On Fairy Tales

Philip Pullman calls the stories in his bind up called Four TalesThe Firework-Maker’s Daughter, I was a Rat! Or The Scarlet Slippers, Clockwork or All Wound Up and The Scarecrow and his Servant – fairy tales.

He says, ‘What I mean by fairy tale is a story in which all kinds of improbable and sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome things happen, and in which a hero or heroine is tested and found worthy, and in which is all comes right in the end. Nothing like a novel, in fact, because in a novel it can be as dull as mud and everything ends in misery.’By Philip Pullman’s definition, a whole lot of stories could be considered fairy tales. However, in most people’s minds, there is a sort of fairy tale canon – the works of the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson. Some lucky tales, like Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, are fortunate to join the ranks of these stories. But most stories written today, I believe, would not be considered fairy tales.

‘Land of Fairy Tales’ by Inchukalns

Fairy tales have always enchanted us, and have constantly been reimagined. Several o Perrault’s fairy tales are less gruesome versions of the Brothers Grimm’s stories. Many of the fairy tales people of my generation will have encountered are the Disneyfied versions, the singing and dancing versions. Recently, there has been a trend to subvert the original fairy tale, a la Shrek style. Princesses rescuing princes. Wicked characters turning out to actually be good. Turning the original fairy tale on its head. I read somewhere recently that there has been such a strong appearance of these types of tales recently that children now are being introduced to fairytales now through the subverted version, and do not actually encounter the ‘real’ version of the fairy tale.

I find this interested, as the whole point of the subverted fairytale is to recognize how it is similar to an existing story and see the differences, but if you have never heard of the ‘original’, how can you see the point it is trying to make? I have been pondering if this is a negative thing or not. After all, fairy tales are fluid stories, that have changed shape for hundreds of years – the Grimm Brothers wrote down stories that had been told orally, and had probably changed shape before then every time a new person told the story.

Are the shapes of fairy tales a sign of the world at that time? Is there basic plot points, or characters, or elements of a fairy tale that should stay the same, that should stand true throughout time? How about new fairy tales? In this world where prince and princesses are few, and knights pretty rare, should we start telling new fairy tales, like Philip Pullman, that show how our world is now?

What do you think?



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