be not-so-charming after all (Charles). Others extend the fairy tale formula to include wicked stepmothers (Di’s real life stepmother) and wicked witches (Camilla).

Is such recourse to fairy tales merely a media stunt to sell stories packaged in an easily consumable, gossip-laden snack box? Or do these articles reflect that deep-seated compulsion of ours to tell and, in turn, to listen to stories? The answers are “yes” and “yes”. But let’s forget the media’s role and look at the more interesting latter point.

Many fairy tales began thousands of years ago, the age depending on the tale itself. Beauty and the Beast has its origins in the story of Cupid and Psyche from the Greek novel, The Golden Ass, from the second century AD.

Jacques-Louis David’s 1817 painting of Cupid and Psyche, the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast.
Wikimedia images

In this tale, the beautiful Psyche is visited at night by an invisible lover – hearing only a voice – whom she is led to believe is a monster. While recorded by the novelist, Apuleius, the story is almost certainly much older; perhaps having its origins in myth and ritual, and handed down by word of mouth.

The research of Dr Jamie Tehrani has unearthed an early date for Red Riding Hood, which he has traced back to at least 2,000 years; not originating in Asia, as once believed, but most likely in Europe. Other tales studied by Tehrani have been dated to as early as 6,000 years ago.

Fairy tales are excellent narratives with which to think through a range of human experiences: joy, disbelief, disappointment, fear, envy, disaster, greed, devastation, lust, and grief (just to name a few). They provide forms of expression to shed light not only on our own lives but on the lives beyond our own. And, contrary to the impression that fairy tales always end happily ever after, this is not the case – therein lies much of their power.

They helped our ancestors make sense of the unpredictability or randomness of life. They repeated familiar experiences of unfairness, misfortune, bad luck, and ill-treatment and sometimes showed us how courage, determination and ingenuity could be employed even by the most disempowered to change the course of events.

Arthur Rackham’s Jack and the Beanstalk Giant.
Wikimedia images

Jack and the Beanstalk, for example, tells how a chance encounter with a stranger (an old man who provides magic beans) can bring about terrible danger (meeting a giant) but also terrific good fortune (acquiring a hen that lays golden eggs). The tale also celebrates how a poor boy can make the most of an arbitrarily dangerous situation that could have gone either way – being eaten or becoming rich – through his bravery and his intellect.

Fairytales also celebrated unexpected good fortune and acts of kindness and heroism, thereby reinforcing – even restoring – our faith in humanity. As tales of the folk, they not only entertained, but reflected the turmoils and triumphs of the lower classes, and enabled them to fantasise about how the “other half” lived.

Cinderalla and social criticism

But tales of kings, queens, princes and princesses – of which there are many – are not only a means of mental escape for the poor. They are also a means of social criticism.

19th century engraving of Gustave Doré’s Cendrillon – Cinderella. From Dore’s 1864 edition of Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals, originally published in 1697.
Wikimedia images

In Cinderella, as recorded by Charles Perrault, the two stepsisters may have every material possession imaginable, but their cruelty renders them grotesque. And, of course, the lowly Cinderella triumphs. In the German version, Aschenputtel, recorded by the Brothers Grimm, the fate of the stepsisters is very different. Whereas Perrault’s version has the kindly Cinderella forgive them, the Grimms – clearly working from another tradition – describe how they have their eyes plucked out by pigeons!

Such stories of fantasising about a royal life and simultaneously despising it may have functioned as an emotional release similar to the ancient Greek experience of catharsis (the shedding of anxieties through watching outrageous tragedies and obscene comedies).

Taking the fascination with Diana’s life as a fairy tale, for example, we still employ the cathartic release of the genre to interrogate her and, for those of us so inclined, to find some meaning in the Di phenomenon. From the romantic courtship, to the wedding of the century and that dress, to motherhood, glamour, betrayal, heartbreak, divorce, alienation and a new love cut short by an early death.

Diana on her wedding day in 1981.
Mal Langsdon/Reuters

Some, of course, have criticised the warm, fuzzy emotionalism that has sprung from the fairy tale of Di’s life. If it is not to your liking, there are more robust tales with powerful messages of resistance and resilience. In tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Donkeyskin, the young protagonists are persecuted and abused by predators.

There is much to complain about in these tales from a politically correct or feminist perspective. They are violent and subversive: Gretel pushes a witch into an oven and in Perrault’s version of Donkeyskin, a king wishes to marry his daughter following the death of his wife. But they are more than narratives of abuse. They are also about courage and ingenuity on the part of the young survivors.

Miwa Yanagi, Gretel 2004, gelatin silver print.
Collection of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

Courtesy of the artist and Yoshiko Isshiki Office, Tokyo

Donkeyskin, variants of which are extant in English (Catskin) and German (All-Kinds-Of-Fur), champions the bravery and inherent goodness of the young heroine who dresses in the skin of a donkey and leaves the palace in order to escape her father’s desires. Her subsequent life as a servant, filthy, humiliated, reviled and renamed “Donkeyskin” by her fellow servants, never crushes her soul.

Within the fantasy and the convenient appearance of supernatural assistants or a romantic ending, both of which feature in Donkeyskin, these stories are powerful reminders that evil exists in the world in the form of human beings – but it is not definitive or unconquerable.

Contemporary reworkings

With the publication of the Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, artists and illustrators were the first interpreters of fairy tales. Visual responses have ranged from famous works by Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac to Maurice Sendak and Jan Pieńkowski.

More dissident responses have included the photographs of Dina Goldstein, whose Fallen Princesses series (2007-2009) is an astute response to the Disney princess phenomenon of unattainable, debilitating images of femininity and romance in bowdlerised versions of the original tales. Here, Goldstein critiques the superficiality of the princess stereotype, reminding us that it is as facile for children as the Diana fairy tale dream is for adults.

Before Goldstein, photographer Sarah Moon also challenged the dilution of fairy tales in the modern west through her provocative (sometimes banned) interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. In this powerful rendition, Moon takes her child reader back to the original and raw meanings embedded in the tale through her exploration of the theme of the human predator in the symbolic guise of the wolf.

Moon’s decision to return to the terror and drama of the Grimms’ version is testimony to the need to challenge the dilution and contamination of the tales. Even the Grimms were guilty of adding and subtracting to the material, particularly when it came to the insertion of overt Christian morality. Equally if not more so, the Disneyfication of fairy tales has stripped them of the power and the pain to which Moon returns.

Writers and poets have also responded to the tales and, like Moon, have regularly sought to return them to their once formidable status. Women authors in particular have created powerful, sometimes heartbreaking – but always real and truthful – new versions.

Among the thousands of old tales in new clothes is the literature of second wave feminists, including the suite entitled Transformations (1971) by renegade poet Anne Sexton, who takes the domesticity of the original tales and mocks, ridicules, cherishes and – literally – transforms them. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1979), a magnificent collection of retellings of famous fairy tales, is full of female empowerment, sensuality and violence in a tour de force that both reinstates the potency of the stories and re-imagines them.

Novelist, poet and essayist, Margaret Atwood also transforms the originals. Her response to The Girl Without Hands, which tells the story of a young woman who agrees to sacrifice her hands in order to save her father from the devil, in a poem of the same name is a profound meditation on the continuation of both abuse and survival.

The fairy tales first preserved by collectors such as the Brothers Grimm – retold, bastardised, edited, annotated, banned and reclaimed – belong ultimately to the folk who first told them. And the folk continue to tell and retell them. Closer to home than the Black Forest, a new show at the The Ian Potter Museum of Art contains work by international and Australian artists, including Tracy Moffatt and Sally Smart. The show returns – once again – to fairy tales to express social concerns and anxieties surrounding issues such as the abuse of power, injustice and exploitation.

Dina Goldstein, Snowy 2008 from the Fallen Princess series.
digital photograph

Courtesy of the artist

Fairy tales are, indeed, good to think with, and their retellings shed light on cultural, societal and artistic movements. Both children and adults should read more fairy tales – both the original and the transformed versions, for they are one of our cultural touchstones.

The ConversationAll the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed, is on from Thursday 23 Nov 2017 to Sunday 4 Mar 2018 at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne.

Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How 19th century fairy tales expressed anxieties about ecological devastation


Image 20170316 20776 17ofa73
In the Fir Tree, children stamp on a discarded – but feeling – Christmas tree.
The Fir Tree, illustrated by George Dalziel and Edward Dalziel, from Out of the Heart: Spoken to the Little Ones, 1867

Victoria Tedeschi, University of Melbourne

Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen was one of the most popular European fairy tale authors in 19th century England. While today Andersen is known for his agonised mermaids, disabled tin soldiers and disenfranchised match sellers, his Victorian readers celebrated tales that raised environmental concerns during an age of rapid industrialisation. The Conversation

According to a recent international research project, human activity has been the leading cause of global warming since the early stages of the Industrial Revolution – decades before scientists had previously estimated. Global warming is not a 20th-century phenomenon; rather, humans have been impacting the environment for over 180 years.

From 1760 to 1914 in England, vast numbers of people moved from the country to the city for financial security. London’s population swelled, prompting a century-long struggle with filth. An outdated sewage system released all human waste into the capital’s water supply, smoke poured from both factory and domestic chimneys and streets were caked with coal, mud, vegetable matter and animal waste.

As urban life became increasingly distanced from nature, Andersen’s fairy tales thrived. While Victorian fantasy literature often romanticised nature as an escape from the encroaching industrial landscape, Andersen showed human characters as the source of environmental degradation.

For example, Andersen’s stories The Fir Tree, The Daisy and The Flax, feature plants that are tortured and abused by human characters. In these stories, talking plants suffer the dangers of industry.

Illustration for The Daisy, by George Dalziel and Edward Dalziel.
Out of the Heart: Spoken to the Little Ones (1867)

Despite the pain they experience, these plants are selfless providers willing to compromise their personal happiness for human interest. These sympathetic depictions of nature, during a century of environmental devastation, encouraged children to reflect on their impact on the landscape.

Other tales, such as The Great Sea Serpent, detail the emerging conflict between animals and technology. The story describes fish reacting to the installation of the transatlantic telegraph cable, which ran the length of the Atlantic ocean between Europe and America.

With the chaos of the installation, schools of fish become separated, sea-anemones “were so agitated that they threw up their stomachs” and the cod and flounders who once “lived peacefully” began to eat their neighbours.

When the fish rally together to destroy the cable, a shark is impaled by a sword-fish and “great fishes and small, sea-anemones and snails rushed at one another, ate each other, mashed and squeezed in” while “the cable lay quietly and attended to its affairs”. The telegraph cable is not a positive technological breakthrough, but a threat to the environment.

Illustration from A Drop of Water.

A microscopic (yet equally voracious) ecosystem and its parallels with increasingly hostile cities is the subject of Andersen’s Drop of Water. A sorcerer named Creep-and-Crawl examines an extract of ditch water using a microscopic lens. He notices organisms that “hopped and jumped about, pulled one another and pecked one another”. Seeing the organism’s violent, unruly conduct, his colleague assumes that the creatures must be living in a capital city.

The Victorian public was equally horrified by the organisms that were hidden in its drinking water. The fear of contaminated water was well founded: an antiquated sewage system directed London’s cesspools to the Thames, which was the capital’s water reserve. Chemicals from factories were also released into the river, spreading waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.

Andersen’s contemporaries also exaggerated microscopic images of organisms (otherwise known as “monster soup”) in contemporary journals. In these illustrations, samples of water from the Thames were filled with a host of aggressive, potentially deadly beasts.

Anonymous engraving in Punch Magazine, The Wonders of a London Water Drop.

For example, an anonymous illustration published in Punch magazine in 1850 shows hybrid and humanoid creatures wearing tuxedos in a petri dish. Amidst the chaos, small worm-like creatures spell out the word “pestilence”.

William Heath’s coloured engraving from 1828 features winged creatures, hybrid animals and crustaceans with protruding fangs; the woman viewing the contaminated water is so disgusted that she drops her cup and saucer.

Monster Soup Commonly Known as Thames Water (1828), William Heath.
Public domain

By exploring the repercussions of an industrialised landscape, Andersen’s fairy tales provided commentary on a very real, looming threat to the English landscape and its population.

Today, with the steady rise of dystopian literature, ecofiction and climate change fiction (otherwise known as “cli fi”), we see similar artistic responses to environmental change which steer readers away from complacency. As authors seek to express the gravity and severity of ecological crises, their literature holds the potential to inspire radical change.

Victoria Tedeschi, PhD candidate, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Origins of Classic Fairy Tales


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the origin of several classic fairy tales, including Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

For more visit:
http://www.omnivoracious.com/2017/01/abebooks-grimm-fairy-tales-amazon-book-review.html

Article: 500 New Fairytales Discovered in Germany


The link below is to an article that reports on the discovery of 500 new fairytales in Germany.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/mar/05/five-hundred-fairytales-discovered-germany

Article: First Fairytale of Hans Christian Andersen Found


The link below is to an interesting article about Hans Christian Andersen and the discovery of what is believed to have been his first fairytale written while a schoolboy.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/dec/13/hans-christian-andersen-first-fairytale

News: 500 New Fairytales Discovered in Germany


The link below is to an article reporting on the recent discovery of 500 new fairytales that have been discovered in an archive in Germany.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/05/five-hundred-fairytales-discovered-germany