Bowdlerized fairy tales
Fear of fairy tales
The glossy, sanitized new versions of fairy tales leave out what
matters: the scary parts
By Joanna Weiss
September 21, 2008
Probably because she'd expressed a firm interest in fairy wings and
dresses made of tulle, my 3-year-old daughter got a plastic Rapunzel
playset last year as a gift. It was a collection of bedroom furniture
and three small dolls: a girl with a retractable braid, a smiling
prince, and another girl, apparently a playmate. And it came with a
small companion book, "Rapunzel's Tower Room," which began, "At the
edge of a forest village, there was a tower owned by a kind witch."
The book went on to spin the tale of a charmed girl named Rapunzel,
who spent her days in the tower sewing dresses with a friend. She
loved when the witch came to visit and teach songs, including one that
made Rapunzel's hair grow longer. But tension arrived: One day,
Rapunzel looked out the window and saw a fair in the village nearby.
She wanted to go, but the witch was off tending to her garden and
couldn't let her out. Fortunately, a prince riding by in his carriage
called up to her, "Rapunzel! Why aren't you at the fair?"
This was not the fairy tale I vaguely recalled from my childhood - the
one with the mother who gives up her child, the vindictive witch, the
powerless girl trapped high above the ground. This new version was
sanitary and safe in a way that modern parents will easily recognize.
In an age when some families ban the word "killed" or come up with
creative euphemisms to mask the death of goldfish, it's not hard to
see why a toy company would reduce Rapunzel's story to its prettiest
parts. Real life, presumably, packs enough trauma for children to
think about later.
Yet something important is lost when a child's introduction to fairy
tales comes in such whitewashed form. It's not just Rapunzel: In toys,
movies, and books, the old fairy tales are being systematically
stripped of their darker complexities. Rapunzel has become a
lobotomized girl in a pleasant tower playroom; Cinderella is another
pretty lady in a ball gown, like some model on "Project Runway."
"Fairy tale" may be our shorthand for castles and happy endings, but
these classic stories have villains, too - nefarious witches,
bloodthirsty wolves, stepmothers up to no good. And scholars have come
to see the stories' dark elements as the source of their power, not to
mention their persistence over the centuries. Rich in allegory,
endlessly adaptable, fairy tales emerged as a framework for talking
about social issues. When we remove the difficult parts - and
effectively do away with the stories themselves - we're losing a
surprisingly useful common language.
"There's a very important reason why these tales stick," says Jack
Zipes, a German professor and folklorist at the University of
Minnesota, who has written such books as "Fairy Tales and the Art of
Subversion" and "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the
Culture Industry." "It's because they raise questions that we have not
(end of excerpt)
- --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, "Steve Hayes" <hayesstw@...> wrote:
> First quarter:
> Fear of fairy tales
> The glossy, sanitized new versions of fairy tales leave out what
> matters: the scary parts
> By Joanna Weiss
> September 21, 2008
Eeuuww, they can't do that to Rapunzel, that's utterly vapid.
The witch character has to be a threshold guardian or Rapunzel can't
come into her power.
Interestingly Cinderella (the Perrault version) is a bowdlerized
version of Aschenputtel (brothers Grimm version), which has much
darker and earthier elements. And Bowdler was the bloke who took the
"rude bits" out of Shakespeare.
I am sure that Clarissa Pinkola-Estes (author of the excellent "Women
Who Run with the Wolves") would have a thing or two to say about this
... what to call it ... emasculation? evisceration? ... of Rapunzel.
- Just to say that if others have difficulties with the Taliessin poems,
the C.W.Society's small book of, so to speak, supplements to Lewis'
commentary, edited by Anne Ridler, will (we hope) be reprinted by
Apocryphile in a few months' time.
- On 25 Sep 2008 at 13:56, charles_wms_soc wrote:
> Just to say that if others have difficulties with the Taliessin poems,Thanks very much for that... I've just read them casually before, but find
> the C.W.Society's small book of, so to speak, supplements to Lewis'
> commentary, edited by Anne Ridler, will (we hope) be reprinted by
> Apocryphile in a few months' time.
that I see much more in them when reading Lewis's commentaries.
Also, the first time i read them, I wasn't sufficiently familiar with the
Arthurian literature to make much sense of them. And even trying to read the
Arthurian literature -- Malory, Tennyson etc just confused me.
Eventually I read through a couple of retellings, to try to set the scene as
it were, and the Mabinogion, and a few other things. It's not just Williams
and Lewis but so much other literature that is linked to to it or has
allusions to it that I was quite unaware of when I first read their novels.
I could understand the references to Merlin in "That hideous strength", and
apprecialed the way Lewis handled the encounter between modern and pre-modern
man, as he did with sinful and sinless creatures in "Out of the silent
planet", but the reference to Mr Fisher-King passed right over my head.
It made me aware that much of English literature cannot really bwe understood
without being familiar with
1. The matter of Britain
2. The Bible
And the Inklings themselves seem to have been pretty familiar with all three.
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