Recently I received notice about a Publisher’s Weekly Book News article entitled “Fairy Tales Gone Bad: An Excerpt from ‘Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses.’ ” Apparently in this book by Ron Koertge and Andrea Dezso, the central figures in many popular fairy tales do unspeakable and surprising things. Coupled with the remarks about fairy tales our Friday guest, Dean Hardy, made, this article has me thinking about the progression of fairy tales.
Perhaps the most famous fairy tales, intended for an audience of adults and children alike, come from a collection by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, with Hans Christian Andersen’s, a close second. Both the German writers and their Dane counterpart published in the early 19th century. By the middle of the 20th century in America, fairy tale translations were commonly aimed at children, with some endings softened to remove images that might disturb young minds.
And there was plenty of material in those stories to disturb–child abuse, brutal deaths, prejudice, and the presence of evil in the world. The softened versions, perhaps epitomized by the Disney films and accompanying comic books, seemed to anchor fairy tales in the camp of stories for children.
I first realized that fairy tales were making a comeback for an older audience when I learned about Shannon Hale’s reinvention of a fairy tale in her debut novel The Goose Girl. Since then, I’ve found that writers like Robin McKinley (Rose Daughter, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast) and Donna Jo Napoli (Spinners, The Magic Circle, Zel, Crazy Jack) preceded her with fairy tale novelizations.
As so often happens, books, film, and TV mirror each other. When a genre becomes popular in one venue, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes popular in another. Fairy tales have had moderate success in movies since Princess Bride and Ever After. Now TV has discovered them as well, most notably in Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon A Time (ABC). Unlike the softened, for-children stories of thirty years ago, these shows have a decided, 21st century dark edge. Some might even say they lean toward horror.
Happily, Christians have joined the fairy tale retelling and/or invention. Melanie Dickerson (The Healer’s Apprentice, The Merchant’s Daughter) Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Tales of Goldstone Wood series), Suzanne Lakin (The Gates of Heaven series) are some of the authors writing novels either inspired by fairy tales or re-configuring them.
So I wonder. Is our perception of fairy tales changing? As Dean said in his post Friday, some guys feel as if their “man card” is at risk if they admit to reading fairy tales. Tolkien has wars and a civilization-saving quest, outsmarting a dragon and evading goblins, but fairy tales are about saving a damsel in distress. The damsels, of course, very much want those stories told. But do guys want to read them?
Have the “gender wars” made fairy tales unpalatable to men? The retelling, I notice, often makes the damsel the hero of her own story–though less so in those by Christians.
So many thoughts and questions. What effect do “no-rescue” stories–those in which the main character finds his or her own way out–have on our culture?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on fairy tales. Feel free to weigh in on any of these questions or pose your own. Have you read any of the more recent fairy tale retellings or any of the stories fashioned in the style of fairy tales? Is this a genre you want to see more of?
I’m looking forward to your thoughts.