Evolution of Fairy Tales
Evolution of Fairy Tales
How literary stories for children, based on legend and folklore, continue to evolve to reflect contemporary social culture.INTRODUCTION
OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
THE VALUE OF FAIRY TALES FOR CHILDREN
CONTEMPORARY ADAPTATIONS OF CLASSIC FAIRY TALES
CHARACTERISTICS OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY FAIRY TALES
That fairy tales have maintained their status as part of the ritual instruction of childhood—despite origins that trace back hundreds to possibly thousands of years—is a testament to their enduring allure as devices for education and entertainment even as contemporary writers modify the original stories to more accurately reflect modern society. For most children, these stories of imagination and fantasy are their first introduction to literature, some aspects of which will remain with them throughout their lifetimes. As such, they serve as a touchstone not only to the past, but also to a cross-cultural union between young readers around the world. Even stories that we associate as deriving from European roots can often trace their ancestry back even further, as with "Sleeping Beauty," which mirrors a tale from the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt with a similar plot, or "The Fisherman and His Wife," which has strong parallels to the Japanese folk tale "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow." This multi-cultural fertilization is an indication of the morphic ability of fairy tales to reshape themselves to suit the generational and individual requirements of literature.
As a literary form, fairy tales seem to defy conventional standards of definition as they incorporate many differing styles of stories. Generally speaking, when using the term "fairy tales," people tend to think of stories with a magical bent involving the traditional agent of fantastical powers intervening to somehow change the life of a protagonist, much like the fairy godmothers of "Cinderella" or the dwarves of "Snow White." In truth, under most definitions, fairy tales tend to encompass a much broader scope of plots and structural elements, including all manners of legends, myths, fables, and folklore. However, they all share certain firm characteristics that differentiate the "fairy tale" style from any other. First, and most importantly, are two central shared traits that are the most recognizably characteristic features of the genre—fairy tales span a relatively brief length and include a well-defined moral or message at their core. Beyond these, other elements are often manifested within this basic structure. For instance, a fairy tale usually contains several of the following aspects to varying degrees: short sentence structure; the story tends to address the reader directly; most are set within a fantastic setting such as a "kingdom far, far away" or "a dark wood"; they pattern repetition as a method of emphasis—usually featuring sequences of threes, an element most pronounced in "The Three Little Pigs"; their means of direct expression is through a simple diction of short, plain-spoken words; and finally, they are often very rhythmic in their phrasing—the legacy of their origins within oral culture. Most critics, therefore, tend to group together a wide variety of stories into the fairy tale category, especially those utilizing any combination of these classic folkloric elements. Recently, more contemporary variations have begun to emerge, further extending the limits of what constitutes a "true" fairy tale.
One critic, Ruth C. Horrell, has attempted to subdivide fairy tales into four characteristic groups. First is the "accumulative or repetitive tale," which features repeating elements that compare characters and behaviors thus differentiating between proper and poor behavior. Examples of this category include the classic "Three Billy Goats Gruff." The second subcategory of fairy tales is the "beast tale," which substitutes animals into the roles humans would ordinarily fill. Such a personification, or anthropomorphism, of animals allows the reader to clearly recognize noble or absurd human traits through their animal characterizations as demonstrated in "Puss-in-Boots," "Chicken-Licken," or "The Lion and the Mouse." The "comic tale," the third classification, is distinguished by the presence of absurdist humor regarding the foolish blunders of mankind. An example of this type is present in the Norwegian fairy tale "The Husband Who Minded the House," the story of a man who does not appreciate his wife's role in the family until he switches places with her. Again, the end objective is to subtly convey a deeper meaning through an otherwise innocuous approach. The fourth and final group, the "märchen" or "nursery tale," is the most recognized and by far the largest subcategory including all stories in the "once upon a time" variety. These stories are distinguished by their usage of the supernatural and fantastic as essential plot elements. This broad heading features most of the classical fairy tales such as "Cinderella," "Hansel and Gretel," and the like, but some critics have begun to add newer stories to this group despite their more adult appeal, including L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) or even J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga. Tolkien himself is now generally considered one of the preeminent critics of fairy tales. His essay "On Fairy Stories" in Tree and Leaf (1964) is widely considered as a groundbreaking study of the fairy tale's status in the twentieth century. In this critical text, Tolkien ascribes a diagram of the fairy tale structure that is now considered the definitive model for all variations of the genre. His simple four-step model of fantasy, recovery, escape, and, ultimately, consolation was predicated on the belief that each step advanced the core intent of each story's moral lesson. Under this model, these steps consist of a mini-examination of one's existence with the final goal of moving beyond the ordinary to see new perceptions of life. In short, fairy tales are brief guides to a more content life in the real world. Each of the four steps charted a step away from the ordinary into a new existence—fantasy was the sudden desire to reexamine how one's life is being led, recovery was the perception of the familiar seen under a new light, escape was the attempt to see alternative paths away from one's normal patterns, and consolation was the hope for a happy ending.
Critics trace the emergence of the term "fairy tale" from a modification of the French words faerie or feeree, which referred to the residences of the local fee. The fees were women within the village community who distributed herbs and incantations for various purposes and were presumably characterized as being among the era's primary purveyors of mystical stories. Soon borrowed by the English, the term's usage was eventually extended to describe a host of magical creatures presumed to be hiding among the deep woods. From there, it became commonplace to categorize any stories of a mystical nature as falling under the broad grouping of "fairy tales." However, the stories themselves are much older than the name. Many of the first fairy tales logically theorize about the origins of life or seek explanations for the seemingly contrary rules of nature, as demonstrated by the many variations of the West African stories of Anansi the Spider, who brought both wisdom and literature to the world, or the mythological pantheon of Greece, which spoke of figures like Prometheus the Titan, who gave fire to the first men. These ancient myths attempt to offer some fundamental understanding of the questions that mystified primitive organized societies. From these long-standing folk legends steeped in regional traditions, early folk tales began an evolution into shorter allegories of dogma-like wisdom that preached simple lessons in conduct, safety, and other rules of societal engagement and morality. Recognizing their value to cultural legacies, early anthologizers began combing through regional folklore to bring urban recognition to the vanishing oral stories of neighboring regions. Late seventeenth-century French writer Charles Perrault, for instance, is credited with publishing perhaps the first such anthology Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l'Oye (1697), which is more widely known in English today as Mother Goose Tales. Despite contemporary recognition of this volume as one of the preeminent early fairy tale collections, Perrault's target audience was decidedly more mature. Indeed, one of the more renowned stories from this collection, "Puss in Boots," is said to have been especially popular among the courtiers of the Sun King, Louis Quatorze. It was not until the efforts of such early eighteenth-century anthologizers as the famous German Brothers Grimm—Jacob and Wilhelm—and the legendary Danish editor Hans Christian Andersen that the intrinsic connections between children and fairy tales were recognized. Compiling collections expressly made for juvenile audiences, these men are today credited with renewing interest in transferring fairy tales from their long-held oral/aural forms onto the page, a trend that raged unabated well into the Victorian era. Andersen took a progressive further step by writing his own original stories, shaped to resemble in style and content those he had collected earlier. One example of Andersen's original output is "The Shadow," which he intended for a more mature audience. This new style of "adult" fairy tale was concerned with the story of a scholar who sends his shadow out across the street to watch and follow a woman (named Poetry), whom he desires, so that he can remain focused on his studies. The shade eventually assumes human form through his own increasingly mortal hungers and switches places entirely with the scholar, who has spent his life completely immersed in books. In the conclusion, the shadow gets the girl, leaving the scholar to be executed in his place for the shadow's own accumulated crimes. Andersen's original stories marked a new trend towards the development of establishing a set written form for the genre—similar to that laid out by Tolkien—which enabled later writers to further develop a new generation of stories written expressly for a contemporary audience.
Rather than becoming static upon their transference onto the written page, fairy tales have continued to evolve with passing trends, with even those tales generally regarded as classic seeing a myriad of slight revisions over the course of repeated retellings. Each generation has sought to stamp the traditional with a freshness of language that reflects the interests of its intended audience. For the Victorians, this meant highlighting the romantic aspects of the stories, as well as introducing accompanying illustrations for the first time. Often called "The Golden Age" of children's literature, many of the fairy tales from this era demonstrate radiant craftsmanship and a careful appreciation for the tradition of the stories as seen in the masterworks of such artists as George Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Arthur Rackham. Towards the end of Golden Age era, a new standard of realism began to creep into the interpretations of classic and newer fairy tales, elements exacerbated by the tragedies of the two World Wars and the social upheaval of 1960's America. Now infused with a large dose of modern sensibilities to temper the fantastical elements, these new fairy tales featured children forced to deal as much with reality as fantasy. Even the most surreal, fantastical stories were anchored in this world, such as Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (1963), which featured a child protagonist that, at the end of the story, must return to the concrete existence of his own bed. But this realism was not limited to the intrusion of simply waking to the real world from a pleasant dream, rather many authors began to paint in some of the ugly truths of modern-day life—like abuse and divorce—into the fairy worlds, their unpleasant realities creeping into the sacred groves of magic.
Contemporary incarnations of fairy tales are characterized by a diversity of thought, greater experimentation in storyline, and presentations of multiculturalism. With the breakdown of both national barriers and international borders, the cross-fertilization of cultural folk stories has brought a greater representation of varying cultures into the mainstream, particularly with the rapid introduction of Asian and African legends to the canon of modern and traditional European stories, such as Mitsumasa Anno's unique interplay of Japanese folk tales and European fairy stories in Anno's Twice Told Tales: The Fisherman and His Wife and the Four Clever Brothers (1993). Further, present-day writers have demonstrated attempts at gaining deeper insight into some of the bigger questions of life, broaching topics like the meaning of existence as well as explorations of themes of love and pain. In some respects, it can be seen as a rhetorical circle, in essence returning to the very first intents of the fairy tale that sought to use stories as a means of understanding the seemingly indecipherable aspects of life. That said, there are clear differences between contemporary writers of fairy tales and their ancestral forebears. The modern fairy tale often springs solely from the imagination of one person, thereby lacking the subtle generational influences of different voices and minds who have over time smoothed over any rough edges, through perhaps thousands of recitations, creating a particular rhythm impossible to recreate. But the newer stories have their own advantages. The growing use of humor as a means of expression in contemporary fairy stories has enabled the modern writer to blaze new terrains by infusing unique inflections into old standards, giving rise to an entirely new offshoot of the fairy tale, called the "fractured" fairy tale. These whimsical variations use a humorous twist on classic stories, achieved through an alteration to the location, time period, character, or denouement, to set them apart. By taking advantage of our familiarity of stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" and then radically warping some aspect—for instance, making the wolf the victim of Red's aggression—these tales strive for humor and freshness, thereby discovering a new perspective with which to examine these old favorites. But the new adaptations of old stories have other dimensions as well. Some of the contemporary revaluations of fairy tales have undergone what children's literature critic Sheila A. Egoff terms a "sociological evolution" that differentiate themselves through their inclusion of modern sentiments as a means of updated expression. This is typified in Julius Lester's Black Folktales (1969), a collection of African-American folk stories, some spared extinction much in the way earlier editors Perrault and the Grimms rescued other cultural touchstones. Additionally, new adaptations, written primarily for adults, have seen aspects of politicization gaining notice, with strong influences of feminism, social justice, and other like causes seeing greater inclusion. However, in a nod to the old axiom that "what's old is new again," there is a growing trend towards returning to the traditional roots of classic fairy tales. Even as others continue to translate and modify fairy tales to suit a cross-section of both purpose and audience, there is another school of thought that seeks to preserve the original intent and meaning of the ancestral stories and tie us more closely to our forefathers. Whatever their future, there is tremendous possibility within the short framework of the fairy tale for both parent and child to establish a shared literature. Critic Catherine Storr sums up the strength of fairy tales thusly: "When we tell or read our children folk or fairy tales, we are setting before them examples not only of the priceless power of imagination, but also of the human ability to make patterns, to structure events which might, separately, seem to have no significance or relevance, into a connected whole."
Fairy Tales and Stories (fairy tales) 1887
Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe
Nor: En Billedbog for den norske Ungdom [Nor: A Picture Book for Norwegian Youth] [with Bernt Moe] (folklore) 1837
Norske folkeeventyr [Norwegian Folk Tales] 4 vols. (folklore) 1841-1844
Norske huldreeventyr og folkesagn [Norwegian Fairy Tales and Folk Legends] 3 vols. (fairy tales and folklore) 1845-1848
L. Frank Baum
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [illustrations by W. W. Denslow] (juvenile fiction) 1900
The Marvelous Land of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1904
Ozma of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1907
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1908
The Road to Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1909
The Emerald City of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1910
The Patchwork Girl of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1913
*Little Wizard Stories of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1914
Tik-Tok of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1914
The Scarecrow of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1915
Rinkitink in Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1916
The Lost Princess of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1917
The Tin Woodman of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1918
The Magic of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1919
Glinda of Oz [illustrations by John R. Neill] (juvenile fiction) 1920
Francesca Lia Block
The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold (fairy tales) 2000
The Principal's New Clothes [illustrations by Denise Brunkus] (picture book) 1989
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (fairy tales) 1979
The Virago Book of Fairy Tales [editor] (fairy tales) 1990; also published as The Old Wives' Tale Book, 1990
The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales [editor] (fairy tales) 1992; also published as Sometimes Strange Things Still Happen, 1993
Le avventure di Pinocchio: Storia di un burattino [The Adventures of Pinocchio] (juvenile fiction) 1883
Tales from Grimm (fairy tales) 1936
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (fairy tales) 1938
More Tales from Grimm (fairy tales) 1947
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
†Kinder-und Hausmärchen. 2 vols. (fairy tales) 1812-1815; translated by Edgar Taylor as German Popular Stories: Translated from the Kinder-und Hausmärchen, 1823-1826
Grimm's Fairy Tales [edited by A. T. Martin] (fairy tales) 1908
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm [edited and translated by Jack Zipes; illustrations by John B. Gruelle] (fairy tales) 1987
The Princess Nobody: A Tale of Fairyland after the Drawings by Richard Doyle (fairy tales) 1884
Perrault's Popular Tales [editor and compiler] (fairy tales) 1888
The Blue Fairy Book [editor and compiler] (fairy tales) 1889; revised and re-edited by Brian Alderson, 1975
Prince Prigio (fairy tales) 1889
The Red Fairy Book [editor and compiler] (fairy tales) 1890; revised and re-edited by Brian Alderson, 1976
Black Folktales [illustrations by Tom Feelings] (folklore) 1969
The Bootmaker and the Elves [illustrations by Tom Curry] (picture book) 1997
Little Red Cowboy Hat [illustrations by Randy Cecil] (picture book) 1997
The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (young adult novel) 1984
Beauty (young adult novel) 1978
Tikki Tikki Tembo [illustrations by Blair Lent] (picture book) 1968
The Magic Circle (young adult novel) 1993
Zel (young adult novel) 1996
Crazy Jack (young adult novel) 1999
Spinners [with Richard Tchen] (young adult novel) 1999
Beast (young adult novel) 2000
†Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l'Oye [Histories or Tales of Past Times with Morals: Mother Goose Tales] (fairy tales) 1697
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm [illustrator; editor with Lore Segal] (picture book) 1973
Dear Mili: An Old Tale by Wilhelm Grimm [illustrator; translated by Ralph Manheim] (picture book) 1988
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! By A. Wolf; as Told to Jon Scieszka [illustrations by Lane Smith] (picture book) 1989
The Frog Prince, Continued [illustrations by Steve Johnson] (picture book) 1991
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales [illustrations by Lane Smith] (picture book) 1992
*Comprised of a six-volume set, originally published in 1913, which included the titles Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse, Little Dorothy and Toto, Ozma and the Little Wizard, The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and Tik-Tok and the Nome King.
†The original edition of Kinder-und Hausmärchen was revised and enlarged seven times between 1819 and 1857.
†This work has also been published as Perrault's Popular Tales (1888); Perrault's Fairy Tales (1921); The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1957); and Perrault's Complete Fairy Tales (1961).
Lillian H. Smith (essay date 1953)
SOURCE: Smith, Lillian H. "The Art of the Fairy Tale." In The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children's Literature, pp. 45-63. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association, 1953.
[In the following essay, Smith underscores the enduring power of fairy tales with an analysis of their structure, expression, and meaning, noting that such stories "must possess the active, dramatic ingredients of a good story if they are to stand beside the old favorites in the literature of fairy tales."]
Fairy tales, as a form of fiction, have almost no place in the reading of adults. Yet everyone has heard or read fairy tales in childhood, and a more universal reading interest among children would be hard to find. That fairy tales have a permanent place in children's literature may be assumed, since a story which has lived for hundreds of years must possess a vitality which is imperishable and immutable.
Like all traditional literature, fairy tales were originally the possession of everyone, adults and children alike. They were preserved and used and valued by the common folk from the time of the childhood of the human race. They still survived in their original form in remote and isolated places until the work of scholars, who wrote them down from word of mouth, preserved these tales for all time in printed books.
Why did scholars such as Asbjørnsen and Moe and the brothers Grimm spend years of their lives in searching out and collecting these original folk tales? It is certain that they were not seeking to confer a benefit on children's literature, although this they have unwittingly done. They were concerned not in the fairy tales as stories but in the light these old tales could throw on the customs and beliefs of early times and, through comparison of variants of the same tale, with the migrations of the Aryan family. It is not, however, because of their interest to students but because of their inherent qualities as literature that these traditional stories hold so important a place in the reading of children.
Traditional is a word we apply to stories and verse whose origin is lost in the mists of time. No one knows their authors nor when or where they were first told. They seem to be as old as the race itself. Many scholarly treatises have been written on the history of folk literature, and any interested person can find such source material readily at hand. But our concern is with the fairy tale as it exists today, what its claim is to consideration as literature, and what is its value and interest for children.
Although adults have discarded fairy tales in their own reading, judging them childishly fanciful, unreal, and unrelated to the world as they know it—a world in which the workings of natural law are familiar and accepted—it is remarkable how many references to fairy tales are found in adult speech and writing. We all understand the implication of such phrases as it's a Cinderella tale; he's an Ugly Duckling; he killed the goose that laid the golden egg; it's a case of Beauty and the Beast; a veritable Bluebeard; Sister Ann, Sister Ann do you see any one coming; Open Sesame; an old man of the sea; and many others. These allusions in common speech testify to the memorable quality of fairy tales. But do they not also in some sort refute the judgment of grownups that these stories are unrelated to everyday life? Let us look at them more closely, approaching them without prejudice as we would a contemporary volume. What do we find?
Here is a story which we call a fairy tale, although there are no fairies among the characters. In its native German it is one of the Märchen collected by the Grimm brothers, but since we have no equivalent in English for the term Märchen we sometimes find it translated as "household stories," or "folk tales." These terms describe a traditional story in which ordinary people in all conditions of life live in a world in which extraordinary happenings occur. Let us read this story and discover, if we can, what its claims are to literature, and its particular value as literature for children.
In times past there lived a king and queen, who said to each other every day of their lives, "Would that we had a child!" and yet they had none. But it happened once that when the queen was bathing, there came a frog out of the water, and he squatted on the ground, and said to her,
"Thy wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by, thou shalt bring a daughter into the world."
And as the frog foretold, so it happened; and the queen bore a daughter so beautiful that the king could not contain himself for joy, and he ordained a great feast. Not only did he bid to it his relations, friends, and acquaintances, but also the wise women, that they might be kind and favourable to the child. There were thirteen of them in his kingdom, but as he had only provided twelve golden plates for them to eat from, one of them had to be left out. However, the feast was celebrated with all splendour; and as it drew to an end, the wise women stood forward to present to the child their wonderful gifts: one bestowed virtue, one beauty, a third riches, and so on, whatever there is in the world to wish for. And when eleven of them had said their say, in came the uninvited thirteenth, burning to revenge herself, and without greeting or respect, she cried with a loud voice,
"In the fifteenth year of her age the princess shall prick herself with a spindle and shall fall down dead."
And without speaking one more word she turned away and left the hall. Every one was terrified at her saying, when the twelfth came forward, for she had not yet bestowed her gift, and though she could not do away with the evil prophecy, yet she could soften it, so she said,
"The princess shall not die, but fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years."
Now the king, being desirous of saving his child even from this misfortune, gave commandment that all the spindles in his kingdom should be burnt up.
The maiden grew up, adorned with all the gifts of the wise women; and she was so lovely, modest, sweet, and kind and clever, that no one who saw her could help loving her.
It happened one day, she being already fifteen years old, that the king and queen rode abroad, and the maiden was left behind alone in the castle. She wandered about into all the nooks and corners, and into all the chambers and parlours, as the fancy took her, till at last she came to an old tower. She climbed the narrow winding stair which led to a little door, with a rusty key sticking out of the lock; she turned the key, and the door opened, and there in the little room sat an old woman with a spindle, diligently spinning her flax.
"Good day, mother," said the princess, "what are you doing?"
"I am spinning," answered the old woman, nodding her head.
"What thing is that that twists round so briskly?" asked the maiden, and taking the spindle into her hand she began to spin; but no sooner had she touched it than the evil prophecy was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it. In that very moment she fell back upon the bed that stood there, and lay in a deep sleep. And this sleep fell upon the whole castle; the king and queen, who had returned and were in the great hall, fell fast asleep, and with them the whole court. The horses in their stalls, the dogs in the yard, the pigeons on the roof, the flies on the wall, the very fire that flickered on the hearth, became still, and slept like the rest; and the meat on the spit ceased roasting, and the cook, who was going to pull the scullion's hair for some mistake he had made, let him go, and went to sleep. And the wind ceased, and not a leaf fell from the trees about the castle.
Then round about that place there grew a hedge of thorns thicker every year, until at last the whole castle was hidden from view, and nothing of it could be seen but the vane on the roof. And a rumour went abroad in all that country of the beautiful sleeping Rosamond, for so was the princess called; and from time to time many kings' sons came and tried to force their way through the hedge; but it was impossible for them to do so, for the thorns held fast together like strong hands, and the young men were caught by them, and not being able to get free, there died a lamentable death.
Many a long year afterwards there came a king's son into that country, and heard an old man tell how there should be a castle standing behind the hedge of thorns, and that there a beautiful enchanted princess named Rosamond had slept for a hundred years, and with her the king and queen, and the whole court. The old man had been told by his grandfather that many kings' sons had sought to pass the thorn-hedge, but had been caught and pierced by the thorns and had died a miserable death. Then said the young man, "Nevertheless, I do not fear to try; I shall win through and see the lovely Rosamond." The good old man tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen to his words.
For now the hundred years were at an end, and the day had come when Rosamond should be awakened. When the prince drew near the hedge of thorns, it was changed into a hedge of beautiful large flowers, which parted and bent aside to let him pass, and then closed behind him in a thick hedge. When he reached the castle-yard, he saw the horses and brindled hunting-dogs lying asleep, and on the roof the pigeons were sitting with their heads under their wings. And when he came indoors, the flies on the wall were asleep, the cook in the kitchen had his hand uplifted to strike the scullion, and the kitchen-maid had the black fowl on her lap ready to pluck. Then he mounted higher, and saw in the hall the whole court lying asleep, and above them, on their thrones, slept the king and the queen. And still he went farther, and all was so quiet that he could hear his own breathing; and at last he came to the tower, and went up the winding stair, and opened the door of the little room where Rosamond lay. And when he saw her looking so lovely in her sleep, he could not turn away his eyes; and presently he stooped and kissed her, and she awaked, and opened her eyes, and looked very kindly on him. And she rose, and they went forth together, and the king and the queen and whole court waked up, and gazed on each other with great eyes of wonderment. And the horses in the yard got up and shook themselves, the hounds sprang up and wagged their tails, the pigeons on the roof drew their heads from under their wings, looked round, and flew into the field, the flies on the wall crept on a little farther, the kitchen fire leapt up and blazed, and cooked the meat, the joint on the spit began to roast, the cook gave the scullion such a box on the ear that he roared out, and the maid went on plucking the fowl.
Then the wedding of the Prince and Rosamond was held with all splendour, and they lived very happily together until their lives' end.1
The idea of this tale is familiar to us. We have met it before in the Greek myth of Persephone and in the Northern story of Brunhilde left to sleep encircled with a hedge of flames. All these stories suggest the theme of the long sleep of winter and the awakening of spring.
The convention within which the story is told is also familiar to us. There is the husband and wife (in this case a king and queen) who wish for a child; the prophecy concerning the fulfillment of their wish foretold by supernatural means (the frog who appears when the queen is bathing); the feast in honor of the child to which are invited twelve wise women who bestow their fairy gifts; and the uninvited thirteenth who wreaks vengeance for this slight by dooming the princess to death. But the dismay of all is allayed by a still further gift that softens the doom of death to a long sleep. The climax is reached when everything happens as foretold and the castle with all it contains falls into its hundred years' sleep. Then with the coming of the prince and the awakening kiss, in true fairy tale tradition "they lived happily ever after."
The conventional form of the story makes the denouement a foregone conclusion to seasoned readers of fairy tales, and we ask ourselves in what lies the interest and perennial freshness the story undeniably has. Consider in the first place the romantic situation the story presents: a beautiful princess possessed of "whatever there is in the world to wish for" and yet, through the action of cruel spite, doomed to lose it all. Our concern is centered on that future moment. How will it come about, since a father's care has removed, seemingly, the means of threatened danger? It happens quite naturally when the princess, left alone one day, wanders about the castle in search of diversion and comes to an old tower. "She climbed the narrow winding stair which led to a little door" and behind that door, in the little tower room, "as was foretold, so it happened." At the same moment that the evil prophecy is fulfilled and the princess falls asleep, the whole castle falls under the same spell. The tale pictures the scene vividly even to the flies on the wall and "the very fire that flickered on the hearth, became still, and slept." There is pictured, too, the hedge of thorns thickening about the castle until it is hidden from view. Only the legend told in the countryside reminds the curious of the sleeping princess. It brings many kings' sons to try to make their way through the hedge and who there die "a lamentable death."
But now the hundred years are fulfilled and another king's son makes the attempt and wins through. We see him entering the courtyard and the palace. Precisely the same scene is again described that we saw taking place a hundred years before, until he comes at last to the tower room. "And when he saw her looking so lovely in her sleep, he could not turn away his eyes; and presently he stooped and kissed her, and she awaked." At this moment, just as everything and everyone went to sleep at the same time, so now the castle awakes with the princess. But the third repetition of the description is in reverse—as if we had watched a clock run down and stop, and then the clock still stopped after long years, and lastly, the clock begins to tick again as if it had never stopped.
This repetitive description, slightly varied in each case, has a significance in the structure of the story. It gives emphasis and continuity to the central idea, the castle held in its long sleep. It also gives unity to the two parts of the story, the fulfilling of the evil prophecy and the coming of the liberator. We can see the effectiveness of the idea or theme of the story and we can recognize the skill with which it is constructed. Let us look at the language of the story and see if we cannot discover another reason why it has lived as long as the race has endured.
Notice the diction and the rhythm of the phrasing. The language of the narrative has the dignity and simplicity we find in all great literature—in the parables of the Bible, for example, since the essential truth presented in this story (that though evil may prevail over good for a time, love must in the end triumph over evil) is analogous to the truth inherent in the parables. Notice too the restraint with which the incidents are related. "The queen bore a daughter so beautiful that the king could not contain himself for joy." But it is left to the reader to supply the details of in what her beauty consisted. And again "the feast was celebrated with all splendour," but that is all we are told of its wonders, though the "golden plates," the insufficient supply of which brought about the catastrophic ending of the feast, lend color to our imagination.
There is not an unnecessary word to impede the direct and forceful telling of the story. It flows in rhythmical sentences, unencumbered by explanatory or descriptive phrases, until the princess pricks her finger and falls asleep. At this point, note the concrete detail which describes how sleep fell upon the whole castle, how the life and activity and bustle changed in the flick of an eyelid into the stillness of stone. There is humor in the cook's uplifted hand caught and held as he is about to pull the scullion's hair. There is poetry in the final sentence of this description that sets the mood of the sleeping castle: "And the wind ceased, and not a leaf fell from the trees about the castle." No wonder the story is timeless. It is romance and adventure in a form that a child understands and responds to. It is told with beauty and imagination. It touches art at every point.
Children read "The Sleeping Beauty" and other fairy tales because they are good stories, but it is not the story interest alone that enthralls. Through a fairy tale, a child enters another world—a world of wonder—which is like, and yet surprisingly unlike, the world he knows. Here, almost anything can, and does, happen. As Walter de la Mare tells us:
Above all, it must be remembered that however real and actual the characters, scenes and events may seem to us as we read, these are tales of the imagination. Up to a point and within their own framework they are reasonable enough; but it is a wild reasonableness. Whether we can accept what they tell us, whether we delight in them or not, depends then, on how much imagination we have ourselves. It would be merely ridiculous to say that such and such a thing couldn't have happened. It is a world imagined and it is made to happen there.2
There is, in fairy tales, a general tone, a pervasive atmosphere, of marvellous happenings. Related in a natural and even matter-of-fact way, they satisfy the imagination of children with their dramatic completeness, their exciting incidents, their humor and romance in a marvellous world.
Fairy tales have other values in children's reading than as stories and as food for the imagination. These tales have come down through the centuries from the folk, from primitive peoples. Inherent in them are many of the characteristics of the later literature of the country of their origin. In Grimm's Household Tales we find the stoic German character, its love of homely detail and incident, its down-to-earth practical attitude toward life, its inventive spirit. In Perrault's Fairy Tales there is the clarity and the light touch that is almost offhand, the logical working out of events, the adroit manner and quick wit shown in overcoming difficulties characteristic of the French. In Jacob's English Fairy Tales we find the basic common sense and terseness of the Anglo-Saxon, the understatement which is their humor, and we find too their love of freedom and fair play. In Dasent's Tales from the Norse he himself characterizes their quality as "bold and humorous, in the true sense of humour. In the midst of every difficulty and danger arises that old Norse feeling of making the best of everything, and keeping a good face to the foe."
These stories reflect their origin, the qualities and atmosphere of the country from which they came. The differences that natural environment and racial character make in the development of imaginative literature may be seen in a comparison of the fairy tales of, for instance, Norway and France. Here, for example, is one of the best known stories from the Norse, the excellent tale of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff":
Once on a time there were three billy-goats, who were to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was "Gruff."
On the way up was a bridge over a stream they had to cross, and under the bridge lived a great ugly Troll, with eyes as big as saucers, and a nose as long as a poker.
So first of all came the youngest billy-goat Gruff to cross the bridge.
"Trip, trap; trip, trap," went the bridge.
"Who's that tripping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"Oh, it is only I, the tiniest billy-goat Gruff, and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat," said the billy-goat, with such a small voice.
"Now, I'm coming to gobble you up," said the Troll.
"Oh no, pray don't take me. I'm too little, that I am," said the billy-goat; "wait a bit till the second billy-goat Gruff comes—he's much bigger."
"Well, be off with you," said the Troll.
A little while after came the second billy-goat Gruff to cross the bridge.
"Trip, trap! trip, trap! trip, trap!" went the bridge.
"WHO'S THAT tripping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"Oh, it's the second billy-goat Gruff, and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat," said the billy-goat, who hadn't such a small voice.
"Now, I'm coming to gobble you up," said the Troll.
"Oh no, don't take me; wait a little till the big billy-goat Gruff comes—he's much bigger."
"Very well; be off with you," said the Troll.
But just then up came the big billy-goat Gruff.
"TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP!" went the bridge, for the billy-goat was so heavy that the bridge creaked and groaned under him.
"WHO'S THAT tramping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"IT'S I—THE BIG BILLY-GOAT GRUFF," said the billy-goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.
"Now, I'm coming to gobble you up!" roared the Troll.
"Well, come along! I've got two spears,
And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I've got besides two curling-stones,
And I'll crush you to bits, body and bones."
That was what the big billy-goat said; and so he flew at the Troll and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the stream, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy-goats got so fat they were scarce able to walk home again; and if the fat hasn't fallen off them, why they're still fat; and so:
snout, This tale's told out."3
Notice the brevity with which the story is told. No details are given except those which concern the story itself. It is reduced to the barest essentials. Yet within its action are shown the environment and the native character which give it a distinctive Norse feeling. The story suggests, but does not describe, the headlong mountain stream rushing under the bridge which gives passage to the steep spruce-clad hillside beyond. The bold, sturdy, headstrong attributes of the characters of the story harmonize with the setting and with our conception of the Norse character. The supernatural element introduced in the Troll suggests the menace ever present in the rushing waters under the bridge, for it is a country where nature holds danger for the unwary.
The form of the story has the terseness, simplicity, and vigor of the best folk tales; a form which has the strength, objectiveness, and restraint that we look for in all good writing. Constant repetition through the ages has developed and preserved the effective way of telling the story; only the needful and appropriate words remain.
A device used in folk tales to heighten the effect is the repetition of both incident and phrase. This device is an accepted and familiar one, and is found in many stories such as "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Three Bears." The charm of this type of tale lies in the fact that each incident, while like the others, varies slightly with each recital. In this way the now familiar steps in the story each serve as a foil to the introduction of something new.
This use of repetition with variation provides mounting interest and expectation on the part of the reader or listener. In "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," the building up of the action toward a sudden and effective climax is entirely satisfying and skilful. The comparative dimensions of the three billy-goats have their parallel in the increasing volume in the sound of their feet on the bridge. This is further accentuated by the repetitive phrase "Trip, trap," twice for "the tiniest," three times for "the second" and four times for "the big" billy-goat Gruff. It also repeats itself in the form in which the Troll roars his challenge to each of the goats:
To First Goat: "Who's that tripping?"
To Second Goat:"Who's that tripping?"
To Third Goat:"Who's that tramping?"
There is a well-rounded, artistic pattern in the return to the original purpose of the three billy-goats Gruff "to go up the hillside" which is accomplished in the concluding paragraph. The nonsense rhyme which ends it all with the right flourish is evidently a traditional Norse ending. A slightly different version of the rhyme is found in "Katie Woodencloak"—a longer and more elaborate tale:
Snip, snap, snover,
This story's over.
But the one-syllable words of
Snip, snap, snout,
This tale's told out
is in keeping with the terse telling of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff."
All the essentials of a good short story may be found in this Norse folk tale: an arresting opening, dramatic action, suspense, dramatic climax, and a well-rounded ending. As an expression of the mind and temperament of the Norse folk, it has simplicity and strength, humor and a valorous spirit. It is a picture painted with bold, rhythmic strokes in primary colors, clear and invigorating as the air and contour of the Norseland itself.
Turning from the Norse to the fairy tales of France we find that the shaping spirit of the French literary genius gives these stories as marked a national character as those of the Norse. If we look briefly at Perrault's version of "Puss in Boots" it will be seen that the charm of the story is at least partly dependent on the character of Puss in Boots himself. The other figures in the story are mere types. But the cat who at the beginning of the story had, at most, only a reputation for cleverness in catching mice and rats, not only makes the fortune of the miller's son, but shows himself to be quick-witted and inventive, brave enough to take risks for his master, and adroit in the use of flattery. Yet in essence he remains a cat, and when, with exquisite courtesy and adroit flattery, he persuades the ogre to take the form of a mouse, he "did the very best a cat can do, and the most natural under the circumstances, he sprang upon the mouse and gobbled it up in a trice."
The tone of the story is that of a calm acceptance of remarkable events, recounted in a seemingly direct, even matter-of-fact way, yet with a half-ironic and amused undertone. And it is this undertone that is the keynote to the charm and mood of the story—light, graceful, and gay. The debonair "Puss in Boots" is as French in style and mood as "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" is typically Norse.
The universal appeal of the fairy tale has led to a multiplicity of versions for children. But the folk tales of individual peoples are of little value as literature if they only repeat the external events of the stories in undistinguished language. They must also preserve the feeling of the culture and environment of the people from which they have come if children are not to be the losers in their reading of fairy tales. For the part that fairy tales play in children's literary and imaginative development is precisely that of any other literary art form. Fairy tales are anonymous, but those which originated among a people with a genius for literary creation are the product of a true art impulse. Faithfulness to this art form should be preserved in the versions given to children. Annie E. Moore writes, in Literature Old and New for Children:
Literary critics [use fairy tales] as striking examples of story construction, dramatic quality, pervading tone, character delineation, clarity of theme, intensity of action, effective dialogue, and other significant traits . . . because the best of these tales exhibit striking qualities free from the complexities of a more sophisticated literature. The student of children's literature should be no less aware of the factors which contribute to the excellence of stories which long since became the especial property of the young.4
In reading versions of the same story, we find they vary widely in expression even while the events are the same. This is sometimes due to a modern reteller's view that the folk language preserved in earlier versions is archaic and so is unsuited to present-day children.
In evaluating a new version which uses modern colloquial expressions in place of the folk language of traditional versions, we must ask ourselves whether greater clarity and simplicity is really achieved through the use of modern colloquialisms and undistinguished language. We must ask, too, if the modern version does not sacrifice the smooth, rhythmic style which makes the older version a pleasure to the ear, with no awkward constructions and obtrusive words to interrupt the musical flow of the story.
It is necessary to remember that the fairy tale has come down to us as an art form in style and technique. The version, modern or traditional, given to children should be the one which best transmits the quality of "artless art" in the original folk tales, which to the Grimm brothers were "brimming over with life and beauty and imagination."
The more fairy tales we read the more difficult we find it to make generalizations about stories of such variety of theme and content, structure and expression. Each fairy tale is a narrative which stands or falls on its own merits and must be analyzed as a piece of writing as well as for the factors which endear it to children as a story. Various though fairy tales are, they have certain characteristics in common which we come to expect and look for. There is a generally accepted idea, for instance, that all fairy tales begin with the words "once upon a time" and end with the familiar conclusion "so they lived happily ever after." Some fairy tales do begin and end this way, but many do not. Yet this characteristic beginning and ending is implied in almost all these stories even when they begin and end without them. That is to say, they begin simply, they come to the point with brevity, they give only the facts which concern the action of the story, and the ending follows swiftly and conclusively. Let us look at the way in which some of the most familiar stories begin:
An old woman was sweeping her house, and she found a little crooked sixpence. "What," said she, "shall I do with this little sixpence? I will go to market, and buy a little pig."
As she was coming home, she came to a stile: but the pig would not go over the stile.
One day Henny-Penny was picking up corn in the cornyard when—whack!—something hit her upon the head. "Goodness gracious me!" said Henny-Penny; "the sky's a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king."
Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar lived in a vinegar bottle. Now, one day when Mr. Vinegar was from home, Mrs. Vinegar, who was a very good housewife, was busily sweeping her house, when an unlucky thump brought the whole house clitter-clatter, clitter-clatter, about her ears.
How tersely the setting is given for the tale that is to be told, yet how clearly, so that in two or three opening sentences we have before us the chief characters, the place, and the situation from which the action of the story must proceed. The basis of the tale is a simple experience—the finding of a crooked sixpence—a whack on the head of a kernel of corn—the thump of a broom which broke a vinegar bottle. The effect of these beginnings is that we are drawn immediately into the story as if we were there and saw it happen. We ask "What will happen next?" Interest, concern, and suspense are achieved at the very start.
The endings of the fairy tales have a characteristic similarity which is conveyed by the familiar "happy ever after" termination. Fairy tales may indeed end with these words; many of them do. But, whatever the words, the sense of finality, of having satisfactorily disposed of the characters of the story, is as complete as
Snip, snap, snout,
This tale's told out.
If we look at a few of the concluding sentences of well-known fairy tales we can see how this finality is achieved:
From that time forward the robbers never ventured to that house, and the four Bremen town musicians found themselves so well off where they were, that there they stayed. And the last person who related this tale is still living, you see.
"Then perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin!"
"The devil told you that! the devil told you that!" cried the little man, and in his anger he stamped with his right foot so hard that it went into the ground above his knee; then he seized his left foot with both his hands in such a fury that he split in two, and there was an end of him.
The Marquis, with a profound bow, accepted the honour that the King had offered him, and that very day he married the Princess. The Cat became a great lord, and he never chased mice afterward except in the way of sport.
A further characteristic of fairy tales is that the same patterns recur. There are many fairy tales, for instance, in which a man, who may be a woodcutter, a miller, or a king, has three sons who set out to seek their fortune. Every child who reads or hears such a tale recognizes its similarity to other already familiar stories. He knows that success will invariably await the youngest son, even though he be thought a simpleton, and so the reader settles down to see how this particular hero will acquit himself.
The recurrence of the pattern of three is another characteristic of these tales: three sons, three daughters, three adventures, three tasks, three suitors, three gifts, three wishes, three riddles. Even the repetition of phrasing is often a pattern of three as in the thrice repeated question and answer
"Little pig, Little pig, let me come in." "No, no, by the hair of my chiny chin chin."
or the admonition "Be bold, be bold," written successively over Mr. Fox's gateway, over his doorway and finally over the dread door in the gallery:
Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart's blood should run cold.
The heart's blood does sometimes run cold when, as in the story "Mr. Fox," dark deeds and evil doers may alarm and even shock the reader. No advocate of fairy tales as a rich and essential part of children's literature denies the need for a reasonable and wise selection among the large and often unwieldy mass of folk material. But such selections have been made and are readily available—selections which keep in mind the wide variety in taste and temperament between individual children.
From time to time criticisms have been leveled at incidents found in fairy tales which are termed "brutal" without giving consideration either to a child's attitude toward such incidents, or to the manner in which they are presented. Both the child's attitude and the characteristic narrative methods of the folk tale have an impersonal quality important to remember. In the telling it is a matter of emphasis and intention; in the listener, the child, it is a recognition that the events all belong to the realm of story, of imagination. This tacit understanding between narrator and listener induces the appropriate climate in which the events take place. That is to say, in the realm of the fairy tale there is an accepted convention between the teller and the listener.
The story of "Mr. Fox" will serve as an example of this particular kind of story. The heroine discovers the "bravest and most gallant" of her suitors to be a cruel and brutal betrayer of "beautiful young maidens." She outwits and unmasks him. That is the bald outline of the story in terms of actuality, but such a statement gives no clue to the atmosphere and quality of the fairy tale.
With the opening sentences the child is immediately transported from the land of here and now. "Lady Mary was young and Lady Mary was fair. She had two brothers and more lovers than she could count." The reader is in a familiar world, a world which gives him the happy pleasure of recognition as the pattern of events is unrolled, often in precisely repeated terms:
Be bold, be bold, but not too bold
It is not so, nor it was not so,
And God forbid it should be so.
But it is so, and it was so,
Here's hand and ring I have to show.
A quality in things, an atmosphere larger than life is created. The concern is not with individual problems or suffering, but with the abstractions of good and evil and their perpetual conflict told in a story of mounting suspense. The emphasis is not so much on Mr. Fox's wickedness as on the manner of his downfall. The tone is matter-of-fact. And there is no lingering over Mr. Fox's retribution. The moment the pattern of the tale has been worked out, his end is swift, final, and completely impersonal: "At once her brothers and her friends drew their swords and cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces."
The child who listens, or reads, has had the pleasure of suspense which heightens the satisfaction of an appropriate conclusion. He has had as well, though he may not know it, the aesthetic pleasure which pattern and form and proportion give, and the moral pleasure of seeing good overcome evil. He has heard simple words used with beauty and skill. These qualities make "Mr. Fox" more than a mere tale of brutal incident. This enlargement of life, characteristic of the fairy tale, is necessary to children, native to them, part of their apprehension of all experience. It is not an attitude created by fairy tales, but rather fairy tales set forth, in terms of art, those ideas and imaginings which already occupy the child's mind.
Against the limitless terrors of a child's own imaginings are set the limits imposed by the convention of the fairy tale. Through a succession of clear mental pictures a child sees that even the weakest can be more than a match for the evil and ugly things in the world if he possess courage, quick wits, and a good heart—a useful and sustaining reflection for anyone in a world as alarming as our own.
In his introduction to Animal Stories, Walter de la Mare relates his own experience with such tales when a small child.
Not all good stories are gay stories....So with a sorrowful, a tragic, even a terrifying tale, picture or poem. That too may feed the imagination, enlighten the mind, strengthen the heart, show us ourselves. It may grieve, alarm or even shock us, and still remain intensely interesting. Of its own grace and truth and value it will also comfort and console us—with what it recalls to memory of life itself, with what it creates in our minds, with the things, the scenes, the people in it; by the manner in which it reveals itself and its deeper meanings, by its very beauty and verbal music....
. . . A very small boy may go shivering to bed after listening to the teeny tiny tale of the teeny tiny little woman who found a teeny tiny little bone in the churchyard. The very marrow in his bones may tremble at that final "TAKE IT!" Mine used to; and yet I delighted to have it told me again and again by my mother. Some stories, on the other hand, are a little too much for me even at my age. Much depends on how they have been told, and with what reason and intention. Still, even in my youngest days, I could easily manage to stare into Bluebeard's silent and dreadful cupboard, could watch the nail-pierced barrel containing the wicked queen go rolling down a steep place into the sea, and Great Claus's execution with his club. I could dance with Morgiana from oil-jar to oil-jar as she dispatched the Forty Thieves; listen entranced to Falada's head, nailed up on the arch over the gateway, lamenting the misfortunes of his beloved mistress; gasp at the preparation of the ghastly soup in "The Juniper Tree"—and read on. I enjoyed these stories, knowing them to be stories, and I am as certain as can be that they did me not the least harm. On the other hand, I can recall one or two tales, of a different kind from these, which I detested, and still detest-anything concerned with deliberate cruelty, for instance. So far as I can remember, not one of these was a folk tale.5
But if there are fairy tales that awaken pity and terror, there are also those that kindle wonder and imagination, beauty and poetry. In turning from one kind of fairy tale to another a child finds, in their variety, a deepening and broadening of emotional sympathy. The child's response to suspense, surprise, laughter, sadness, beauty, whatever it may be testifies to the essential rightness and truth of the fairy tale. "Let us never forget that lovely subtle story of bygone days," Paul Hazard says in speaking of the tale of "Beauty and the Beast," in which ugliness is but a spell, broken at last by love and pity.
The beauty and poetry to be found in fairy tales is not only in their deeper meaning, but also in the manner of their telling, the music and rhythm of words. In the Russian Wonder Tales we read:
She walked and walked, whether for a short time or a long time the telling is easy but the journey is not soon done. She wandered for a day and a night, for a week, for two months and for three. She wore through one pair of the iron shoes, and broke to pieces one of the iron staves, and gnawed away one of the stone church-loaves, when, in the midst of a wood which grew always thicker and darker, she came to a lawn. On the lawn was a little hut on whose doorstep sat a sour-faced old woman.
"Whither dost thou hold thy way, beautiful maiden?" asked the old woman.
"O Grandmother," answered the girl, "I beg for thy kindness! Be my hostess and cover me from the dark night. I am searching for Finist the swift bright Falcon, who was my friend."6
Or there is the cadence of the recurring verse in "The Black Bull of Norroway"
"Far have I sought for thee,
Long have I wrought for thee,
Near am I brought to thee,
Dear Duke o' Norroway
Wilt thou say naught to me—"
Or, as in the opening paragraphs of "The Frog Prince," there is not only the simple beauty of language and the rhythm of sentence structure, but the poetry and charm of word painting as picture succeeds picture:
In the old times, when it was still of some use to wish for the thing one wanted, there lived a King whose daughters were all handsome, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun himself, who has seen so much, wondered each time he shone over her because of her beauty. Near the royal castle there was a great dark wood, and in the wood under an old linden-tree was a well; and when the day was hot, the King's daughter used to go forth into the wood and sit by the brink of the cool well, and if the time seemed long, she would take out a golden ball, and throw it up and catch it again, and this was her favourite pastime.
Now it happened one day that the golden ball, instead of falling back into the maiden's little hand which had sent it aloft, dropped to the ground near the edge of the well and rolled in. The King's daughter followed it with her eyes as it sank, but the well was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. Then she began to weep, and she wept and wept as if she could never be comforted. And in the midst of her weeping she heard a voice saying to her,
"What ails thee, King's daughter? Thy tears would melt a heart of stone."
And when she looked to see where the voice came from, there was nothing but a frog stretching his thick ugly head out of the water.
Examples such as these are plentiful in the folklore of those races whose stories grew out of a genuine art impulse. But we must remember that all peoples have not this genius for literary creation. The folk lore of a people without it will be of interest to the student or collector of folk tales, but as literature for children such stories have slight, if any, value merely because they are old. They must also have the inherent qualities of literature. They must possess the active, dramatic ingredients of a good story if they are to stand beside the old favorites in the literature of fairy tales, the stories to which children return again and again because of their perennial freshness and imaginative power.
- Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, "The Sleeping Beauty," in their Household Stories (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1923).
- Walter de la Mare, Animal Stories (N.Y.: Scribner, 1940), p. xxxviii.
- Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, East of the Sun and West of the Moon (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1928), p. 31.
- Annie E. Moore, Literature Old and New for Children (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1934), p. 95-96.
- De la Mare, op. cit., p. xviii-xxi.
- Post Wheeler, "Finist the Falcon," in his Russian Wonder Tales (N.Y.: Beechhurst, 1948).
Buchan, John. The Novel and the Fairy Tale. Oxford Univ. Pr., 1931. (English Association Pamphlet no. 79)
Chesterton, G. K. "The Dragon's Grandmother" (in Tremendous Trifles). Dodd, 1909. Methuen, 1909.
——. "The Red Angel" (in Tremendous Trifles). Dodd, 1909. Methuen, 1909.
Hartland, Edwin Sidney. The Science of Fairy Tales. Scribner, 1925. Methuen, 1925.
Hooker, B. "Narrative and the Fairy Tale." Bookman, XXXIII (June, July 1911), 389-93, 501-05.
——. "Types of Fairy Tales.: Forum, XL (October 1908), 375-84.
Repplier, Agnes. "The Battle of the Babes" (in Essays in Miniature). Houghton, Mifflin, 1895.
Joyce Thomas (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: Thomas, Joyce. "The Tales of the Brothers Grimm: In the Black Forest." In Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume Two: FairyTales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry, edited by Perry M. Nodelman, pp. 104-17. West Lafayette, Ind.: Children's Literature Association, 1987.
[In the following essay, Thomas reviews the implicit strengths of fairy tales in their role as "the great-grandparent of children's literature" with a special focus on those stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm.]
As the great-grandparent of children's literature, fairy tales occupy a privileged place as touchstones for that literature. Basic as the peasant's crusty black bread, they nourish us upon essential sustenance—the fare of elemental story. Especially do the volksmarchen or folk fairy tales—those stories that were once part of an oral tradition of storytelling—lay the foundation for many, if not most, classics of children's literature. The works of such beneficiaries as Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, L. Frank Baum, Kenneth Grahame, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, among others, would be unrecognizably altered—if not rendered non-existent—without that essential cornerstone of "faerie."
Ironically, this elder genre is frequently regarded as something children grow out of—if, indeed, they are accorded the direct experience of the tales in the first place. Fairy tales too often are diminished, if not openly denigrated, by our society, which tends to view them as "mere" fare for young children. The very term "fairy tale," like its cousin "myth," is employed as a synonym for what is devalued—for fantastic lies, absurd exaggerations, all manner of escapes from the "real world." Probably more than any other type of children's literature, fairy tales have suffered from the tamperings of well-intentioned adults. They have been rewritten and censored, withheld from children or temperately spoon-fed to them as cautionary tales. These adults only find faerie palatable if it offers an obvious, cookie-cutter moral or "nice," "safe," innocuous fantasy. They would vouchsafe "Little Red-Cap" to children since its moral appears to be that a child should heed her mother and not tarry on the way to grandmother's house. They would rewrite "Hansel and Gretel" so as to make its action less horrific. They would discard "The Almond Tree" and "The Robber Bridegroom," fearing their gruesome matter would fuel a child's worst nightmares.
Perhaps as the logical extension of such tampering, no other genre of children's literature has been subjected to so many different interpretive approaches. Beginning with the nineteenth century mythologists, fairy tales have been alternately viewed as masquerading nature and solar myths; as folkloristic fossils upon which are etched early man's rites, customs and superstitions; as psychodramas wherein are played out the traumas of birth and sexual discovery, oedipal struggles, sibling rivalry, conflicts between the pleasure and reality principles, conflicts among the id, ego, and super-ego; as archetypal creations depicting the process of individuation and assimilation of one's shadow, anima or animus; as cosmogonic scenarios wherein the hero traverses the cyclic round of trials and tests, helpers and foes, to descend into the underworld and emerge with a boon for all mankind; as socio-historical documents recording the survival concerns and wish-fulfillments of a beleaguered lower class; as poetic metaphors in which are clothed life's profoundest truths. All such intellectual, theoretical translations—always interesting, frequently illuminating—can, however, never replace the tales' own, most eloquent voice. That the humble volksmarchen should spark so many and such divergent responses suggests something of their eternal mystery and appeal. Despite all tamperings and interpretations, the tales survive, reminding us, as Marie von Franz says, that "the interpretation of the dream is always less good than the dream itself" (26), always less than the tale from which it trails. In the midst of our cacophonous babble, the tales speak on, as they have for countless centuries, in their own simple yet symbolic tongue.
Precisely what fairy tales mean is far less significant than the obvious fact that the tales are. Fairy tales have survived as an art form in their own right because their value transcends whatever meaning with which we tag them. There are the lost children, the confectionary hut in the woods, the cackling witch, the twilight landscape of the Black Forest: play with them as we will, analyze them as we choose, there is always something else, some other thing, coyly peeping behind the folds of that bent crone's black skirts, tantalizingly lurking just beyond the far conifer at the edge of our scrutinizing vision. No wealth of words can ever squarely fix that shadowly presence nor properly articulate exactly what pulses at the magical heart of the fairy tale.
Yet fairy tales are an art, and can be examined as such on the basis of the experience they give us, both children and adults. As Isabelle Jan notes in writing of children's literature, the person who first reads of Babar the elephant experiences something just as singular and absorbing as does the person who reads The Brothers Karamazov for the first time (143); in terms of the experience literature or any art offers, a reader's age seems scarcely significant. And, of course, the volksmarchen were originally intended for an adult audience. Though their audience has grown younger over succeeding centuries, the tales continue to speak in a non-discriminating manner to an audience basically undefined on the basis of age or sex or race. Certainly the aspects of "faerie" which J. R. R. Tolkien describes (46)—Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation—indicate part of the tales' age-less and time-less appeal. If anything, the latter three aspects seem especially suited to adults: to anyone seeking to recover the potency and wonder of simple, basic things; to escape from life's imposed restrictions and from one's own mortality (what Tolkien calls "the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death" ); to find consolation in communion with other species, in happy endings, in a truly democratic justice. Paradoxically, the tales offer a simultaneous experience of both escape and initiation; perhaps the former speaks strongest to adults while the latter speaks best to the children, though that is a relatively moot distinction. What does concern us is the nature and value of the tales.
First and foremost, fairy tales provide an experience of pure story. Especially is this true of folk collections like those compiled by the Brothers Grimm. Despite literary alterations on the part of Jacob and Wilhelm—their stylistic embellishments, simplifications, fusions of tales and their variants, all done in keeping with their era of romanticism and Biedermeier culture, yet as Luthi suggests (28), always with an eye toward what they felt was best in the tales—these tales exist as narrative in an elemental and elementary form. The distinction between Grimms' best and usually most popular tales and more decoratively literary ones is readily apparent if one compares their "Little Briar-Rose" to Charles Perrault's "The Sleeping Beauty," the latter an embroidered tapestry, weighed down by the narrator's intrusive voice, appliqued moralisms, and a second, quite obviously tacked-on story. It is no accident that Grimms' tales comprise the most popular collection in our culture, nor that certain of their tales—"Little Briar-Rose," "Hansel and Gretel," "The Frog Prince," "Snow-White," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Rapunzel," among others—exemplify the fairy tale in the minds of most people. Yet other collections contain the same plots, same bits and pieces of physical matter, same stock of familiar characters, same resonating archetypes. Perhaps the Grimms' tales are so often equated with all fairy tales because they succeed best in communicating those plots, characters and archetypes via their initiation into what is an abbreviated yet complete experience of story, of literature. Flowing through time, honed to essentials, the best of these tales smoothly move from beginning to middle to end, presenting in clearly recognizable forms the basic literary elements of plot, character, setting, style, point of view, theme and symbolism. Having experienced a mere handful of these tales, the reader or listener has in essence experienced all story—has witnessed the bare bones of narrative which writers from Charles Perrault to Charles Dickens, from Mary Shelley to Ursula Le Guin, from William Shakespeare to Franz Kafka, flesh out and garb in their respective colored cloths.
All of literature waits within the simple fairy tale. Recall Grimms' "Little Briar-Rose" as it opens upon the simple declarative statement, "A long time ago there was a King and Queen who said every day: 'Ah, if only we had a child!' but they never had one." The setting is timeless, placeless, yet regal, the characters mere nouns yet real human beings; even Briar-Rose is there, conspicuous by her absence, by the importance accorded her in the parents' voiced wish. In fact, the situation, that of recognizable, unrealized desires, is ordinary enough. Only with the second sentence does the extraordinary, the faerie, enter the story, in the form of a prophesying frog: "But it happened that once when the Queen was bathing, a frog crept out of the water on to the land, and said to her: 'Your wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by, you shall have a daughter.'" A rather complete drama has already unfolded in just these two understated lines: a human couple desires a child but has none; a magical amphibian foretells the birth of their daughter. Out of this brief drama, all the tale's ensuing action evolves. What has been set in motion is the dynamic tension of desire and its fulfillment, of prophecy and its realization, of the magical enacted upon and within the human sphere. Likewise, the tale's thematic strains of life and its absence are first sounded, to reverberate until the final chord's happy ending.
What a marvelous, logical chain of causality is drawn out, link by soldered link, before our eyes. Briar-Rose is born, and the King celebrates his desire's actualization with a birth-feast; there we hear the thirteenth Wise Woman pronounce her death curse, hear the twelfth Wise Woman mediate it to a hundred years' sleep, witness the King's vain, fiery purge of all the spindles in his land, watch as Briar-Rose grows to one day ascend the tower's winding stair and greet her fate poised at the tip of the unfamiliar spindle . . . tick off those hundred lotus years, to witness the prophecy's completion and maiden's awakening. In terms of plot, the prince's arrival is but an ancillary action: he simply happens to be in the right place at the right time, unlike his less fortunate, bramble-impaled predecessors. He holds no place in the prophecies of any of the supernatural characters; like the King who cannot prevent his daughter's fate, the prince cannot break its bonds, and he neither rescues nor disenchants Briar-Rose. It is all a matter of timing. His coincidental arrival does, however, provide for the happy ending's union of prince and princess, man and woman, and thus brings the tale full circle, and makes it a completed narrative.
Protagonist and antagonist, a dramatic plot of crisis and climax, a denouement tying-off the story with a tight love-knot: all the basic narrative elements are there. Told in the third-person narrative voice, lacking detailed characterization, a complex plot and any superfluous stylistic embroidery, the tale communicates the very essence of story. As to symbolism and theme, they, too, are communicated simply, via the picture-language of precisely drawn images. Through such imagery one apprehends a wealth of relations as richly woven as a medieval tapestry: there are the prophesying frog and Wise Women, all clear incarnations of Fate; there is the alien spindle upon which Briar-Rose pricks her finger to fall into a deathlike sleep, and there are the bramble-thorns upon which a host of premature suitors fall into the eternal sleep of death; there are the blooming briar-roses which herald their namesake's awakening and return to life; there is as well that other, less easily articulated relationship between prophecy and act, the voice and the world it defines, so crucial to the taleteller's own creation. And there is the richly detailed, thrice-repeated description of the sleep itself, in which all elements—Briar-Rose, King and Queen, the entire court, horses in the stable, dogs in the yard, pigeons on the roof, flies on the wall, flaming hearth fire and roasting meat, the very wind and even leaves on the trees—are wrapped within the princess's soporific cloak. This lengthy description is given first as Briar-Rose falls into sleep, again while she is sleeping, again as she awakens. Admittedly, it is a type of stylistic embroidery, but one perfectly suited to the tale. The richly detailed texture and repetition serve to reinforce the sleep and its mesmerizing spell, while also underscoring one's sense of the interconnectedness of all things—the individual and the world, the microcosm and the macrocosm. Further, it functions as a melodic litany offering reassurance and solace in the face of that malevolent Wise Woman and the fact of one hundred somnolent years.
According to Jane Yolen, "The gift of words is magic" (89). It is this gift that fairy tales proffer both child and adult. The tales constitute a primary experience of literature and thus set the stage for all later experiences. Not only do we participate in story; we also necessarily participate in that story's language. As with nursery verse, a child acquires a sense of how language functions, of how it defines and shapes the world, through the tale's varied voices of the third-person narrator, dialogue and monologue, verse and rhyme. Different happenings demand different voices, reality turns upon verbalization (as heard in each crucial prophecy's direct quotation in "Little Briar-Rose")—two valuable truths the tale bestows as part of its word-gift. The fairy tale's simple opening suggests infinite possibilities, infinite dramas sprung from that one fertile seed: "Hard by a forest dwelt a poor woodcutter with his wife and his two children" ("Hansel and Gretel") "There was once upon a time an old king who was ill, and thought to himself: 'I am lying on what must be my death-bed'" ("Faithful John"); "Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a Queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony" ("Little Snow White"); "There was once a man whose wife died, and a woman whose husband died . . ." ("The Three Little Men in the Wood"). One need merely begin, "Once upon a time there was a person," to read oneself into the oldest story, the one we title "Life."
From the incantatory "once upon a time" to that solacing amen of "happy-ever-after," the tales unwind, weaving a verbal spell by which one is, as Yolen says, "caught up in the centrifugal force of the spinning story" (42). Anything is possible, given the word and its mastery, as Rumpelstiltskin regrettably learned. While this is a truth any literature might impart, it is one particularly transmitted by the volksmarchen collected by the Brothers Grimm because of those tales' honed narratives. Few unnecessary elements intrude between the word and the world it creates, between that word, that world, and the audience. Since fairy tales often constitute the first or one of the first experiences children have of literature as a sustained and complete narrative, the value of that experience cannot be over-estimated.
As a prototypical experience, the tales gracefully lend themselves to another crucial experience, that of the shared experience of story. They were, after all, oral narratives originally, and the varied voices in which any one tale speaks almost demand to be spoken aloud again. As Yolen has written, "the tale apprehended by the ear is different from the one taken in by the eye," for eye and ear "are different listeners" (42). We need both faculties to fully experience the tales. In hearing a story, one returns to that charmed inner circle delimited by the sound of the taleteller's voice. A special sphere is created in the intimate relationship between story-teller and audience, whether the audience consists of one child, one adult, or many. The spoken tale is different from the tale read silently, in part because in hearing it one is vouchsafed the auditory experience of his own language, of its full potency and melodious musicality. Just as nursery rhymes for younger children provide them with an experience in their language whereby they develop a sense of that language's functions—how it structures the universe and imitates the rhythms of life—so do the tales' spoken words provide us with a message in themselves. Furthermore, the shared, spoken tale extends the sphere of relationship open to the child. Whereas silent reading comprises a smaller relationship of reader and tale, recounting a story aloud automatically brings a third party into that relationship. One participates in a humanly shared experience, shared between the taleteller and individual child and also shared among children if the audience is multiplied. If no one bothers to share stories in this manner, the message conveyed is that the tales—or any literature, for that matter—simply are not worth the effort; omission, neglect, indifference, silence, are themselves evaluations which are not lost on children who likewise suffer in their own measure of self-esteem. Again, as honed, brief, originally oral narratives, fairy tales lend themselves especially well to such sharing.
As Nietzsche said of myth, the tales represent a mode of thought which presents an idea of the universe through the sequence of events, actions, and sufferings (Zimmer 310). Those who have fundamental story, have experienced the volksmarchen, are better able to integrate life itself as story—to read themselves into that oldest tale. Depth psychologist James Hillman has noted that such a "reading into" is crucial if one is to perceive life as a coherent and meaningful experience rather than chaos of isolated characters and inexplicable occurrences. Through basic story we acquire the experience of "imaginative meaning," which can then be applied to our own life as a means of understanding and integrating it. Story-awareness provides us with the awareness to come to terms with our own case history and encourages the synthesis of material that is ugly, cruel, obscene, socially or personally unacceptable. According to Hillman, both myths and fairy tales present such material in a safe, accepting, even joyful package. They tell us there is a place for things we might otherwise deny or repress—that child-eating witch, that robber bridegroom—and thus encourage us to accept even the worst aspects of our lives and selves: "the more attuned and experienced is the imaginative side of personality the less threatening the irrational, the less necessity for repression, and therefore the less actual pathology acted out in literal, daily events (9).
Hillman terms literalism "sickness" because it denies the imagination, the metaphorical, the fantastic, all of which are not only aspects of our minds and world, but together represent the more dominant forces in them. We are, each one of us, continually reading ourselves into now one story, now another. The psychological activities of identification and empathy comprise a large, healthy measure of what makes us human; lacking such "readings," we would be cut off from our own human kind and culture and history. Chaos rather than cosmos, that sense of an ordered and meaningful universe, would result. Disconnected from the world without and within, we might all the more readily destroy ourselves, destroy the very planet to which we cannot relate. That marvelous causal chain in "Little Briar-Rose" fairly sings of the interconnectedness of all things. Snap its links, experience the isolated curse of the thirteenth Wise Woman or Briar-Rose's inexplicable coma, the seemingly senseless deaths of all those early suitors—and cosmos shatters; the mirror of story and what it reflects becomes no more than scattered shards. All reassurance dissolves, and we lose the tale's consoling insight into how "the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may be softened to a sleep" (Chesterton 177).
To deny fairy tales to children, or to allow only those with "acceptable" morals and innocuous fantasy, is to retard their psychological and imaginative growth and expression. Fairy tales stand independently of the adults who select books for children as if selecting the right food for them to consume. Indeed, the tales may constitute the fullest, most nutritionally complete diet, unlike the "junk books" (equivalent to fast-food fries) that Paula Fox cites: such books, devoid of fantastic play and imaginings, "dull the hunger of a child's mind, stuff it with unearned certainties, those straws, Henry James wrote, that 'we chew to cheat our appetites'" (30). Characteristic of such literature is its tendency to "promote and vindicate adult predispositions toward children and childhood"; further, it absolves us of responsibility, "the effort of self-knowledge without which we cannot really think about and understand children, who are not a race apart but ourselves when new."
We should not forget that fairy tales are moral literature, in the fullest sense of the word. Though few posit precise morals, virtually all the tales convey a fundamental esthetic which may be gleaned within their predominant theme, the seeming disparity between appearances and reality. This theme, manifested in almost every classic tale, aptly represents the core of a genre that treats the fantastic and the real as existing on the same plane of human experience. Typically the tales portray the least likely thing, creature or human as the most likely to confer rewards or punishments, to conceal a prince, to be the hero. Apparently ordinary, mundane physical things are revealed to be extraordinary and magical upon a closer look. In Grimms' "The Table, the Ass and the Stick," for instance, the three possessions are markedly mundane—and markedly marvelous. The little table is "nothing much to look at, and made of common wood; but it had one great quality": upon command, it spreads itself with a sumptuous repast. Similarly, the dumb beast of burden can spit gold nuggets and the stick, surely one of the unlikeliest things to contain the faerie, can beat anything or anyone upon command.
Animals and all manner of magical beings also are portrayed as least likely creatures. From the helpful ants, ducks and bees in "The Queen Bee" to the little old grey man in "The Golden Goose," the lowly, alltoo familiar creature is found to be the magical aide, provider and advisor. Almost always, it is the most ordinary and unexceptional animal that proves to be just as extremely exceptional—so exceptional, that the hero usually would not survive or succeed without it. Tales of helpful animals tend to portray the hero as one who acts out of a perceptive, usually compassionate response to nature. Coincidentally, the hero often is depicted in contrast to other humans who either do not see the natural world they have become habituated to, or view it in a selfish, destructive manner. Kindness is repaid in kind, as is unkindness. That obvious moral, however, is far less important than what has preceded it: the hero's seeing and responding to nature as valuable in itself. Frequently this is the true test of the hero, and whatever other tasks face him are accomplished by the creatures he treated well. A mutual relationship and reciprocal exchange is established between man and animal which extends to embrace all of nature; nature metamorphoses to the supernatural, and, again, the world proves ecologically wonder-full.
At times, the least likely is decidedly noticeable, though in a negative manner, as seen in countless tales of animal-grooms and brides. As in "The Frog Prince," insight into the creature's true self is gleaned after an initial period of repulsion or fear that limits one's vision to the animal's outer, physical shell. Thematically, the groom's enchantment is more the result of others' negative perceptions than it is of any supernatural spell; usually the spell ceases the moment the heroine sees truly. Conversely, tales treating a physically human groom who possesses a bestial nature depict a process whereby initially positive or accepting responses to him are replaced with genuine loathing and horror once his true self is discovered. Interestingly, no disenchantment is possible, for the human is always human and the sole solution to his inner, vile nature is that of his death. In the nightmare world of "The Robber Bridegroom," accurate perception assumes a life or death significance.
Surely the most common portrayal of the disparity between appearances and reality is found in the fairy tale's own heroes and heroines. Wherever there is a youngest son or daughter, an abused, neglected, poverty-stricken Simpleton or Cinderella, little tailors and Tom Thumbs and abandoned children, the least likely figure emerges as the most likely to be the hero. It is the Cinderella human, female or male, who stands as the typical fairy tale hero, who stands as the fleshy incarnation of the tales' recurrent theme—in John Buchan's words, "survival of the unfittest" (8-9). As Max Luthi has noted, Cinderella represents the perfect "riddle princess" (132); that riddling aspect may be extended to include almost all fairy tale protagonists, who pose a riddle in the apparent disparity between what they appear to be and what they are in actuality. "Apparent" is the clue, for accurate perception reveals that Cinderella is both raggedy and regal, just as the groom is both animal and human, the crone ordinary and extraordinary, the creature natural and supernatural, the stick mundane and magical. One state or characteristic need not contradict the other, for it is the combination of the two which makes the entity what it is. Cinderella would not be the heroine were she solely an ashcovered maiden or solely a glass-shoed princess. The marvel of the food-spreading table would be meaningless were the table not both common and capable of its meal-time conjurings. We tend to perceive the ash-maiden who attends the ball in glass or golden shoes as being the regal girl who is belied by her ashy state. But over and over again, the tales point to a far more complex and realistic perspective: the ashmaiden and regal girl are one and the same, appearance is reality, and one must learn to see truly.
All manner of messages, essential and profound, reveal themselves in the fairy tale's simple silhouettes of physical objects, animals, humans and super-natural beings. Legions of wicked stepmothers demonstrate in their antagonism and hatred toward the child how the past continues to live on in the present and how tenuous is the relationship between parent and child. The dangers of self-worship and of failing to see one's self in another resound through "Little Snow-White," while many a "fee fie foe fum"—chanting giant demonstrates the dangers of uncurbed appetite and how anyone of us might topple under the weight of our own gravity. All those least likely heroes and heroines enact a scenario whereby success is attained within before it is attained without, in the world of men and daylight deeds. Accurate perception, compassion, and proper use of intellect comprise the touchstones of most heroism in tales that span the distance between "a day dream which stays in control, a nightmare which plunges into horror" (Fiedler xv). In the manner of a primer, fairy tales speak to us in simple terms and stark images whose language, says Bruno Bettelheim, is the only one "which permits understanding before intellectual maturity has been achieved" (161). Rose and thorn, life and death, ash and gold, frog and prince, sight and insight, blood and bone, Red Cap and the wolf, the lost children and the waiting witch—fairy tales expertly choreograph life's polar possibilities.
This fine balancing act is itself one with human existence. We should never forget that fairy tales are but another times' reflection of basic human concerns—that, as Joseph Campbell writes in Hero with a Thousand Faces, "The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change" (4). We should always remember that the "lie" of art, of fiction and the faerie, exists as a deliberate distortion by which one can experience the truth; that
The debutante combing her hair before the glass, the mother pondering the future of a son, the laborer in the mines . . . the ambassador with portfolio, the soldier in the field of war—all are working in order that the ungainsayable specifications of effective fantasy, the permanent patterns of the tale of wonder, shall be clothed in flesh and known as life.
(Campbell, "Folkloristic Commentary" 863)
How truly realistic the tales are, translating for us the best and basest of human emotions and strivings: Love, Trust, Compassion, Honor, Friendship, Fidelity, Courage, Fear, Greed, Lust, Betrayal, Hatred—they are all there.
One could go on and on, reciting the multifarious messages the tales communicate, each one of which is yet another part of their value for us. As a mode of entertainment, says Campbell in his "Folkloristic Commentary," they exist "not simply to fill the vacant hour, but to fill it with symbolic fare" (862). Their messages are multiple, imaginatively playful yet seriously speculative. Deceptively simple, the volksmarchen have often been dismissed on the basis of their appearance, as was Cinderella, the frog prince, the wooden table, and virtually every bit of common matter, common man, within the tales. We know the danger in that dismissal, know that the playful and serious, fantasy and reality, natural and supernatural, can exist side by side, exist even as one entity. It is true the tales can shift in a protean manner between blessing and curse, daydream and nightmare, but they nonetheless offer an ongoing reassurance long before their (almost always) happy ending is attained. It is true the human characters, like their real-life counterparts, often appear to be at the mercy of strange and stronger forces upon which their fate rests, just as they frequently experience a state of disequilibrium and disruption not unlike that experienced in today's own protean world. What is absent in our contemporary response is the second part of the story; not necessarily the state of being "happy until their days' end," but the realization that disequilibrium, disruption, are with us always, and may even represent a disguised boon. Fairy tales accept the very disturbances they create, and do so in a joyful manner. Their heroes, too, demonstrate a sensitive awareness and acceptance of the extraordinary; indeed, no hero's fate would be heroic were he to balk at the supernatural forces he experiences. This is not a passive acquiescence in matters beyond one's control; rather, it is an almost appreciative recognition of things as they are, which is then acted upon. The hero is he or she who takes "the road less travelled by."
How reassuring it is to see that the disturbing super-natural is but the super-natural; that it has been a part of one's world all along and is simply manifested when the ordinary is experienced as extra-ordinary. The Coleridgean conceit that all existence is comprised of the wondrously strange murmurs in the tales: if we had but the eyes to see, we would perceive the latent form of the unfamiliar asleep within the familiar, the magical housed within the shell of the mundane. This realization of the fantastic as the realistic represents yet another esthetic of fairy tales; it is one of the most precious gifts they offer us. Again, it speaks to the interconnectedness of all things, and thus again affirms the patterned web of life and all spun story. This casual affirmation paradoxically presents the real as yielding the fantastic while simultaneously the fantastic is shown to be essentially nonfantastic and real. In contrast to the unreassuring fantasy of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, fairy tales impart an idea of existence which views all matter as both mundane and magical. Their casual portrayal is in itself a comfort: this is the world, the tales say, and it is truly marvelous, mysterious, wonder-full. The tales matter-of-factly embrace all apparent disparities, polarities, and resolve them in that embrace, leaving us with a single impression, familiar as any common briar-rose.
As Selma Lanes suggests (94) there is a magic to existence that defies charting, just as there is a defiant meaning. In the most fundamental sense, everything in our lives is older than we are, and always there is something there, some thing winking just at the edge of our peripheral vision. Like all good art, like our own imaginings and dreams, fairy tales function as a sort of incantation by which is called forth the things we but half-glimpse. Just what we witness cannot ultimately be defined, though certainly part of the experience we gain is one with a sense of pure, elementai wonder, without which we remain fixed, dull and ignorant as stone; as Iona and Peter Opie say,
The magic sets us wondering . . . this is the merit of the tales, that by going beyond possibility they enlarge our daily horizon. For a man not given to speculation might as well walk on four legs as on two. A child who does not feel wonder is but an inlet for apple pie.
It is true that a story which depicts life solely as a study in meanness, in a reality devoid of joy and wonder, is more fantastic and incredible than any fairy tale. John Buchan appropriately quotes Robert Louis Stevenson's words, "To miss the joy is to miss all" (15).
To deny anyone the experience of such tales as "Little Briar-Rose," "Hansel and Gretel," "Little Snow-White," "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Goose Girl," "The Robber Bridegroom," "The Frog Prince," "Cinderella," "Little Red-Cap," "The Bremen Town Musicians," "The Queen Bee," "Snow-White and Rose-Red"—the list spools out in one silken strand—is to deny him his own inheritance of story. Ultimately, as Jane Yolen claims, it is to deny him his own humanity. We are, each one of us, the individual hero of one story, our own life. Lacking the sense of story which fairy tales provide at an early age—that cohesive beginning, middle, and end; that commingling of the ordinary and extraordinary, mundane and magical; that sense of a patterned cosmos wherein all polarities are but interconnected filaments—we exist as little more than animated clods. Like the best of literature and art, fairy tales remind us of who we were and are and yet might be. They are not "escapist" fare, unless, of course, the escape is into our very selves, our deepest desires and fears. The tales tell us, not that life isn't fraught with perils, but that its story can be lived in a joyful manner, even when the crumb trail has been picked clean and one is lost inside the very heart of the Black Forest. Perhaps that is why fairy tales have survived so long, and perhaps the Brothers Grimm's "Household Stories" remain so popular and so exemplary of the genre because they do best what all fairy tales strive for. Perhaps not. But what a full experience those tales give us; their value is inestimable yet need not be spelled out like some chemical formula. Quite simply put, fairy tales are; the Black Forest yet rises in our fondest dreams and darkest nightmares. That is, finally, all we need to know.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976.
Buchan, John. The Novel and the Fairy Tales. Pamphlet No. 79. Great Britain: The English Association, July, 1931.
Campbell, Joseph. "Folkloristic Commentary." Grimm, Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Chesterton, G. K. A Selection from His Non-Fictional Prose. Selected by W. H. Auden. London: Faber & Faber, 1970.
Fox, Paula. "Some Thoughts on Imagination in Children's Literature." Celebrating Children's Books: Essayson Children's Literature in Honor of Zena Sutherland. Ed. Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1981.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. Trans. Margaret Hunt, revised by James Stern. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Hillman, James. "A Note on Story." Children's Literature 3 (1972).
Jan, Isabelle. On Children's Literature. London: Allen Lane, 1973.
Lanes, Selma G. Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures on the Realm of Children's Literature. New York: Atheneum, 1971.
Luthi, Max. Once upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. New York: Ungar, 1970.
Opie, Iona and Peter. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Oxford U Press, 1974.
Tolkien, J. R. R. "On Fairy Stories." The Tolkien Reader. New York: Balantine, 1966.
von Franz, Marie-Louise. Interpretation of Fairy Tales: An Introduction to the Psychology of Fairy Tales. Zurich: Spring, 1973.
Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood. New York: Philomel, 1981.
Donald Haase (essay date September 2000)
SOURCE: Haase, Donald. "Children, War, and the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales." Lion and the Unicorn 24, no. 1 (September 2000): 360-77.
[In the following essay, Haase explores "how children use fairy tales to interpret their landscapes," citing how fairy tales provide context and a means of expression for children raised during wartime.]
In childhood, only the surroundings show, and nothing is explained. Children do not possess a social analysis of what is happening to them, or around them, so the landscape and the pictures it presents have to remain a background, taking on meaning later, from different circumstances.
—Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (33)
The landscape that provided the background to Carolyn Kay Steedman's 1950s South London childhood was, in her earliest years, still that of World War II. As she writes in Landscape for a Good Woman, her remarkable "story of two lives"—her own and that of her mother: "The War was so palpable a presence in the first five years of my life that I still find it hard to believe that I didn't live through it. There were bomb-sites everywhere, prefabs on the waste land . . ." (29). In a comparative study of Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman and German writer Christa Wolf's Kindheitsmuster (Patterns of Childhood), literary critic Elizabeth W. Harries has shown how postwar women writers have used fairy tales as devices to interpret their childhoods—Steedman's against the landscape of postwar London's working-class and Wolf's against the landscape of Nazi Germany and its aftermath. As Harries demonstrates, fairy tales become "stories to think with, stories that do not necessarily determine lives but can give children (and adults) a way to read and to understand them" (124); they provide children "with a way of reading and even predicting the world" (126).1 Noting the nearly irresistible "compulsions of narrative," Steedman herself relates on the basis of personal experience how a story becomes an "interpretative device" (143-44). Her own story told in Landscape for a Good Woman is in large measure a demonstration of her statement that, during her postwar childhood, "[l]ong, long ago, the fairy-stories were my first devices" (143) for interpreting childhood—a childhood lived during its earliest years in a landscape scarred by violence, a postwar "waste land" of "bomb-sites."
Following Steedman's lead, I want to explore how children use fairy tales to interpret their landscapes and their experiences in them. I am specifically interested in how children of war—especially as adults later reflecting on their violent wartime childhoods—have had recourse to the space of fairy tales to interpret their traumatic physical environments and their emotional lives within them. Elsewhere I have suggested how the utopian structures in fairy tales have played a role in the lives of children who experienced the trauma of war, exile, and the Holocaust (Haase). Drawing on the fairy-tale theories of two figures who were themselves exiled from the Third Reich—the unlikely pair of philosopher Ernst Bloch and psychologist Bruno Bettelheim—I stressed in particular the fairy tale's potential as an emotional survival strategy based on its "anticipation of a better world" and its "future-oriented" nature (87, 94). That approach underlined in effect the temporal dimension of the fairy tale's utopianism, especially as a projection of a better time. Here, however, I shall demonstrate that space—or place—plays an equally important role in the child's interpretation of the trauma caused by war. To do this, I shall (1) consider the nature of time and space in the classic fairy tale; (2) establish how the ambiguity of fairy-tale spaces creates an imaginative geography that lends itself to the representation and mapping of wartime experience; and (3) adduce examples from autobiographical accounts that show how fairy tales have been used to comprehend and to take emotional control over the war-torn landscape of childhood.2
In exploring this terrain, I shall be building on Jack Zipes's theory of the "liberating potential of the fantastic" (Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion 170-92). Using Freud's notion of the unheimlich (the uncanny), Ernst Bloch's utopian philosophy of "home," and André Favat's interpretation of Jean Piaget's developmental psychology, Zipes has articulated a theory that locates the fairy tale's appeal in its recurring pattern involving "the reconstitution of home on a new plane" (176). Driven by the longing for home, "which is discomforting and comforting" (177), both adults and children desire to tap into the liberating potential of the tale, to recapture home as a place free from repressive constraints and governed by the utopian imagination. Zipes, of course, is especially concerned with demonstrating how the quest for home is implicated in the process of socialization. Here, however, I am less interested in the socializing effects of the fairy tale and its conventional cultural role than in its reception in extremis. The spatial implications of Zipes's theory of fairy-tale structure and reception are consistent with my hypothesis that children who have been displaced by violence may perceive an affinity between their traumatic experience and utopian projections, on the one hand, and the landscape of the fairy tale, on the other. In other words, Zipes's theory of the fairy-tale home—which is "discomforting and comforting," defamiliarized and familiar—helps us conceptualize how the ambiguous spaces of fairy tales are used by children to map their own geographical landscape under fire and to project onto that landscape a reconstituted home. Examples will suggest how children identify both the distressing disfigurement of familiar places and dislocations such as exile and imprisonment with the landscape and physical spaces of the fairy tale, and how, within that imaginative space, they transform their physical surroundings into a hopeful, utopian space as a psychological defense and means of emotional survival.
Time and Space in the Fairy Tale
The formulaic "once upon a time" stereotypically associated with the fairy tale would seem to suggest that the genre is largely about time—about temporal displacement from the present to the mythical past or to an imaginative time not governed by the laws of everyday life.3 That is not entirely true. The folktale and fairy tale might be considered in one respect "timeless," but certainly not in the conventional, sentimental meaning of that word. Sociohistorical criticism of fairy tales has more than adequately demonstrated the social, historical, and cultural importance—that is, the temporal aspects—of the genre's production and reception.4 If the fairy tale is in fact "timeless," that timelessness derives largely from its structural disinterest in time. According to Max Lüthi, the folktale's characteristic onedimensionality and depthlessness result in part from the genre's "indifference to the passage of time" (19), and "the insignificance of the passage of time" is an "essential characteristic of the folktale" (20). "Time," Lüthi argues, "is a function of psychological experience," and "[s]ince the characters of the folktale are only figures who carry forward the plot and have no inner life, folktales must also lack the experience of time" (21). It is in this sense—in the sense that the fairy-tale narrative is not driven or defined by time or temporal considerations—that we can assert the genre's "timelessness."
If the fairy-tale narrative is in that respect timeless, can we also maintain that it is indifferent to space? Lüthi seems, on the one hand, to diminish the role of space when he notes in his chapter on "Isolation and Universal Interconnection" "[t]hat the characters depicted in folktales have . . . no environment," and when he observes that places such as forests, springs, castles, and cottages "do not serve to establish a setting" (37, 38; emphasis mine). On the other hand, what he frequently refers to as the otherworldliness of folktales involves spatial imagery suggesting the genre's fundamental reliance on space. He notes that setting, like time, is not fully experienced and only provides a story line, and that a physical setting is only mentioned insofar as plot may depend on it (38). Yet, the crucial isolation and separation of fairy-tale heroes, Lüthi admits, is made possible precisely by spatial relationships: "Apparently the only way that folktales can express spiritual otherness is through geographical separation" (9; emphasis mine). He admits furthermore that the folktale "expresses inner distance through visible separation" (9; emphasis mine). Noting the prevalence of isolation in folktales, Lüthi observes that "[t]he characters of the folktale are thus separated from familiar people and familiar places and go out into the world as isolated individuals" (38). Clearly, then, the fundamental themes of separation and exile in fairy tales are spatially conceived and spatially driven.
Psychological readings of fairy tales generally interpret the isolation that Lüthi describes as a symbolic expression of developmental stages or as a metaphor for the hero's inner journey. However, if the fairy tale uses space to construct its hero's alienation and exile, it may be that under certain conditions the fairy-tale landscape has the potential to become a template for the actual experience of human displacement and the perception of a defamiliarized geography. That is, we shall ultimately want to consider whether children who have experienced the violent upheavals of war—who have been alienated from their surroundings either by physical displacement or by the perception of a violently altered landscape ("bomb-sites," "waste land")—sometimes map their experience with the fairy tale's geography of displacement.
The Ambiguity of Fairy-Tale Spaces
The settings of fairy tales are polarized and valorized according to whether they offer characters familiarity and security, or threaten them with exile and danger.5 Place signals the alienation and endangerment that characters experience, as it does their return to safety and security. Towers, forests, rooms, cages, ovens, huts, and enchanted castles are typical locations that threaten characters with isolation, danger, and violence, including imprisonment and death. Even familiar locations—including home—can become defamiliarized and threatening, as in "Hansel and Gretel." In this classic story of children in exile, home itself becomes an ambiguous location, embodying both the danger of violence and ultimate security. When violence upsets their familiar environment, the children are physically dislocated and forced into exile, into a defamiliarized perception of home. In typical fashion, their displacement is followed by relocation to a secure or familiar environment—that is, home reconstituted on a new plane.
It seems evident that the fairy tale's geography and its ambiguous landscapes lend themselves well to mapping the actual experience of physical dislocation and disorientation brought on by war. Wilhelm Grimm did as much himself when he wrote the story now known as Liebe Mili—Dear Mili—for a young female correspondent in 1816. Writing in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and possibly alluding to the Thirty Years' War,6 Grimm creates a tale about a little girl whose life is threatened by war, which he suggests in the defamiliarization of the heroine's environment and in the exile that ensues. The secure, protected life that the little girl leads with her mother in their "little house and garden" is dramatically altered when the storm of war threatens their nearly idyllic landscape:7
But it was not God's will that the happy life they led together should continue, for a terrible war overran the whole country. One fine, clear day when mother and child were sitting together outside the house, a great cloud of smoke rose up in the distance and a little while later the heavens resounded with cannon fire. Shouts and tumult rent the air on all sides. "Great God!" cried the mother. "What a fearful storm is coming! Dear child, how shall I save you from the wicked men!" And, in her great fear, she decided to send the child into the forest, where no enemy could follow.
In Grimm's text, the girl's exile in the unfamiliar forest protects her from the trauma of war, and it is followed ultimately by her return to a defamiliarized village but a still familiar home:
The child went to the village, but it looked strange and unfamiliar to her. In among the houses she knew, there were others she had never seen before; the trees looked different, and there was no trace of the damage the enemy had done. All was peaceful, the grain waved in the breeze, the meadows were green, the trees were laden with fruit. But she had no trouble recognizing her mother's house, and when she came close, she saw an old, old, woman with bowed head, sitting on the bench outside the door, enjoying the last rays of the evening sun that hung low over the forest.
The old woman is, of course, her mother, with whom she is reunited. That the village seems unfamiliar reflects not only that the daughter has spent thirty years in exile, but also that the once familiar space of home, disfigured by war, has been replaced by a new landscape, in which home can still be recognized. Grimm's text, then, depicts the traumatic experience of war and exile against a changing fairy-tale landscape and enables the reconstitution of home on a new plane.8
The relationship between the trauma of war and the fairy-tale landscape has been elaborated in a profoundly revealing way by Maurice Sendak's illustrations for Dear Mili. As Hamida Bosmajian and Ottilie Dinges each have shown, Sendak has incorporated visual images of war and the Holocaust into the traditional fairy-tale landscape that serves as the setting for Grimm's story.9 Sendak, who was born the son of Jewish immigrants in 1928 and who lost his European relatives in the Holocaust, has acknowledged that "Dear Mili is a book about landscape, through which [the little girl] runs."10 Auschwitz itself—the name of the place stands for the otherwise unspeakable violence of the Holocaust11—becomes the background for the fairy-tale forest, which in its own right becomes a landscape that literally embodies violence and death. Sendak defamiliarizes what might otherwise be romantic scenes, "abolishes linear time/narration," and through his allusive landscape "makes Dear Mili the story of a child in any war" (Bosmajian 200). His illustrations trace the transformation of the fairy-tale landscape—from the idyllic opening scene of home, which is threatened by looming storm clouds of war, through the ominous "forest of the dead" (200), and up to the final panoramic image of home and the girl's reunion with her mother. In fact, in the book's final illustration, civilization has been restored and the threatening forest has been displaced into the distance, where it regains its positive romantic aura and begins to overgrow the architectural ruins. Bosmajian interprets this final landscape as an image supporting Sendak's own claim that "the ending is not sad" (qtd. in Bosmajian 204). Indeed, the re-imagining of home against the background of ashen skies and allusive ruins suggests the utopian reconstitution of home on the previously violent postwar landscape.
For Sendak, the fairy tale becomes an "interpretative device" for understanding the child's journey through the landscape of war, exile, and the Holocaust. His landscapes—simultaneously familiar and defamiliarized—project not only the images of dislocation and violence but also the desire to reestablish the familiar, to relocate the undisturbed home of the past. Bosmajian perceptively invokes Lawrence Langer's observation that, in the stories of Holocaust survivors, "a defamiliarized event is drawn by a familiar vocabulary back within the perimeters of heroic memory, with its dependence on the idea of a controllable future" (Langer, Holocaust Testimonies 179; qtd. in Bosmajian 207). This constitutes a "psychological defense" that explains and justifies Sendak's placing "the memory of catastrophe and the desire for transformation in the overlay of landscapes" (Bosmajian 208). This insight will prove useful in examining how some adults who have experienced the violence of war, exile, and the Holocaust as children map those experiences with the overlay of the fairy-tale landscape, attempting to transform trauma through desire for the reconstituted safety of home.
Fairy-Tale Landscapes in Recollections of Childhood Trauma
While Sendak "acknowledges and grieves over the Holocaust" in his illustrations (Bosmajian 187), he does not do so as an actual child survivor. Still, there is suggestive evidence in autobiographical accounts that the imaginative space of the fairy tale may become an interpretative device and psychological strategy for those who directly experienced the Holocaust or the trauma of war and exile. My previous work introduced evidence that children living through these profoundly stressful conditions were able to appropriate fairy tales as a psychological strategy in order to create meaning in the midst of violent conflict. Storytelling itself could become a space of refuge—familiarity—linked to protection, security, and the return to meaningful life (see Haase 90-93). I noted, for example, that psychotherapist Ingrid Riedel recalled how telling fairy tales was a psychological defense mechanism during bombings and created a space for overcoming anxiety:
. . . I experienced [fairy tales] as protective powers that were allied with me against chaos. They helped me to overcome fear, to remain undisturbed, even when the external danger and the panic of the people around me persisted. It was as if they showed me a meaningful structure of events and relationships that were superior to and more powerful than chaos—a structure in which evil did have its place and time, but not the last word.
(Jacoby, Knast, and Riedel 7-8; qtd. in Haase 92; translation mine)
Subsequent testimony bears out these earlier findings. British artist and illustrator Corinna Sargood (b. 1941), for example, has reported that "during the [Second World W]ar, my father used to read the Grimms' Fairy Tales out loud. It was wonderful."12 In subsequent reflections on the role of fairy tales in her English childhood during the war, Sargood elaborates on this remark:
I loved my rather remote father's occasional bedtime stories, always one I had chosen from my brown covered edition of Grimm. I once asked him to promise that no bombs would fall that night (a request I knew was impossible) but I was still deeply shocked and frightened when he refused. Many years later I reminded him of this—he replied he didn't want to lose credibility. But this didn't stop him from reading Grimm's [sic] Fairy Tales to me.
However, in addition to the familiarity of storytelling and the imaginative refuge that it provided during the bombings, the fairy tale also offers Sargood, in her adult recollections of the wartime childhood, an interpretative device for understanding the disruption of her environment. Like many children at the time, Sargood was occasionally displaced. She recalls that she and her brother "just before a major bombardment . . . were taken by mother to the country, but only for the time of acute danger." The safety of the country was only temporary, for they "were always soon back in the blitz, crunching over the broken glass with more views of the insides of peoples' homes open to the elements." The description of this experience suggests how the bombings literally reconstructed space for Sargood as a child. War physically changed the familiar landscape, altered the vista, and dissolved the lines between private and public space by opening up private homes both to the forces of nature and to public view. Research on trauma has shown how the reality of traumatic experience fundamentally alters the victim's "personal mythologies" through "the violation of psychological and social boundaries" (Tal 234, discussing Des Pres). In the experience described by Sargood, the destruction of the physical boundaries between outside and inside, between public and private, is simultaneously a violation of psychological and social boundaries that alters the everyday mythology of space. It seems to be not simply the emptiness of the homes that created a lasting visual image for Sargood, but more emphatically their unfamiliar openness and vulnerability to invasion and violation. Significantly, after the war, that perspective shifts. The bombed-out urban landscape becomes a fantasy landscape, and space takes on the optimism of the fairy tale:
I remember the war as a time of continuous fear. Low key maybe, but its repression exhausting. (I was 4 1/2 when it was over.)
But at last, like a fairy tale, it had (for me at least) a happy ending. And I could begin to see the bombed out houses which with their swiftly growing weeds and buddleia became ruined castles in enchanted forests as I searched for broken treasures. Once through the war, I felt anything was possible.
As does Sendak in the final illustration for Dear Mili, Sargood interprets the postwar landscape as one in which ruined castles are overgrown by fairy-tale forests, signaling a positive reclamation—a transformation—of the space once overrun by war. Echoing the liberating nature of the fantastic, Sargood seems to reconstitute home on a new plane, to reconfigure space in the imagination so as to enable the possibility of hope by association with the fairy tale and its happy endings. From this perspective, bombed-out houses now become ruined castles in an enchanted forest where one can find "broken treasures."
Interestingly, the image of "broken treasures" recalls the Grimms' own view of fairy tales as shards of ancient gems, a metaphor for fragments of integral myths that had lost their coherence in the course of history and which the brothers, through their collection, were attempting to reconstruct (J. and W. Grimm 3:409 ). For Sargood, collecting the "broken treasures" does not simply reflect a desire to reconstruct the familiar past and its childhood spaces; it seems to constitute a confident attempt to reclaim them as part of a world where "anything was possible." That is, the search for broken treasures among ruined castles in the enchanted forest is driven by a fairy-tale trope that suggests transformative and utopian impulses—a fairy-tale quest in search of home on a new plane. This new, postwar view of the damaged urban landscape is a private, imaginative transformation of home and society, as Sargood confirms when she explicitly identifies the fairy tale as her memory's intertext:
It was the happy ending that was important. Maybe it was the fairy tales read to me during the war (after all even one fairy tale goes a long way), that helped me live with my fear. It seemed possible, in the teeth of injustice, willful misunderstanding, corruption and gratuitous violence, that everything will turn out well in the end. (This of course only works on a very personal level.) So it did, luckily for me, The Happy Ending came True.
Of course, this projection of the individual happy end, characterized by the utopian belief that "anything was possible," does not correspond fully to Sendak's remark about the conclusion of Dear Mili—namely, the subdued affirmation that "the ending is not sad." Understandably, moreover, the autumnal images of the final illustration in Sendak's Holocaust work convey more ambiguity and grief than the "swiftly growing weeds and buddleia" of Sargood's recollections of postwar England. Still, the illustrated version of Dear Mili was to be "the story of a child in any war" (Bosmajian 200). Sendak and Sargood—both of them visual artists—use the fairy-tale landscapes in similar ways—one graphically, the other verbally—to map and interpret the child's experience of wartime trauma.
In her 1997 book Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War, psychoanalyst Magda Denes (b. 1934) recounts her experiences as a Jewish child in wartime Hungary and postwar Europe, and she too adopts the fairy tale as a device to frame and interpret her experience. Initially, however, she deconstructs the act of storytelling, and—in contrast to the examples above—she casts doubt on the order and utopian outcome that fairy tales seem to promise. She begins the memoir of her journey toward survival with a sobering revaluation of the fairy tale and the announcement of childhood's end, at age five:
I begged, and often my brother obliged. In the dark when I couldn't sleep, Ivan told me fairy tales in a whisper. All the stories began, in the traditional Hungarian manner, "Once there was / where there wasn't / there was once a Castle / that twirled on the foot of a duck." The tales were always intrinsically just. They progressed from peril to joy; they spoke of an orderly, predictable world, where the virtuous were rewarded and the wicked were punished. The prince rescued the princess. Losses were restored, and the near dead revived. Lack of caution was not a fatal error.
Over the years of these whispered fables, I realized that my brother loved to tell them as much as I loved to listen to him. I also realized, with a thorn, that as the years passed, I believed the substance of these stories less and less. And then, less yet.
The world this five-year-old was about to experience, of course, seemed quite the opposite of the fairy tale, whose ambiguous reality would be exposed. She would experience a world in which justice did not always prevail, where order was not always evident, and where events were not always predictable. She would suffer through a world where the virtuous were not always rewarded, nor the wicked punished—where the happy end was not always assured.
Nonetheless, even in the form of a negative image, it is the fairy tale that Denes projects onto the visible landscape of war. As the title of her memoir suggests, the fairy-tale castles—once the child's symbol of order and security—are identified with the castles literally burning around her in war-torn Europe, signaling the violent death of childhood and a questioning of the fairy tale's easy truths and innocent world view. The de-familiarization of the fairy tale and the spatial disorientation caused by war is directly associated with the castle—both literally and symbolically—burning in Buda. As the girl's mother reports after venturing from their hiding place out into the city: "Buildings are on fire all around. The castle in Buda is burning. Other buildings are spilled on the ground in broken bricks. There are barbed-wire checkpoints everywhere. And no street signs. I got lost several times. Here in my own Budapest" (166). In recollecting her own childhood impressions of displacement and disorientation, Denes notes that a once familiar room, darkened because of bombing raids, appears as "a bewitched kingdom" (119). And when they leave their home to begin their dangerous flight from persecution and certain death, the familiar city seems transformed into an alien fairy-tale landscape under an evil spell:
Seated on the tramcar, I felt that overnight the city had changed. As in a fairy tale turned wicked, the world had revealed its layers of menace. The well-known streets through which we traveled had turned alien. There was no more Budapest. We were in a bewitched city of evil populated by hidden monsters. One accusing word, one pointing finger, could get us instantly killed.
Denes can map the violent reality of war on a fairy-tale landscape "turned wicked" because the world's "layers of menace" have their counterpart in the moral geography of the fairy tale, a genre that deals not only with "joy" (11) but also with unquestionable evil. But Denes also uses the fairy tale to chart a route toward a new home. She makes clear that the resourceful heroine of her memoir—her childhood self—had listened to the genre's strategies for survival and struggled to maintain a sense of hope (275). For example, while hiding in a basement annex, the girl is cramped by the many people seeking refuge there. "Bodies" fill the limited space, erasing the familiar lines between public and private, and giving her "even less room than before." She copes, however, by projecting a renewed fairy-tale home: "No matter. By morning I would be gone, to a fabled country of magical castles that twirled perpetually" (156). Indeed, the tale of her journey toward survival, which had begun by announcing disillusionment in the fairy tales of her childhood, ends with a revalidation of the utopian genre and its imaginative space as she sails into the safe haven of Havana to begin a new life in the new world:
We crowded onto the railing with everyone else.
Gradually the city, Habana, came into view. It was light, bright gleaming. It looked like a fairy-tale city. Nothing like Europe, nothing at all. In the distance, under the blazing sun, Morro Castle emerged. I imagined it to be on fire, twirling on the foot of a duck.
The image of this new place, this new "fairy-tale city," establishes home on a new plane. Displaced to a new location, Denes faces literally a new home, onto which she projects the fairy-tale landscape known to her so well. Whereas Sargood uses the fairy tale to imaginatively transform the defamiliarized landscape of her childhood home, Denes imagines her gleaming new home—which is "[n]othing like Europe"—in terms of the familiar fairy tales from her childhood.
There is, of course, ambiguity and irony in Denes's conclusion, for her final image recalls her memoir's opening passage, where she confesses that she "believed the substance of these stories less and less. And then less yet"—a reminder of the traumatized child's lost innocence. Although Havana "looked like a fairy-tale city" and although Morro Castle evokes the fairy-tale landscape, the child imagines the castle she sees "to be on fire," an image that conflates the landscape of the war she has left behind with the landscape of the new home before her. This undermining of the concluding utopian vision is consistent with Kali Tal's observation that "[t]rauma is a transforming experience, and those who are transformed can never entirely return to a state of innocence" (229). The geographical journey from war and persecution to the gleaming city of Havana is not necessarily a return to undisturbed normalcy, where cultural and personal myths are fully restored. As Lawrence Langer has observed, "The survivor does not travel a road from the normal to the bizarre back to the normal, but from the normal to the bizarre back to a normalcy so permeated by the bizarre encounter with atrocity that it can never be purified again. The two worlds haunt each other . . ." (Versions of Survival 88; qtd. in Tal 229). So Denes's final image of the new home is truly unheimlich, an uncanny utopian vision haunted by trauma. Even as the memoirist tries to restore the long-lost child, who now overlays her destination with the positive image of the fairy tale as an act of hope and restoration, and as an affirmation of the new home, that very image is haunted by the memory of "castles burning"—precluding a return to the state of innocence.
In this paper I have explored the connection between the fairy tale's spatial dimension and the trauma of children in extremis by focusing on adult representations and recollections of childhood experience. Driven by grief over the loss of relatives in the Holocaust, Maurice Sendak represents a child's experience of war against an ambiguous fairy-tale landscape in his illustrations for Wilhelm Grimm's Dear Mili. Sendak, who is not representing his own direct experience, projects war and the Holocaust onto the fairy-tale text and onto the fairy-tale landscape. Conversely, in recounting their own experiences as children of war, artist Corinna Sargood and psychoanalyst Magda Denes project fairy-tale landscapes onto their physical environments, which had been disfigured and defamiliarized by the violence of military conflict and, in the case of Denes, by persecution. Kali Tal's observation about the literature of trauma—namely, "that literature written about the trauma of others is qualitatively different from literature by trauma survivors" (217)—is useful in understanding the different perspectives represented by Sendak's art, on the one hand, and the written recollections of Sargood and Denes, on the other. Despite these distinctions, in each case the fairy-tale is adopted as an "interpretative device" to understand, even if retrospectively, the child's physical displacement and emotional trauma.
Because these are adult representations and recollections, questions remain about the actual manner in which children in violent circumstances might have used the fairy tale as a device to interpret their surroundings and as a psychological survival tool to transform their environment into a hopeful utopian space, a reconstituted home. In fact, some intriguing evidence supports the hypothesis, especially in the story of Dinah Babbitt Gottlieb, a survivor of Auschwitz. A Czech artist who arrived in Auschwitz in 1943, when she was twenty years old (Blatter and Milton), Gottlieb took to painting on barrack walls. In an interview from 1999, she gave the following account of what occurred while she was painting a natural landscape:
One morning, I started painting the view of a Swiss alpine meadow. Then I noticed I was surrounded. There were kids all over behind me. And I asked them what would you like me to paint for you now? Several of them said, "We want Snow White and the seven dwarfs."...I saw that movie [which had appeared in 1937] seven times. And I was enthralled. So I was doing the stuff on the wall, and the kids loved it.13
Subsequently destroyed, these fairy-tale murals in the children's barracks offer compelling confirmation of the psychological strategies evident in the recollections of Sargood and Denes. Here, at the urging of the children, scenes from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were physically applied to the landscape of Auschwitz, producing an imaginative transformation of space and, apparently, of human emotion.14 We should not see this event simplistically, of course, as a triumph of the imagination over atrocity. The children certainly did not survive. What the overlay of the fairy-tale provides is a psychological defense.
In discussing fairy tales and children in Holocaust literature, Lawrence Langer has noted "the nostalgia of the modern imagination," which only reluctantly acknowledges the reality "that fairy tales may deny but the history of the Holocaust confirms" (The Holocaust 164-66). Employed by children, the psychological strategies discussed here are no more and no less than that—apparently reflexive survival strategies with which children in extremis attempt to order their new reality. In the visual and written memory work of adults discussed here, the fairy tale functions as a device to represent and interpret the landscapes of a violent childhood.15 In both cases, we see the liberating potential of the imagination at work, based on the fairy tale's utopian appeal. Whether, in these extreme circumstances, the genre's appeal and the imaginative work it generates amount to denial depends ultimately on the value we give to hope.
- Harries is especially interested in how adult female writers use fairy tales in their autobiographical writings to project "the multiplicity of ways fairy tales can mirror and form versions of the female self" (124).
- See Barchilon for a much more general and preliminary survey of "Children and War in the Fairy Tale."
- Diverse approaches to the question of time in the fairy tale can be found in Heindrichs and Heindrichs.
- See, for example, Bottigheimer, "Fairy Tales"; Röhrich; Tatar, Hard Facts; Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion.
- Working in the context of gender studies, Ruth B. Bottigheimer has used Lüthi's observations about isolation in fairy tales as a starting point to analyze "social isolation" and its particularly "female face" in Grimms' tales (Grimms' Bad Girls 101-11). Her research presents a convincing analysis of the way in which "Wilhelm Grimm . . . edited specifically female isolation into many of the tales whose previous versions had reflected a different and far more sociable ethic for women" (111). While my study of fairy-tale reception by children in extremis differs from her study of fairy-tale production, it is nonetheless interesting that the recipients whose autobiographical accounts of wartime trauma I discuss below and who have responded to the spatial dimensions of the fairy tale are female. The question of whether fairy-tale reception in war, exile, and Holocaust is in any way affected by gender is raised in my discussion of Nelly Toll's comments on visual art produced by children during the Holocaust (Haase 95, 98). Much of the recent scholarship on trauma itself, of course, has emerged from work on women and female psychology. See, for example, Judith Lewis Herman's acknowledgment that her study of Trauma and Recovery "owes its existence to the women's liberation movement" (ix). The fairy tale and a woman's recovery from the trauma of rape come together in Patricia Weaver Francisco's Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery, where the author uses the fairy tale—especially Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen"—as a central device in telling her traumatic story.
- See, respectively, Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth 145; and McGlathery 192.
- In his preface to the Kinderund Hausmärchen, Wilhelm Grimm uses a similar metaphor—the destruction of a crop by a "storm or some other disaster"—to describe the danger of extinction facing the folktale. See J. and W. Grimm 1:15.
- Grimm gives a problematic, pathetic twist to the reunion of mother and daughter at the end of the story by having them die together in their sleep. As McGlathery notes, "[W]e understand . . . that the girl's premature death the following morning is a gift from heaven, because it means that the daughter will not have to be separated again from the mother, who having not been protected against aging has presumably grown quite old" (192). However Grimm might idealize death, the general observations I have made about his use of the fairy-tale landscape to depict war, exile, and the reconstitution of home still hold.
- Readings of Dear Mili that do not take Sendak's visual Holocaust allusions into account produce very different interpretations and judgments of the illustrated text. See McGlathery 191-93; Tatar, "Wilhelm Grimm/Maurice Sendak"; Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth 144-46. My brief discussion here takes its lead from Bosmajian's very helpful analysis of Sendak's illustrations.
- Qtd. in Bosmajian 186. On Sendak's life, see Lanes.
- The violence of war is often expressed by the metonymy of place names—Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Terezin, Stalingrad, Dresden, London during the Blitz—just as its dislocating effects are conveyed by terms referring to place and spatial relationships—concentration camp, exile, displaced person, Anne Frank's secret annex.
- Qtd. in Bacchilega, "In the Eye" 219. Corinna Sargood is especially well known for having illustrated two fairy-tale collections edited by Angela Carter. See Bacchilega, "Sargood."
- Gottlieb 12. Gottlieb's televised interview was occasioned by her dispute with the Auschwitz Museum and Polish government over seven portraits, still in the museum's possession, that she had painted of Gypsies who were to be Josef Mengele's victims. See "Auschwitz Museum" and "Dinah's Story" for partisan accounts.
- Improbably, Disney and his Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were present in still other forms in concentration camps. Hanna Hoffmann-Fischel has described a subversive performance of the Snow White story by children in Birkenau, which was inspired by paintings an inmate had made based on Disney's film (see Deutschkron 52-53). Providing a much different example, Andy Marino has noted that in the camp at Argelès, "[t]he entrepreneurial commandant kept his prisoners occupied making dolls: Micky Mouses, Little Red Riding Hoods, Snow Whites and the Seven Dwarfs" (165).
- For a nuanced discussion of the problems in using fairy tales and the techniques of children's literature in Holocaust representations by adults, see Kertzer, "Like a Fable." See also Kertzer, "Do You Know?"
"Auschwitz Museum Refuses to Surrender Works by Former Detainee." Artcult. 5 Oct. 1999 <http://www.artcult.com/ausch.htm.
Bacchilega, Cristina. "In the Eye of the Fairy Tale: Corinna Sargood and David Wheatley Talk about Working with Angela Carter." Angela Carter and the Literary Märchen. Ed. Cristina Bacchilega and Danielle Roemer. Spec. issue of Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies 12 (1998): 213-28.
——. "Sargood, Corinna." The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. 435.
Barchilon, Jacques. "Children and War in the Fairy Tale." Merveilles et contes 7 (1993): 317-39.
Blatter, Janet, and Sybil Milton. "Dinah Gottliebova." Art of the Holocaust. New York: Routledge, 1981. 249.
Bosmajian, Hamida. "Memory and Desire in the Landscapes of Sendak's Dear Mili." The Lion and the Unicorn 19.2 (1995): 186-210.
Bottigheimer, Ruth B. "Fairy Tales, Folk Narrative Research and History." Social History 14.3 (1989): 343-57.
——. Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales. New Haven: Yale UP, 1987.
Carter, Angela, ed. The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book. Illus. Corinna Sargood. New York: Pantheon, 1990. Rpt. of The Virago Book of Fairy Tales. London: Virago, 1990.
——. Strange Things Sometimes Still Happen: Fairy Tales from around the World. Illus. Corinna Sargood. 1993. Boston: Faber, 1994. Rpt. of The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales. London: Virago, 1992.
Denes, Magda. Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War. New York: Norton, 1997.
Des Pres, Terrance. The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.
Deutschkron, Inge. . . . . denn ihrer war die Hölle: Kinder in Ghettos und Lagern. Cologne: Wissen und Politik, 1965.
"Dinah's Story." 5 Oct. 1999 <http://www.survivorart.com.
Dinges, Ottilie. "Kinderlegende und Holocaust: Wilhelm Grimms Brief an die 'Liebe Mili' und Maurice Sendaks Vision von der bedrohten Kindheit." Neue Erzählformen im Bilderbuch: Untersuchungen zu einer veränderten Bild-Text-Sprache. Ed. Jens Thiele. Oldenburg: Isensee, 1991. 131-63.
Francisco, Patricia Weaver. Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery. New York: Cliff Street Books/HarperCollins, 1999.
Gottlieb, Dinah Babbitt. Interview with Katie Couric. Today. NBC. 23 June 1999. Transcript.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Kinderund Hausmärchen: Ausgaber letzter Hand mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm. Ed. Heinz Rölleke. 3 vols. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1984.
Grimm, Wilhelm. Dear Mili. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Illus. Maurice Sendak. 1988. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. Trans. of Liebe Mili. Ein Märchen von Wilhelm Grimm. Illus. Maurice Sendak. Wien: Betz, 1989.
Haase, Donald. "Overcoming the Present: Children and Fairy Tales in Exile, War, and the Holocaust." Mit den Augen eines Kindes: Children in the Holocaust, Children in Exile, Children under Fascism. Ed. Viktoria Herling. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998. 86-99.
Harries, Elizabeth W. "The Mirror Broken: Women's Autobiography and Fairy Tales." Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies 14 (2000): 122-35.
Heindrichs, Ursula, and Heinz-Albert Heindrichs, eds. Die Zeit im Märchen. Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Märchengesellschaft 13. Kassel: Röth, 1989.
Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks/HarperCollins, 1992.
Jacoby, Mario, Verena Knast, and Ingrid Riedel. Das Böse im Märchen. Fellbach: Bonz, 1978.
Kertzer, Adrienne. "'Do You Know What "Auschwitz" Means?' Children's Literature and the Holocaust." The Lion and the Unicorn 23.2 (1999): 238-56.
——. "Like a Fable, Not a Pretty Picture: Holocaust Representation in Roberto Benigni and Anita Lobel." Secret Spaces of Childhood (Part 1). Ed. Elizabeth Goodenough. Spec. issue of Michigan Quarterly Review 39.2 (Spring 2000): 279-300.
Lanes, Selma G. The Art of Maurice Sendak. New York: Abrams, 1980.
Langer, Lawrence. The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1975.
——. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.
——. Versions of Survival: The Holocaust and the Human Spirit. Albany: State U of New York P, 1982.
Lüthi, Max. The European Folktale: Form and Nature. Trans. John D. Niles. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982. Trans. of Das europäische Volksmärchen: Form und Wesen. 7th ed. Berne: Francke, 1981.
Marino, Andy. A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry. New York: St. Martin's, 1999.
McGlathery, James M. Fairy Tale Romance: The Grimms, Basile, and Perrault. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991.
Röhrich, Lutz. Folktales and Reality. Trans. Peter Tokofsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. Trans. of Märchen und Wirklichkeit. Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1979.
Sargood, Corinna. Letter to the author. 25 Feb. 1998.
Steedman, Carolyn Kay. Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives. 1986. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997.
Tal, Kali. "Speaking the Language of Pain: Vietnam War Literature in the Context of a Literature of Trauma." Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature. Ed. Philip K. Jason. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1991. 216-50.
Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.
——. "Wilhelm Grimm/Maurice Sendak: Dear Mili and the Literary Culture of Childhood." The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Ed. Donald Haase. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993. 207-29.
Wolf, Christa. Kindheitsmuster: Roman. Trans. Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt. Berlin: Luchtehand, 1976. Trans. of Patterns of Childhood. 1980. New York: Noonday, 1990.
Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1994.
——. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. New York: Wildman, 1983.
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Julie Cummins (essay date October 1997)
SOURCE: Cummins, Julie. "Fractured Fairy Tales: Spin-Offs, Spoofs, and Satires." School Library Journal 43, no. 10 (October 1997): 50-1.
[In the following essay, Cummins provides an introduction to a recent evolutionary form of the fairy tale—the fractured fairy tale, a variation on classic legends that features humorous, often ironic, twists on the basic elements of the original.]
Fee fi fo fum,
Twist the tale to start the fun.
Be it fractured as a spoof,
Readers' laughs will be the proof.
Fractured fairy tales, those wickedly irreverent, delightfully turned upside down, and twisted versions of classic stories that everyone loves. The fall season's bumper crop of funny take-offs prompted me to ponder and consider several points.
- What defines a fractured fairy tale?
- What makes it successful?
- What is it about previously published titles of this type that has made them last?
As I tried to pinpoint a definition for this article, I discovered that none of the standard children's literature resources cited the term. Popularization of this particular type of satire and establishment of the phrase can be traced back to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show on television in the 1960s. The animated spoofs were titled "Fractured Fairy Tales" and delighted audiences with their fun-poking and chicanery spun off from classic stories.
The word "fracture" in this sense dates back to 1946 as a show business term, meaning to delight, especially to convulse with laughter, according to the Oxford English Dictionary Supplement.
So let me offer some old and new examples of the types of twisted tales and fractured fables. A variety of terms such as variations, adaptations, retellings, and sequels are used to refer to these kinds of stories, but a true fractured fairy tale has a unique sensibility to it.
For instance, there are several renditions of "The Emperor's New Clothes," and while each retains the essence of the basic story, it is the illustrator's depiction of the familiar elements that creates the different humorous versions. The story line does not change, the plot, characters, and setting are the same.
The Principal's New Clothes (Scholastic, 1989) by Stephanie Calmenson, on the other hand, is a genuine fractured version placed in a school setting with the title indicating the twist and gist.
The basic elements of a folk or fairy tale that can be played with are: time and place of setting; characters and character traits; the problem to be solved or the conflict; development of the plot; resolution of the conflict or the conclusion.
The ways and means a folk or fairy tale can be fractured are: changes in locale, setting or time period; giving the story the flavor of a specific culture; puns and plays with names; switching the point of view; reversal of any of the standard elements.
This season of books has added an abundance of clever and entertaining methods of fracturing fairy tales to the existing body of literature. Many of the books described below are examples of "good" fracturing, in that they are well written, sustain a strong sense of story, and the humor is not adult in sensibility. Along with these titles, I've interspersed some previously published books that have contributed to the overall molding of these tales as a genre.
In Steven Kellogg's version of The Three Little Pigs (Morrow, 1997), Serafina's three piglets, Percy, Pete, and Prudence, have a family business making waffles. When Serafina retires to the Gulf of Pasta, the three pigs take over the wafflery and build homes nearby. Tempesto, the wolf, shows up with his mouth set for pork, growling: "Howdy, Ham. Howdy, Bacon. Howdy, Sausage.... Butter yourselves and hop on the griddle. I'll eat you for breakfast." The pigs outsmart the wolf, and the story ends with wolfie turned into a wolffle! The back of the jacket shows the wolf wearing a T-shirt that reads: "Thugs Need Hugs, Too."
Three books use a Western setting to rope in readers. The hootin' and hollerin' that goes on in Little Red Cowboy Hat (Holt, 1997) by Susan Lowell, illustrated by Randy Cecil, gives the familiar tale a southwestern spin. Little Red Cowboy Hat is off to her Grandma's with bread and cactus jelly when a wolf in a cowboy hat tries to hornswoggle her. But she and her gun-tottin' Grandma use their gumption to "outwolf" the varmint.
Susan Lowell hits the trail again as she restages "The Shoemaker and the Elves" on the Western front with The Bootmaker and the Elves (Orchard, 1997), illustrated by Tom Curry. The story line features a poor, beleaguered bootmaker who makes ugly boots that pinch. Just when he's down to his last piece of leather, a miracle turns around his passel of bad luck. Two tiny elves appear and hammer out jim-dandy boots that have rootin', tootin' cowboys and cowgirls swaggerin' and sashayin'.
Another buckaroo rendering is Jim Harris's Jack and the Giant: A Story Full of Beans (Rising Moon, 1997). Jack and his ma, Annie Oakey Dokey, live in the Arizona desert. The usual sequence of cow trading, bean planting, and giant stalk growing ensue, but can Jack escape the clutches of the giant cattle rustler, Wild Bill Hiccup, and the giant who wants his gold-buffalo-chip-layin' bison back?
Richard Egielski flips an opposite spin by urbanizing The Gingerbread Boy (HarperCollins, 1997). The gingerbread boy hops out the apartment window, slides down the fire escape, and runs through the streets of New York City and Central Park with construction workers, a policeman, and even a city rat in hot pursuit.
The most popular tale for tinkering appears to be "Cinderella." I found more fractured tales based on this story than any other. From titles published in recent years, here are three that have cracked the glass ceiling: Ellen Jackson's Cinder Edna (Lothrop, 1994); Frances Minters's Cinder-Elly (Viking, 1994), illustrated by G. Brian Karas; and Babette Cole's Prince Cinders (Putnam, 1992). Evidently the "rags to riches" story holds universal appeal as a tale to twist as there are several new ones this fall. The best of the lot is Susan Meddaugh's re-creation.
She works all of the fractured angles into a comical take on this old tale with Cinderella's Rat (Houghton, 1997). The narrator is a rodent who is transformed by the fairy godmother into a coachboy. Life seems grand in his new shape until he is faced with having to rescue his rat of a sister, his sister rat that is. Can an inept wizard find the right spell to change her into a human? The switched ending proves that "Life is full of surprises, so you may as well get used to it."
Two examples in which the version is tailored by the adapter's recognizable personal touch are James Marshall's Red Riding Hood (Dial, 1987) and Lisa Campbell Ernst's Little Red Riding Hood: A Newfangled Prairie Tale (S & S, 1995). Marshall's madcap rendition embellishes this familiar tale with irreverent flourishes. Ernst depicts "Red" wearing a hooded sweatshirt and feisty Grandma is a muffin-baking, tractor-driving farmer. Each book is imprinted with its creator's recognizable style, and each conveys a playfulness without losing the spirit of the original.
Along with folk and fairy tales, there are some related categories of children's literature that lend themselves ripe for spoofing: tall tales, fables, and cumulative stories.
Charlotte Huck in Children's Literature in the Elementary School (5th edition) defines tall tales: "when heroes and heroines are larger than life and perform impossible feats, all in the spirit of comic horseplay." Fractured tales take Huck's definition one step further by making the horseplay dependent on a known tale for its comic effect.
We know the tall tale of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, but Audrey Wood tells us "the rest of the story" in The Bunyans (Scholastic/Blue Sky, 1996), illustrated by David Shannon. Both the narrative and pictures add a contemporary staging to the tallness of this original tale (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Bunyan on the golf course).
There are two wonderful illustrations of the sequel/continuation approach. A golden example from the new tales this year is Diane Stanley's Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter (Morrow, 1997). The miller's daughter marries Rumpelstiltskin because she likes his ideas on parenting and has a weakness for short men. Their daughter repeats the original scenario and becomes prime minister for the kingdom. Stanley's comical, exaggerated illustrations and rollicking spoof spin 24-karat fun.
In Jon Scieszka's The Frog Prince Continued (Viking, 1991), the Princess and the Frog Prince are not living happily ever after. She can't stand his froggy habits, such as hopping on the furniture and occasionally flicking his tongue at a fly. (That's genuine tongue-in-cheek!) The Prince decides to change back to a frog and sets off to find a witch to help him. In the end, true love triumphs.
The following three titles are delightful examples of the "switch and bait" technique, so to speak, as they either switch the point of view or roles of the characters. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking, 1989) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, in which readers hear the wolf's version about the bum rap he got, has become a classic. Text and illustrations are completely in sync to project a "wise guy" sensibility.
Eugene Trivizas's The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (McElderry, 1993) concisely conveys the twist of this reverse retelling. When the big bad pig tries to get into the first house, the three little wolves chime: "No, no, no....By the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, we will not let you in, not for all the tea leaves in our china teapot." The subtleties in the kind of house building, wording in the phrasing, and harmonious ending reflect a modernized spin.
So why does there appear to be a proliferation of this type of tale among picture books? Just as movies often look to the solid storytelling of established novels for entertaining plots, this body of folklore and fairy-tale literature offers a natural waterfall of material for authors and illustrators in which to splash, play, and create refreshing fun.
And why are these tales so popular? Perhaps it is because we need and welcome a little levity in our lives. Folk and fairy tales are so well-known and familiar that they readily serve as grist for the humor mill, where we can poke fun and laugh. They provide the calcium for our funny bones. Well-done fractured folk and fairy tales also help children to laugh at themselves. The humor doesn't rely on sly, adult references for them to "get the joke." It's adding another layer to an already good story, a layer that spawns giggles and grins. Who can resist a golden goose who lays a golden egg and says, "The yolk's on you, Jack"?
Teachers have discovered fractured tales as an enjoyable classroom device to demonstrate writing-language-plot development that also leads back to appreciation of the original story.
A successful fractured fairy tale is one that doesn't belittle the original source in its approach, that is written with young people as its intended audience, and that follows the same criteria of good writing for children's books in general. It's one thing to "skewer" a story by punching holes in it and another, to "baste" the original to give it a new flavor. Just as there are picture books published for the commercial adult market, there are fractured fairy tales whose appeal is sophisticated, wise-cracking adult punditry that may leave children bewildered or uncomfortable. These books miss the mark.
After analyzing these stories as a genre, I would offer this definition: a fractured fairy tale is: a classic folk or fairy tale rewritten with tongue-in-cheek or as a spoof using twists and spins on the story's features; text and visual references poke fun at the original, resulting in a witty, clever, and entertaining tale.
You could say, fractured fairy tales are the comic relief of children's literature. So, hooray for chuckles and giggles and kudos to Boris and Natasha. Once upon a time, favorite fairy tales got twisted and tangled, and everyone laughed happily ever after.
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Wolfgang Mieder (essay date spring 1987)
SOURCE: Mieder, Wolfgang. "Grim Variations: From Fairy Tales to Modern Anti-Fairy Tales." Germanic Review 62, no. 2 (spring 1987): 90-102.
[In the following essay, Mieder forms a thematic and philosophical connection between classic fairy tales and modern "anti-fairy tales," characterizing the latter as adaptations of oral folk stories altered to reflect modern cultural understandings.]
The appearance of the two volumes of the Brothers' Grimm Kinderund Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812 and 1815 not only signified the publication of one of the true bestsellers of the world, approaching the international and multilingual dissemination of the Bible, but it also marked the beginning of a large global scholarly field commonly referred to as folk narrative research. While scholars of the 19th century assembled significant national and regional fairy tale collections that paralleled those of the Grimms, serious investigations into the origin, dissemination, nature and function of these texts also began to appear in a steady flow which has not ebbed.1 In fact, interest in fairy tales has increased considerably in the past three decades, and obviously, the bicentennial celebration of the births of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm will mark a high tide, not only in the scholarship on their fairy tale collection and their philological, folkloric, mythological, legal and literary endeavors,2 but also in research concerning the fascinating question of what their work and in particular "their" fairy tales mean to people in modern technological societies.
At the present time beautifully illustrated editions of Grimms' tales can be found in bookstores everywhere, attesting to the ongoing fascination with fairy tales even by children of the computer age. Modern children can still learn from these tales that certain problems, dangers and ordeals can be overcome, that transformations and changes must occur, and that everything will work out in the end. They will learn to solve their problems imaginatively, and if we can give credence to psychological interpretations of the tales, such children will become independent and socially responsible citizens whose naive search for personal pleasure is replaced by an analytical understanding of social reality. Above all, children can learn from fairy tales to have an optimistic and future-oriented world view, and they will realize and understand universal human problems, which in turn will be a key to coping with their own individuality and the world at large. Child psychologists, in particular Bruno Bettelheim,3 have made a strong case for the didactic value of fairy tales for children as they go through various rites of passage in their maturation process to adulthood, and there appears to be no need to argue with the contention that these tales of times gone by seem to be appropriate literature for young and innocent children.
But what about the adult? What value and meaning do these children's stories, as they are commonly referred to, have for people who have long surpassed their childhood? Do fairy tales have some universal appeal to people of all age groups and social classes, or are they today only for children and scholars who study them for various reasons? Why is it that cultural and literary historians, folklorists, sociologists, psychologists and others have studied and continue to investigate the deeper meaning of fairy tales? Surely not because they simply love children's literature and in a wave of nostalgia long to return to those cozy moments when a beloved family member read or perhaps even told them one of those old stand-by Grimm tales many years ago. The reason, obviously, is that scholars have long realized that these tales were originally not children's stories, but rather traditional narratives for adults, couching basic human problems and aspirations in symbolic and poetical language. Even though they present an unreal world with miraculous, magical and numinous aspects, fairy tales nevertheless contain realistic problems and concerns that are universal to humanity. They are symbolic comments on basic aspects of social life and modes of human behavior: presented are not only such rites of passage as birth, adolescence, courtship, marriage, old age and death, but also feelings and typical experiences in people's lives. Emotions such as love, hate, joy, sorrow, happiness and sadness are found again and again, and often one and the same tale deals with such phenomena in contrasting pairs; that is success versus failure, wealth versus poverty, luck versus misfortune, kindness versus meanness, compassion versus indifference, or, simply put, good versus evil. Fairy tales present the world in black and white, but in the end this conflict is resolved, and happiness, joy and contentment become the optimistic expression of hope for a world as it should be. This trust in ultimate justice and the belief in the good of humanity have to be of significance to adults today if hope is to exist for mankind at all in an age that is anything but a fairy tale. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch talks so much about the utopian function of fairy tales in his monumental work, Das Prinzip der Hoffnung, (The Principle of Hope), which appeared from 1954-59. For him, at least some fairy tales contain emancipatory potential for mankind, liberating people from oppression and leading to more just societies.4 Read and interpreted in this vein, fairy tales clearly contain elements of social history from a time far removed from the present. They often camouflage the trials of oppressed people against malevolent rulers, the ever present conflict between the haves and the have-nots, the desire for a fairer political system and social order, etc.5 The supposedly children's stories conceal in part the frustrations of adults, who to this day long for a better and fairer world, where people can in fact finally live happily ever after.
This element of hope for social justice, fairness and humanity enables these traditional fairy tales to survive today among children and adults. Their universality in dealing with human questions as well as their universal appeal as aesthetic expressions of the resolutions of these queries have occupied more psychologists and philosophers than Bruno Bettelheim and Ernst Bloch. The scholarship on the Grimm fairy tales alone is so vast by now that an individual researcher can hardly claim to know it all. There exist, in the meantime, superb critical editions with voluminous notes by such renowned scholars as Johannes Bolte, Georg Polivka,6 and Heinz Rölleke,7 several detailed studies concerning the aesthetics of fairy tales by Max Lüthi,8 fascinating structural investigations by Vladimir Propp,9 significant historical studies by Lutz Röhrich.10 socio-political interpretations by Jack Zipes,11 and many more.12 Mention should also be made, at least in passing, of the inclusive tale-type studies which have been carried out using the Finnish geographic-historical method of analyzing the origin and dissemination of individual fairy tales. There are among others Ernst Böklen's two volumes of Schneewittchenstudien (Leipzig 1910 and 1915), Anna Birgitta Rooth's The Cinderella Cycle (Lund 1951), Marianne Rumpf's Rotkäppchen. Eine vergleichende Untersuchung (Göttingen 1951) and more recently Michael Belgrader's Das Märchen von dem Machandelboom (Bern 1980).13 But the basic problem with these otherwise excellent studies is that they document variants of these major tales only through the 19th century. While they present attempts at finding the archetype of each tale and its historical dissemination more or less worldwide (or at least for the Indo-European tradition), they concern themselves not at all with what is happening to such well-known fairy tales in the present century. There is no immediate need for additional tale-type studies of such detail (although they obviously have their intrinsic and respected value), since what is really needed is bringing the existing studies up-to-date, i.e. taking them from the Brothers Grimm to the present day.14 Dozens of variants in the form of rewritten children's stories, or literary reworkings, parodies and satires exist, and there are also many uses of such fairy tales in movies, caricatures, cartoons, comic strips, advertisements and graffiti, which all need to be documented and interpreted in regard to their function and significance.
In a most enlightening essay concerning the possibility of fairy tales in the modern age, Hermann Bausinger argues successfully that mankind is predestined toward a type of "Märchendenken" (fairy-tale thinking), i.e. mankind longs for and strives toward the happy ending so vividly expressed in fairy tales. Even though there might be moments of regression or deviation from this path, people will always try to escape the status quo of social reality in their longing for happiness. He too refers to Ernst Bloch's view of the fairy tale as a future-oriented departure toward utopia and the fact that the biographical plots of many fairy tales thus become mirrors of people on their path to a better life.15 In this regard Max Lüthi speaks of the fairy tale as presenting "opportunities" to people for a "purposeful motion" toward a world as it ought to be.16 Jack Zipes refers to this aspect as the "emancipatory potential" of fairy tales "chart(ing) ways for us to become makers of history and our own destinies,"17 and Lutz Röhrich even talks of the "Modell-Charakter" of many fairy tales for human emancipation from certain role expectations.18 In this regard the traditional fairy tales are in fact therapeutic, didactic and optimistic expressions couched in symbolic language.
But many adults are unwilling or incapable of accepting the positive value system of the old fairy tale as even a possibility to be hoped for, since they are too occupied with real-life problems. If suffering and oppressed people of earlier ages created these fairy tales as an escape valve from an unhappy and ugly reality, modern people, adhering to a pessimistic if not cynical world view at the expense of the optimistic nature of the fairy tales, rather identify with the societal problems of former times that appear to resemble their own. It has often been remarked that the fairy tale contains its anti-pode in its very essence. That is, while certain characters achieve ultimate happiness, others very drastically go to their doom. To many people of the present day the actual fairy tale is simply too far-fetched to accept, and it is the anti-fairy tale that appears to give a clearer symbolic view of what the human condition is really like.19
The moment one does not look at a fairy tale as a symbolic expression of the idea and belief that everything will work out in the end, the cathartic nature of the tale vanishes rather quickly. Rather than "enjoying" the happy state of the fairy-tale heroes and heroines at the very end of the fairy tale, modern adults tend to concentrate on the specific problems of the fairy tales since they reflect today's social reality in a striking fashion. Who after all would possibly admit to being so naive and trusting as to believe in the optimism and hope of fairy tales? A good dose of negativism is present in an intellectual view of the world and also in the pragmatic reaction to the ills of modern society. Although at times we may wish and hope for a better or even fairy-tale existence, we are in fact preoccupied and burdened with real problems which prevent us from longing for, let alone finding, that marvellous happy ending. The positive and emancipatory vision of fairy tales appears more often than not to be buried in a world where one tragedy and crime chases the next. Pessimism, skepticism and cynicism are rampant and perhaps too much even for the traditional fairy tales to overcome.
We constantly reinterpret a handful of tales by recalling them not necessarily in their entirety, but rather by looking critically at particular problems in the individual tales. Neglecting the final positive resolution of all problems at the end of the tales, certain of their episodes are seen as reflections of a troubled society, as a critical view of the belief in perfect love, as a concern with social matters, etc. Such modern reinterpretations of fairy tales gain in pungency when contrasted with the traditional tale, that is when reality is juxtaposed with the world of wishful thinking. The resulting interplay of tradition and innovation not only takes place in the reinterpretations of these fairy tales or segments of them by individuals, but also in the many modern allusions to fairy-tale elements in movies, advertisements, comic strips, caricatures, cartoons, greeting cards and graffiti, as well as in poetic reinterpretations of entire tales or parts thereof.
Let us now turn to a short analysis of at least three well-known fairy tales to show how these traditional stories survive today in the form of questioning anti-fairy tales. A New Yorker cartoon can serve as a starting point for some of the grim variations which are to follow. It shows a car approaching a large road sign with the inscription, "You are now entering Enchantment—'Gateway to Disenchantment.'"20 One can well imagine a somewhat archaic town-crier walking through the streets of the town ahead and calling out the following news stories of the day: "'Snow White kidnapped. Prince released from spell. Tailor kills seven. These are the headlines. I'll be back in a moment with the details.'"21 Fairy-tale violence appears to be making big news, and even children seem to react negatively to the more gruesome aspects of some fairy-tale episodes. This is made clear in another cartoon in which a small boy comments to his mother who is reading him Grimms' tales for the umpteenth time: "'Witches poisoning princesses, giants falling off beanstalks, wolves terrorizing pigs . . . and you complain about violence on TV!?'"22 A German cartoon expressed this splendidly by taking the formula "and they lived happily ever after" literally and juxtaposing it with present day reality. The caption of this cartoon showing a couple sitting in front of a television set explains: "'. . . so leben sie noch heute.' Verlaß dich drauf, in den Grimmschen Märchen steckt mindestens ein halbes Dutzend todsicherer Grusicals und Kriminalthriller drin!"23 ("'. . . and they lived happily ever after.' You can bet that there are at least half a dozen sure horror and detective thrillers in Grimms' fairy tales").
The first fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm collection, The Frog Prince, certainly has been reinterpreted along these lines numerous times, most likely due to the fact that it deals with obligation, transformation, maturation, sex and marriage.24 Such universal themes are particularly relevant to the adult world, even though Dennis the Menace might naively ask his mother upon having this fairy tale read to him, "How long was Dad a frog before you kissed him?"25 Let's at least hope that Dennis's mother and father are happily married and that his mother does not reproach her husband with "You kissed better when you were a frog."26 Or that the father must conclude, "If you must know, yes! I was happier when I was a frog!"27 Next, we have the unhappy father sitting in a frog-like position at a pond and the mother explaining to the child, "Don't worry about it, dear. Your father's just reliving his youth."28 And if fairy-tale transformations were possible, he might even change back into a real frog and leap back into the water with the woman left to comment: "He's opted out of society again."29 While these cartoons might be joking reversals of the fairy tale, they put into question the truth of the tale by secularizing and demythologizing its symbolic content.30 On a more serious literary level, Susan Mitchell has expressed this longing to get out of a marriage in her poem, "From the Journals of the Frog Prince" (1978), in a caring and understanding fashion. What at first seemed to be a fairy-tale transformation has proven to be a curse in a world where perfect marriages are not possible:
Night after night I lie beside her.
"Why is your forehead so cool and damp?" she asks.
Her breasts are soft and dry as flour.
The hand that brushes my head is feverish.
At her touch I long for wet leaves,
the slap of water against rocks.
"What were you thinking of?" she asks.
How can I tell her[...]
I am thinking of the green skin
"What are you thinking of?" she whispers.
I am staring into the garden.
I am watching the moon
wind its trail of golden slime around the oak,
over the stone basin of the fountain.
How can I tell her
I am thinking that transformations are not forever?31
What this person (frog) is in fact saying is that marriage should not force a person to lose his identity. Another cartoon shows this splendidly where a frog faced with a princess about to kiss him argues, "But I don't want to be turned into a prince. I want you to accept me for what I am."32 Life at court or in today's materialistic world is not necessarily desirable, especially not if it means giving up a more contented life. Thus a frog can even be ridiculed by his peers for having such transformation thoughts: "I'm a frog, you're a frog. Hell, we're all frogs. Except, of course, for Prince Charming over there."33 Again we have a poetic reworking of this idea in a poem by Hyacinthe Hill so appropriately called "Rebels from Fairy Tales" (no date):
We are the frogs who will not turn to princes.
We will not change our green and slippery skin
for one so lily-pale and plain, so smooth
it seems to have no grain. We will not leave
our leap, our spring, [. . .]
We scorn their warm, dry princesses. We're proud
of our own bug-eyed brides with bouncing strides.
Keep your magic. We are not such fools.
Here is the ball without a claim on it.
We may begin from the same tadpoles, but
we've thought a bit, and will not turn to men.34
In this regard, consider finally the wonderful German cartoon from the perspective of the frogs, where a kid-frog begs his mummy: "Lies noch mal den Teil vor, in der der häßliche Prinz ein hübscher Frosch wird!"35 (Read that part again where the ugly prince becomes a beautiful frog!) What a wonderfully humorous and yet telling inversion of the fairy tale motif!
Concerning the kiss scene, there is of course the fear of the unknown, be it merely a sexual encounter or a more lasting relationship. Charles Addams, for example, drew a somewhat timid young woman next to a large overwhelming frog with the caption, "Aber woher soll ich denn wissen, daß du ein verzauberter Prinz bist?"36 (But how am I supposed to know that you are an enchanted prince?). A more sophisticated modern princess doubtingly confronts the would-be seducer with the question, "You really expect me to believe that you're a prince?"37 Another young woman is concerned about sexual promiscuity and first asks the frog, "How do I know you don't have herpes?,"38 and finally, there is the basic question, "But how do I know you'll turn into a prince?"39 in a clean cartoon from Playboy which confronts beauty and the beast in the only too human concern about beginning a meaningful relationship. This fear also plays a major role in the fairy tale The Frog Prince, and it is not surprising to see it reinterpreted today, however with the big difference that the sexual context of this episode is much more blatantly expressed. This is particularly true in parts of Anne Sexton's lengthy poem, "The Frog Prince" (1971), in which the fear of sexual maturation is put into the following words:
Frog has no nerves.
Frog is as old as a cockroach.
Frog is my father's genitals.
Frog is a malformed doorknob.
Frog is a soft bag of green.
The moon will not have him.
The sun wants to shut off
like a light bulb.
At the sight of him
the stone washes itself in a tub.
The crow thinks he's an apple
and drops a worm in.
At the feel of frog
the touch-me-nots explode
like electric slugs.
Slime will have him.
Slime has made him a house.40[...]
It is, of course, the possibility of sexual interpretation of this fairy tale which has made it so popular in the adult world. Such magazines as Playboy, Penthouse and worse, as well as films of erotica contain numerous allusions to this tale,41 of which only a few of the less indecent ones will be included here to indicate the deliberate perversion of Grimm fairy tales. In a harmless cartoon the deceptive frog has obviously gotten the young woman to kiss him without his miraculously changing into a prince. His sly comment is simply, "Funny! I usually turn into a handsome prince."42 But in a Penthouse cartoon we find the frog in an animalistic sex act with the princess who can only comment, "Hey, I thought you were supposed to change into a prince first,"43 and a second cartoon from this magazine shows the frog putting on his frogsuit after the sexual act and slyly saying, "I lied!"44 An additional poem by Phyllius Thompson entitled "A Fairy Tale" (1969) may bring the sexual preoccupation with this tale to a close. She too describes once more the bedroom scene of the fairy tale, but obviously in a vocabulary and directness which destroy the magic of human love involving sex:
How shall I tell the shapely change that fell On us as we embraced, reluctant? When You kiss my glistening skin I feel a spell Dissolve, and I come green to your hands again.
I do not know the seeming from the true As we slip into our unambiguous climax! I, last and loveliest born, most happy—you, Prince, still humped like a frog in the slime of sex!45
Our final examples of grim reinterpretations of this popular tale stem from the larger social sphere of politics and economics. Here the frog motif is used to satirize the problematic state of the economy in particular which is not at all free of worries as in the fairy tale. There is, for example, the king who has just been changed into a frog by the witch and rather than being upset he declares: "Frankly, now that I've found out the size of my kingdom's national debt, I'd rather remain a frog."46 Or we have the bankrupt king sitting at the Internal Revenue Service office lamenting, "Between 1962 and 1974 I was a frog. Then in 1975 I was crowned king, and 1975 was a very bad year for kings."47 Perhaps the new tax bill might help him as was caricaturized by two frogs with signs "Kiss me—I'm really a handsome GOP Tax Bill."48 Maybe even the prime rate might go down if someone dares to kiss yet another obese frog claiming, "He's an enchanted prime rate."49 While these cartoons use the positive symbol of the kiss-scene of the fairy tale, they are in fact negating its utopian significance. There is no hope expressed in these modern variations, but instead one senses an over-powering clash of the magic and the real. Even if the kiss were to take place, the economic problems would remain in the form of only a slightly deflated frog.
Turning to a few last political allusions to the fairy tale The Frog Prince, we have one frog commenting to another, "I can only hope when I become a prince again it [my kingdom] hasn't changed into a democracy."50 Hope springs eternal for the prince, but obviously he doesn't want any change in the political status quo. There was also an interesting cartoon in 1983 showing the entire women's vote represented by a princess confronting the democratic contenders with the comment, "Just wait a minute now! Let me get this straight. . . . A kiss will turn one of you Democrats into a President?!"51 But the magic didn't work, since political reality refuses to be patterned after fairy tales. Even more bitter in its satire is another political caricature showing the strained relations between the Reagan administration and the Soviet Union. The artist has changed the Soviet Union into an ugly toad called Olga whom Prince Reagan is about to kiss. The stage directions for this absurd encounter read ". . . Then, when I kiss you, Olga, you turn from an ugly old toad into a not-too-bad looking broad, and we live more-or-less happily ever after."52 All that we can hope is that our political leaders will at least succeed in maintaining a world balance in which we can, in fact, live "more-or-less happily ever after." They have already succeeded in alienating us from the belief in magic fairy tales, but the fact that we continuously draw on old fairy-tale motifs to comment on our human comedy here on earth is ample proof that hope still exists for a transformation of humanity toward a higher level of social consciousness. In every humorous or satirical allusion to a fairy tale is hidden a statement of how things ought to be, and in this emancipatory thrust lies the significance of fairy tales such as The Frog Prince for adults, in addition to recalling fond memories of childhood days long passed.
The modern reinterpretations of certain parts of the Snow White fairy tale also reflect human follies and vices. This tale of narcissism, beauty, jealousy, competition, temptation and eventually maturation once again addresses basic conflicts that are parts of any socialization process. As a symbolic account of the pitfalls of wanting to be the absolute best, this fairy tale can serve as a parody of a society in which outward appearance is more highly valued than ethical convictions. In the case of Snow White, it is the universally known verse, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" which has served innumerable times as an attention-getting advice to shock people into a critical analysis of their own selves or of problems surrounding them.
Imagine the disappointed look on the woman's face, who after having asked the standard question, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" received the answer, "Elizabeth Taylor,"53 in a 1957 New Yorker cartoon. Other women, realizing that they are no match to such competition, rephrase the question to a safer, "Who's the greatest Mom of them all?"54 or "Who is the fairest one of all, and state your sources!"55 And if the mirror, as it is likely to do, gives an unsatisfactory answer, the reaction is quick and to the point: "Well, then, who's the most intelligent?"56 or "Oh, yeah? Well, I've seen better-looking mirrors, too!"57 Of course there are also the defeatists who don't give the mirror a chance since they know that some "Snow White" will obviously beat them out: "Mirror, mirror—I know, why belabor the point . . ."58 or "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, go to hell."59 But there is always hope, and in the modern technological world an aggressive woman would definitely turn from a mirror to a much more objective and reliable computer. After complicated calculations, she is able to read the print-out to her female competitors with much spite and self-assurance: "It says I'm the fairest one of all! So there!"60 Even though she might have won this grotesque beauty contest, the cartoonist clearly wants to satirize this preoccupation with appearance. The ends that some women are willing to go to in order to beautify themselves are fittingly ridiculed in a cartoon where a woman sits in front of a mirror surrounded by dozens of cosmetic items. She too asks the traditional question, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" but the answer by the "advertising" mirror is, "Just keep spending, sweetheart, it could be you!"61 We wouldn't be surprised if this woman were to buy a new type of handy mirror along with her cosmetics that was advertised with four pictures and the appropriate slogan: "Mirror Mirror. On the wall. On the desk. On the shelf. On the door."62 In comparison, how much more relevant and significant is an article on various concepts of female beauty at different ages, from Nefertiti to Rubens' female figures and others. Befittingly, the journalist chose the headline "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall . . ."63 for this intriguing essay.
Yet the problems of narcissism, beauty and greatness are not restricted to the female population. Men too are riddled by such insecurities, and the cartoons which we have located of men asking the mirror appear to be even more absurd in their questions for which the mirror has no answers. Picture a poor fellow in the morning in front of a mirror shaving and putting the following question to his bathroom oracle: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most successful regional manager of computer-systems analysis in East Orange, New Jersey?"64 And a king, who doesn't have such mundane worries, stands in front of the mirror wondering while exposing himself, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose is the largest . . ."65 Just as ridiculous is a third man with his query: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most unselfconsciously hipper-than-thou-almost-over-thirty-type person of them all?"66 In these cartoons the mirror symbolizes the concern of people with their identity and shows some of the anxieties and fantasies that prevent us from achieving self-recognition and maturity. In addition to answering questions of this type, the mirror has also become a political looking glass in which the future of politicians is put under scrutiny. From 1960 dates a fascinating cartoon in which Richard Nixon is shown as the evil and witch-like stepmother getting the poisoned apple ready for Snow White and asking evilly: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of all?"67 This is a splendid satire of dirty and tricky politics which is somewhat equalled by a German political cartoon showing Indira Gandhi standing in front of her mirror wearing a banner with the inscription "Bürgerrechte" (Civil Rights) and holding a club in her hand. The mirror, probably in this case the people, will not dare to answer her question, "Wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?"68 (Who is the fairest one of all?) negatively. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, recently was shown in quite a different predicament on the cover page of The Economist. As he strikes a meditative pose looking ahead, his head is flanked by pictures of Reagan and Gorbachev. Alluding to his attempt to steer India between the two super powers, the caption to this photo montage reads: "Picture, picture on the wall, I would like to love you all."69 The cartoons show us how infantile our behavior can be and are grim alterations of the same question raised in the Snow White fairy tale in a poetic fashion.
There are, of course, also the seven dwarfs who have captured the fantasy of the adult world and that of modern children. Two telling cartoons might be mentioned here where a child gets the traditional fairy tale somewhat mixed up with the more realistic problem of divorce. Dennis the Menace, for example, asks his dad to entertain him with the Snow White tale by requesting, "Read to me about Snow White and the Seven Divorces."70 And his German female counterpart asks her mother about the marital status of the dwarfs' mother, to which the mother responds matter of factly: "Tut mir leid, die Geschichte sagt nichts darüber, ob die Mutter der sieben Zwerge Witwe oder geschieden war"71 (I'm sorry, the story doesn't mention whether the mother of the seven dwarfs was widowed or divorced.) Such fairy tale cartoons become telling commentaries on societal problems like divorce, and they also show that children or adults are prone to place certain fairy-tale motifs in contrast with realistic situations facing them. Seen like this, the cute little dwarfs, who were made even more saccharine by Walt Disney's movie version, become much more significant figures. Often they are also seen by adults as representing multiple concerns in sexual or international politics.
The personalized dwarfs, or also just the old anonymous ones, have been interpreted sexually by adults for quite some time, ranging from light-hearted humor to crude obscenity. Robert Gillespie wrote his poetic reinterpretation, "Snow White" (1971), along these lines, clearly wondering about the sexual activities of the Disney dwarfs and moving the underlying fairy tale once again into the original realm of adult entertainment.
She found herself 7 no less
Such disney images—where did they come from, the yellow pages?—
grumpy sleepy sneezy happy dopey doc
So why didn't she ever have any little dwarfs?
She was afraid of her father's handlebar moustache?
Who does she think she is, no hostility like the rest of us
toward stepmother? Her mother for dying?
What is really going on out there in that house in the woods?
Do they really know?
Does it ever get dirty and dull
fishy-stale in her innocent linens?
What are their little penises like, Snow White?72
As in this poem, the dwarfs in sexual cartoons also seem to be unable to forget the wonderful girl with whom they enjoyed common sexual activities. That such matters went on, as far as the adult interpretation of the fairy tale is concerned, is well documented in a cartoon in Playboy magazine in which the dwarfs are listlessly showing up for their morning work. The explanation given is: "Snow White withheld her favors this morning, so we all got up Grumpy."73 There are also American and German cartoons showing the dwarfs at the window of the palace where Snow White now lives her life with her prince husband. The American caption quite pointedly has Snow White send her former "lovers" away with the statement: "Can't you get it through your heads? That part of my life is over!"74 while the German drawing by Horst Haitzinger has the prince ask his bride "Hast du eigentlich noch Kontakt zu deinen Freunden von früher, Schneewittchen?"75 (Are you still in contact with your former boyfriends, Snow White?) There is also a cartoon in which the prince finds the seven dwarfs in bed with Snow White. This scene results in his resolute declaration: "Jetzt will ich aber mit diesen sieben Zwergen ein Wörtchen reden, Schneewittchen!"76 (Now I really want to have a word with these seven dwarfs, Snow White.)
Yet there obviously are more serious reinterpretations of the seven dwarfs as well. Consider for example the following three political cartoons that make U.S. presidents into grotesque Snow Whites. Ridiculing our involvement in Southeast Asia, a cartoon from 1970 in Punch shows former President Nixon as a democratic peace-bringer followed by seven dwarfs turned generals, each with a briefcase labeling his respective country: "South Vietnam, South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Laos." The caption puts this entire democratization plan into question by stating: "Snow White and the Seven Experiments."77 During the Watergate scandal, Nixon also was drawn as Snow White surrounded by his dwarf-like cronies. This time the caption is a mere "Snow White,"78 which suffices to place the conniving Nixon into a shocking juxtaposition with the pure Snow White of the fairy tale. The presidential advisors involved in the cover-up also absolutely negate the innocent dwarfs of the traditional tale. In a final political caricature, we have President Reagan as Snow White with his little helpers surrounding him. No caption is necessary, but seven of the politicians with whom Reagan has surrounded himself have names on their shirts which pervert those sweet Walt Disney labels in a most telling manner: "Sleazy, Shifty, Cozy, Slick, Easy, Porky and Grabby."79 On yet a more serious note, there is finally also a German poem about "Der Spiegel" (The Mirror) (c. 1940) by Max Herrmann-Neiße that miraculously survived a major war. The poem closes with the question which all people ask their politicians: "Spieglein, Spieglein, an der Wand, wann kommt der Friede diesem Land?"80 (Mirror, mirror on the wall, when will peace come to this land?) No doubt the mirror oracle will be questioned for many centuries to come, since questions of identity, beauty, etc., will always plague mankind.
In his interpretation of the Hansel und Gretel fairy tale Bruno Bettelheim states that "the gingerbread house is an image nobody forgets,"81 and judging by the many allusions to it in modern texts and illustrations, it definitely has been implanted in our consciousness. Who wouldn't want to give in to his oral greed and nibble on all those wonderful goodies? The temptation certainly is always there for children and adults to give in to the drive of the taste buds. Even if Hansel and Gretel stand in front of a marvellous gingerbread house that displays a sign drawing attention to the fact that the sweets are "Containing glucose, dry skimmed milk, oil of peppermint, dextrose, etc.,"82 they probably will not be able to control their desire. There is always Alka Seltzer for immediate relief after gorging oneself, as can be seen from a splendid three-frame comic strip: the first frame shows Hansel and Gretel munching away, the second pictures them suffering indigestion and burping, and the third drawing has them hurrying towards a house made of Alka Seltzers.83 This satire is clearly directed at the quick and easy fixes that our modern pharmaceutical products seem to offer us. This is also shown in a more serious cartoon in which the gingerbread or Alka Seltzer has been transformed into that universal drug Valium.84 A truly perverted gingerbread house offers even more potent stuff as Hansel finds out by sniffing the chimney on the top of the roof, his eager message to Gretel being "Let's go inside. Someone's smoking pot."85 Two really upto-date Swiss kids are, however, a lot brighter than to let such a modern witch lead them astray. Their short remark to the eternal temptress while turning away from that unhealthy stuff is simply: "Nein, danke, wir essen nur Bio-Kost"86 (No thanks, we only eat health food.)
In such mutations of the traditional gingerbread house, we recognize how the dangers for children have changed in the modern world. But the fact that people will always be confronted by new ills makes this motif a most convincing symbol of human problems. This is also the case in two very innovative cartoons that show the witch traveling in a trailergingerbread house. In the one, she stops on the road and attempts to pick the children up by asking: "Hi, kids! Want a lift?"87 and in a very similar illustration two years later in the same magazine, only the black witch is shown in her mobile home looking for possible victims.88 Such cartoons obviously humor us adults at first, but once we are reminded of the evil witch in the fairy tale, the many stories of child abductions come to mind and turn these seemingly funny picture-jokes into grim black humor.
This is also the case with the numerous cartoons that choose the gingerbread motif as a way to comment on today's construction industry and all the problems associated with it. There is, first of all, the wise-crack of two know-it-all children who confront the witch with the perfectly realistic question: "Gingerbread? Really? How did you get a mortgage?"89 Much more serious is, however, another cartoon in which a bank official gives the witch the following sad news: "I'm from the marshal's office. Nabisco has foreclosed on your mortgage."90 Once the "witch" is seen as an elderly single person, this cartoon becomes a telling satire on how people lose their homes due to financial problems. Of course people also lose their homes because of larger and higher buildings or because of the epidemic of town houses and condominiums. In front of a quaint and charming gingerbread house we find a sign of a large construction firm explaining that "This structure will be torn down and replaced by a new 44-story cookie."91 And if it weren't a tall office building that would replace this family homestead, some contractor would certainly put up a whole array of little homes, trying to sell them as a little fairy-tale village for rich suburbanites with the claim, "Gingerbread Village—105 Tasty Units—Immediate Occupancy."92 And so what if the old witch were to fight city hall and actually win the case and retain her beloved home. Someone would soon put up a highrise right next to her, and a young concerned couple called Hansel and Gretel would only state to each other, "Beats me how they got planning permission."93 Or the city would simply build the needed highway over the house which it could not destroy since "She fought the court order to the hilt."94 Progress would win out, and the fairy tale world would be squeezed underneath the super highway of our busy society.
And finally also consider a cartoon in which a realtor leads the prospective buyers Hansel and Gretel to the house explaining, "We just listed it . . . some young punks vandalized the place and cooked the owner."95 That leads us to an interesting anti-fairy tale poem by Sara Henderson Hay with the curious title of "Juvenile Court" (1963):
Deep in the oven, where the two had shoved her,
They found the Witch, burned to a crisp, of course.
And when the police had decently removed her,
They questioned the children, who showed no remorse.
"She threatened us," said Hansel, "with a kettle
Of boiling water, just because I threw
The cat into the well." Cried little Gretel,
"She fussed because I broke her broom in two,
And said she'd lock up Hansel in a cage
For drawing funny pictures on her fence . . ."
Wherefore the court, considering their age,
And ruling that there seemed some evidence
The pair had acted upon provocation,
Released them to their parents, on probation. 96
Just as in the cartoon, Hansel and Gretel are interpreted here as juvenile delinquents who really don't get much of a punishment. This opens up a whole new question about the character of Hansel and Gretel, who, like so many primitive fairy-tale heroes, have committed a most serious crime. The German poet Josef Wittmann treats this question in his short "Hänsel und Gretel" poem (1976):
Nichts als die Not gehabt,
erwischt beim Stehlen,
und ihren Wärter dabei umgebracht.
Und aus denen,
soll noch mal was werden?!97
(Nothing but rough times,
and the warden murdered.
And of them,
something will come some day?!)
Looked at realistically and episode by episode, the children do in fact commit a criminal act. This is also very evident from another most telling poem by Louise Glück, where we find "Gretel in Darkness"(1971), i.e. tortured by nightly attacks of a terribly guilty conscience about having pushed the witch into the oven:
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln—
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.98
Interpreted in a realistic and isolated fashion, this scene depicts a gruesome act by the young Gretel, who, however, kills the witch only to protect the life of her brother. In the fairy tale this is but one symbolic step in dealing with an evil force and a way toward liberation and independence. At the end of the tale, the children are shown as benevolent persons who have learned to cope with their own needs and those of others. Momentary regressions, even into criminal acts, function as contrasts to the fairy-tale path toward eventual bliss and fulfillment. Black and white are in continuous struggle until the inherent good of the fairy-tale hero triumphs. As modern interpreters of the tale, unwilling to accept the symbolic nature of these tales, we are bound to emphasize the gruesome isolated scenes since they reflect life all around us. But the fact that fairy tales too appear to have inhuman scenes should certainly not be an excuse for realistic actions. Fairy tales must be seen in their entirety, or otherwise they will be as disenchanting as the news of the day. Once again realizing the pessimistic world view that understandably surrounds us, it is only natural that such negative reinterpretations have become popular. But in all of that despair there is also always that glimmer of hope that something will someday come of us, just as it did of Hansel and Gretel.
Our final examples turn grimmer yet: we find a magazine cover of The Economist with a rather traditional drawing of Hansel and Gretel approaching the witch's house, but with the interesting headline: "West Germany's Greens meet the wicked world."99 Implied is, of course, that the young people of this new German political party with their idealism concerning the environment, disarmament, and social justice will have to realize that "Realpolitik" is as mean and unpleasant as the witch in the fairy tale. Talking of the environment, consider also the appropriate comment of a little boy to his father who is just reading him the part of the fairy tale where the children have dropped the bread crumbs: "They shouldn't have been dropping that bread. That's littering."100 Better yet is a more serious interpretation of that touching passage in the traditional fairy tale. In 1983 Horst Haitzinger published a full-page color caricature depicting this scene with the caption: "Da nahm Hänsel Gretel an die Hand und ging den Plastiktüten und Blechdosen nach, die zeigten ihnen den Weg zu ihres Vaters Haus."101 (Then Hansel took Gretel's hand and followed the plastic bags and tin cans that showed them the way to their father's house.)
As a final point in this section on Hansel and Gretel consider the following four cartoons, caricatures, and poems which bring the sweet gingerbread house into striking juxtaposition with the anxiety over nuclear power. With the atom bomb that fell on Hiroshima still fresh in mind, Dorothy Lee Richardson in 1949 wrote her poem "Modern Grimm" which starts and ends with a traditional verse:
"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?"
"Only the wind.
Only the wind."
"What have you sown, O darling children?
What have you grown in the land of magic?"
"Only the wind. Only the wind."
"What chroma of wind, O clever children?
What brilliant shade have you made with your magic?
What color of wind?"
"A rich red wind over Hiroshima,
Darkly blowing, brightly glowing.
A red-black wind."
"We have sown the wind. Its seed we found
And dropped it lightly to the ground.
We have sown the wind."
"The small thing split. It branched to bear
A thousand red-black fruits in air.
We have sown the wind."
"We have sown the wind. It rises high
Till it beats the ear and blinds the eye
And sweeps a hole in the crouching sky
Where the whirlwind rushes in!"
"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?"
"Only the wind.
Only the wind."102
Nothing has changed since this poem was written, and the threat of a nuclear accident, if not war, hovers over us. To illustrate this danger, a 1981 caricature transforms the chimney of the gingerbread house into a "Nuclear Power"103 cooling tower. The witch has become the personification of this dangerous force and the innocent children walking toward it symbolize mankind's path toward possible annihilation. And in light of the actual nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, I located two bitter satirical reactions in recent publications. The cartoonist Mike Peters has placed the gingerbread house in front of two nuclear cooling towers and has the witch step out to lure the children inside. But to her amazement she finds them not alive anymore. Her short remark is the apocalyptic: "That's odd . . . They're cooked already . . ."104 This reinterpretation of the gingerbread scene was repeated with the identical caption in a very recent "Mother Goose and Grimm"105 comic strip. But what kind of comics are these? They are certainly not funny, but rather grim statements of the dangers mankind has invented for itself. That these comments are expressed through altered motifs of fairy tales is yet another indication of mankind's desire to find utopian solutions to these problems. By effectively alienating the adults from their fairy-tale dreams through perverted fairy-tale motifs in literary texts or cartoons, the hope is always expressed that this shock therapy might recall the emancipatory goals of fairy tales. The tale of Hansel and Gretel and its many reinterpretations certainly are ample proof that such disenchanting reactions are at least small moralistic attempts to bring about such a change.
Similar materials as the ones presented for The Frog Prince, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel are available for other well-known Grimm fairy tales. Everywhere we look, the surprising adaptability of these tales or at least their motifs becomes obvious. The simple telling of the fairy tales or their satirical, parodistic or alienating changes all signify the "Erneuerungsmöglichkeit"106 (rejuvenating possibility) of fairy tales. This is possible only because fairy tales are "welthaltig"107 (world-encompassing), as Max Lüthi declared almost forty years ago. They contain universal human experiences of love, hate, fear, anxiety, etc., and that is why they can be applied to the modern age as well, even though their symbolic language might be changed to express today's reality. No matter which technological or epistemological advances mankind might undergo, the fairy tales will always "represent the diverse possibilities of actual existence. Although they themselves are scarcely real, they represent real things. The glass beads of the fairy tale mirror the world."108 Recalling one more time the drive toward the positive solution of all conflicts in fairy tales, where good wins out over evil in the end, the modern anti-fairy tales represent, in spite of their grim variations of traditional Grimm fairy tales, a continuous movement toward improving the human condition. Fairy tales were always meant to be emancipatory tales for people of all ages, and we need them, as well as their survival forms, to cope in an ever more complex world.
- For an excellent survey of this research see Max Lüthi, Märchen (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1962, 71969). Much bibliographical information to individual fairy tales also by Walter Scherf, Lexikon der Zaubermärchen (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner, 1982).
- An inclusive overview of the Brothers' Grimm various research interests with detailed bibliographical references is provided by Ludwig Denecke, Jacob Grimm und sein Bruder Wilhelm (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1971).
- See Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: A. Knopf, 1976). See also the various psychological interpretations in Wilhelm Laiblin (ed.), Märchenforschung und Tiefenpsychologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969).
- Regarding Ernst Bloch's philosophical view of fairy tales see the chapter "The Utopian Function of Fairy Tales and Fantasy: Ernst Bloch the Marxist and J. R. R. Tolkien the Catholic" in Jack Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk & Fairy Tales (Austin/Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979) 129-159. See also his fascinating book Fairy Tales and theArt of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization (New York: Wildman Press, 1983).
- See Waltraut Woeller, Der soziale Gehalt und die soziale Funktion der deutschen Volksmärchen (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1955); and Christa Bürger, "Die soziale Funktion volkstümlicher Erzählformen—Sage und Märchen," in Heinz Ide (ed.), Projekt Deutschunterricht 1: Kritisches Lesen. Märchen. Sage. Fabel. Volksbuch (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1971) 25-56.
- See Johannes Bolte und Georg Polívka, Anmerkungen zu den Kinderund Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. 5 vols. (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1913-1932; rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1963).
- Heinz Rölleke (ed.), Brüder Grimm. Kinderund Hausmärchen. 3 vols. (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1980 [esp. vol. 3]); and H. Rölleke, "Wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat." Gesammelte Aufsätze zu den "Kinderund Hausmärchen" der Brüder Grimm (Bonn: Bouvier, 1985).
- Of particular importance among Max Lüthi's numerous studies are Das europäische Volksmärchen. Form und Wesen (Bern: Francke, 1947, 31968); and M. Lüthi, Das Volksmärchen als Dichtung. Ästhetik und Anthropologie (Köln: Diederichs, 1975).
- Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, ed. by Louis Wagner and Alan Dundes (Austin/Texas: University of Texas Press, 21968).
- See above all Lutz Röhrich Märchen und Wirklichkeit (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1956, 31974); and L. Röhrich, Sage und Märchen. Erzählforschung heute (Freiburg: Herder, 1976).
- For Jack Zipes (see note 4).
- See the numerous essays on various aspects of fairy tales in Felix Karlinger (ed.), Wege der Märchenforschung (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1973); Helmut Brackert (ed.), "Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind . . ." Perspektiven auf das Märchen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1980); and Michael M. Metzger and Katharina Mommsen (eds.), Fairy Tales as Ways of Knowing: Essays on Märchen in Psychology, Society and Literature (Bern: Peter Lang, 1984). See also the eighteen studies on the fairy tale of Cinderella alone which Alan Dundes edited in the volume Cinderella: A Folklore Casebook (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982).
- For these remarkable studies see Ernst Böklen, Schneewittchenstudien. 2 vols. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1910 and 1915); Anna Birgitta Rooth, The Cinderella Cycle (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1951); Marianne Rumpf, Rotkäppchen. Eine vergleichende Untersuchung (Diss. Göttingen, 1951); Michael Belgrader, Das Märchen von dem Machandelboom (KHM 47). Der Märchentypus AT 720: My Mother Slew Me, My Father Ate Me (Bern: Peter Lang, 1980).
- See in this regard Joseph Rysan's pioneering article "Folklore and Mass-Lore," South Atlantic Bulletin 36 (1971): 3-9, in which he argued that "there is no reason why the Finnish method employed so successfully in the field of folktales could not be applied to the study of the transmission and migration of modern masslore rumors" (p. 9). We propose that the Finnish method be used to study the dissemination of modern texts and allusions to certain fairy tales in the mass media on an international basis. See also Priscilla Denby, "Folklore in the Mass Media," Folklore Forum 4, no. 5 (1971): 113-125; and Donald A. Bird, "A Theory for Folklore in Mass Media," Southern Folklore Quarterly 40 (1976): 285-305.
- See Hermann Bausinger, "Möglichkeiten des Märchens in der Gegenwart," in Märchen, Mythos, Dichtung. Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag Friedrich von der Leyens, Hugo Kuhn and Kurt Schier, eds. (München: C. H. Beck, 1963) 15-30 (esp. 19-23).
- See Max Lüthi, The European Folktale: Form and Nature, trans. John D. Niles (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982) 86.
- See Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell (note 4) 18.
- See Röhrich, Märchen und Wirklichkeit (note 4) [v].
- The term "Antimärchen" (anti-fairy tale) was first used by André Jolles, Einfache Formen (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1930, 31965) 242. See also Lüthi (note 16) 87.
- New Yorker (December 6, 1977): 177. For an earlier essay on cartoons using Grimm fairy tale motifs see John T. Flanagan, "Grim Stories: Folklore in Cartoons," Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore, 1 (1975): 20-26.
- New Yorker (January 24, 1977) 37.
- Good Housekeeping (February 1979) 237. See also Linda Dégh and Andrew Vazsonyi, "Magic for Sale: Märchen and Legend in TV Advertising," Fabula 20 (1979): 47-68.
- Simplicissimus, Nr. 52 (26. Dezember 1959) 828.
- For three earlier interpretations of this fairy tale see Lutz Röhrich, "Der Froschkönig und seine Wandlungen," Fabula 20 (1979): 170-192; Wolfgang Mieder, "Modern Anglo-American Variants of 'The Frog Prince' (AT 440)," New York Folklore 6 (1980, published 1982): 111-135; and Walter Blair, "The Funny Fondled Fairy-tale Frog," Studies in American Humor 1 (1982): 17-23. For additional German texts and cartoons see W. Mieder, Grimms Märchen—modern. Prosa, Gedichte, Karikaturen (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1979) 105-118. See also the two additional fairy tale poetry anthologies edited by Wolfgang Mieder: Mädchen, pfeif auf den Prinzen. Märchengedichte von Günter Grass bis Sarah Kirsch (Köln: Diederichs, 1983); and Disenchantments: An Anthology of Modern Fairy Tale Poetry (Hanover/New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1985).
- Burlington Free Press (August 25, 1982) 8D.
- Good Housekeeping (September 1984) 198.
- Ladies' Home Journal (November 1974) 204.
- Punch (January 16, 1980) 113.
- Punch (November 16, 1966) 759.
- See the excellent papers by Katalin Horn, "Märchenmotive und gezeichneter Witz: Einige Möglichkeiten der Adaption," Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 86, new series 37 (1983): 298-237; and K. Horn, "Grimmsche Märchen als Quellen für Metaphern und Vergleiche in der Sprache der Werbung, des Journalismus und der Literatur," Muttersprache 9 (1981): 106-115.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 38-39.
- Better Homes and Gardens (February 1979) 200.
- New Yorker (August 6, 1984) 33.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 27.
- Die Weltwoche, Nr. 27 (7. Juni 1982) 43.
- Charles Addams, Es war einmal . . . Addams und Eva (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1971), no pp. given.
- New Yorker (February 5, 1966) 46.
- Cosmopolitan (November 1982) 318.
- Playboy (August 1977) 152.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 30-31.
- See for example the Adult Erotica Catalog published by Diverse Industries in California. The Spring Catalog 1978 contained advertisements for such films with appropriate illustrations on p. 10, each film costing $12.95.
- Punch (June 29, 1966) 958.
- Penthouse (November 1977) 178.
- Penthouse (April 1976) 40.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 28.
- Brattleboro Reformer (June 29, 1978) 4.
- Saturday Review (May 29, 1976) 38.
- New York Times (August 2, 1981).
- Newsweek (November 12, 1979) 85.
- Saturday Review (November 2, 1963) 13.
- Los Angeles Times (November 10, 1983) section 2, p. 7.
- Burlington Free Press (January 26, 1984) 8A.
- New Yorker (July 27, 1957) 69.
- New Yorker (October 2, 1965) 53.
- New Yorker (December 10, 1984) 54.
- New Yorker (March 27, 1965) 42.
- New Yorker (January 2, 1965) 26.
- Cosmopolitan (October 1981) 274.
- New Yorker (July 23, 1979) 61.
- New Yorker (February 16, 1963) 35.
- Burlington Free Press (December 11, 1978) 10A.
- Photo Play (January 1975) 1. For studies on folklore and advertising see Otto Görner, "Reklame und Volkskunde," Mitteldeutsche Blätter für Volkskunde 6 (1931): 109-126; Julian Mason, "Some Uses of Folklore in Advertising," Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 20 (1954): 58-61; Alan Dundes, "Advertising and Folklore," New York Folklore Quarterly 19 (1963): 143-151; and Lutz Röhrich, "Folklore and Advertising," in Folklore Studies in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Venetia Newall (Woodbridge/UK: Brewer, 1978) 114-115.
- Time (March 6, 1978) 54.
- New Yorker (January 8, 1966) 34.
- Playboy (December 1978) 315. For an obscene female counterpart to this sexual cartoon, see Hustler (February 1979) 84.
- Saturday Review/World (December 18, 1973) 49.
- Herbert Block, Herblock Special Report (New York: Norton, 1974) 54. The cartoon dates from January 2, 1960.
- Der Spiegel, Nr. 28 (7. Juli 1975) 70.
- The Economist (June 14, 1985) cover page.
- Burlington Free Press (June 23, 1983) 7D.
- Nebelspalter, Nr. 31 (29. Juli 1980) 29.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 153-154.
- Playboy (September 1979) 179.
- Playboy (April 1977) 129.
- See Horst Haitzinger, Archetypen (München: Bruckmann, 1979) 43. Other sexual cartoons can be found in Playboy (August 1977) 150; Penthouse (December 1977) 214; Playgirl (January 1984) 94. See also the obscene joke which parallels these visual interpretations in Playboy (March 1982) 132.
- Pardon. Vom Besten (Frankfurt: Pardon Verlagsgesellschaft, 1977) 84. The cartoon was published in Pardon magazine in 1975. A similar cartoon is to be found in Lutz Röhrich, Der Witz. Figuren, Formen, Funktionen (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1977) 72a.
- Punch (July 1, 1970) 33.
- Mike Peters, The Nixon Chronicles (Dayton/Ohio: Lorenz Press, 1976) 92.
- Burlington Free Press (April 9, 1984) 5A. Regarding fairy tale movies see Kay F. Stone, "Fairy Tales for Adults: Walt Disney's Americanization of the 'Märchen,'" in Folklore on Two Continents: Essays in Honor of Linda Dégh, ed. by Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl (Bloomington/Indiana: Trickster Press, 1980) 40-48.
- The poem is printed in Deutsche Gedichte 1930-1960, ed. by Hans Bender (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1983) 106-107.
- See Bettelheim (note 3) 161.
- The New Yorker: Album of Drawings 1925-1975 (New York: Viking Press, 1975) no pp. given.
- Mad (December 1974) 28.
- Punch (April 6, 1983) 38.
- Playboy (August 1969) 133.
- Die Weltwoche (3. November 1982) 41.
- New Yorker (October 20, 1975) 45.
- New Yorker (December 26, 1977) 31.
- Better Homes and Gardens (March 1977) 194.
- National Lampoon (October 1976) 81.
- New Yorker (June 13, 1977) 39.
- Punch (December 6, 1978) 1008.
- Punch (December 2, 1981) 1014.
- Punch (March 24, 1982) 465.
- San Francisco Chronicle (March 21, 1980) 5.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 66.
- Mieder, Grimms Märchen—modern (note 24) 24. For a much longer prose version in which a retarded Hansel becomes the murderer of his mother see Andra Diefenthaler's short story "Hansel" (1932) in The Best Short Stories of 1932, ed. Edward J. O'Brien (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1932) 101-107.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 68.
- The Economist (August 11-17, 1984) cover page.
- Burlington Free Press (December 4, 1982) 11A.
- Nebelspalter, Nr. 38 (21. September 1982) 8.
- Reprinted in Mieder (note 24) 60.
- Burlington Free Press (April 11, 1981) 8A.
- Mike Peters, Win One for the Geezer: The Cartoons (New York: Bantam Books, 1982) 79.
- The Buffalo News (July 28, 1985) comics section, no pp. given. For an introduction to folklore materials in comic strips see Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, "Die Comic Strips als Gegenstand der Erzählforschung." Paper distributed at the VI. Congress of the International Society for Folk-Narrative Research (Helsinki, June 16-21, 1974) 19 pp. Compare also the earlier paper by Grace Patridge Smith, "The Plight of the Folktale in the Comics," Southern Folklore Quarterly 16 (1952): 124-127.
- See Werner Psaar and Manfred Klein, Wer hat Angst vor der bösen Geiß? Zur Märchendidaktik und Märchenrezeption (Braunschweig: Georg Westermann, 1976, 1980) 63.
- See Lüthi, Das europäische Volksmärchen (note 8) 69. For the English translation of this significant book by John D. Niles see Lüthi (note 6) 74.
- Lüthi (note 6) 80.
Cech, John. "Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales and Stories: Secrets, Swans and Shadows." In Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume Two: Fairy Tales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry, edited by Perry M. Nodelman, pp. 14-23. West Lafayette, Ind.: Children's Literature Association, 1987.
Examines the enduring appeal of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale compilations.
Chukovsky, Kornei. "The Battle for the Fairy Tale: Three Stages." In Children and Literature: Views and Reviews, edited by Virginia Haviland, pp. 213-20. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman and Company, 1973.
Traces the reception of fairy tales in the Soviet Union throughout the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that such stories are a necessary part of a child's maturation.
Ditsky, John. "William Faulkner's The Wishing Tree: Maturity's First Draft." Lion and the Unicorn 2, no. 1 (1978): 56-64.
Appraises William Faulkner's darkly comic fable The Wishing Tree within Faulkner's larger canon of mostly adult fiction.
Egoff, Sheila A. "Folklore, Myth, and Legend." In Thursday's Child: Trends and Patterns in Contemporary Children's Literature, pp. 193-220. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association, 1981.
Provides an overview of the history, context, and function of the fairy tale along with several analytical reviews of books and authors within the genre.
Elizagaray, Alga Marina. "The Ability to Dream: Adaptations, Translations, Folklore." In How Much Truth Do We Tell the Children?, edited by Betty Bacon, pp. 85-91. Minneapolis, Minn.: MEP Publications, 1988.
Discusses the positives and negatives in adapting literary material for children, particularly with regards to fairy tales and folklore.
Filstrup, Jan Merrill. "Thirst for the Enchanted Views in Ruskin's The King of the Golden River." Children's Literature 8 (1980): 68-79.
Analyzes John Ruskin's fairy tale adaptation The King of the Golden River.
Gillespie, Margaret C. "Fantasy—There Were Tales to Tell: Folk and Fairy Tales." In History and Trends, pp. 32-48. Dubuque, Iowa: W. M. C. Brown Publishers, 1970.
Provides background regarding the cultural creation and publishing history of several fairy and folk tales.
Gough, John. "Rivalry, Rejection, and Recovery: Variations of the Cinderella Story." Children's Literature in Education 21, no. 2 (June 1990): 99-107.
Describes several variations of the "Cinderella" tale, including traditional, classic, and contemporary expressions of the story.
Horrell, Ruth C. "Fairy Tales and Their Effect upon Children." In Readings about Children's Literature, edited by Evelyn Rose Robinson, pp. 263-76. New York, N.Y.: David McKay Company, Inc., 1966.
Discussion of fairy tales including their history, forms, and how they are interpreted.
Jan, Isabelle. "Once upon a Time." In On Children's Literature, edited by Catherine Storr, pp. 30-44. New York, N.Y.: Schocken Books, 1974.
Recounts various critical arguments regarding the appropriateness of fairy tales for young audiences, ultimately concluding that the tales serve an important function in a child's education.
Lochhead, Marion. "The Summing Up: Fairy-Tale in the Post-War World." In The Renaissance of Wonder in Children's Literature, pp. 153-64. Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate, 1977.
Summarizes the evolutionary course of the fairy tale in the years following World War II through an examination of relevant works from 1950 to 1975.
Lurie, Alison. "Ford Madox Ford's Fairy Tales." Children's Literature 8 (1980): 7-21.
Analyzes the stories within Ford Madox Ford's fairy tale canon, which Lurie believes contain numerous autobiographical elements.
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Pinsent, Pat. "Fate and Fortune in Modern Fairy Tales: Louis Sachar's Holes." Children's Literature in Education 33, no. 3 (September 2002): 203-12.
Proposes that Louis Sachar's Holes is a modern interpretation of a fairy tale, sharing many traditional characteristics of the form.
Studies the evolution of fairy tales from their origins as oral stories to their eventual transference to paper by such early compilers as Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen.
Storr, Catherine. "Folk and Fairy Tales." Children's Literature in Education 17, no. 1 (spring 1986): 63-70.
Attempts to define the importance of fairy tales to a child's maturation as well as seeking to differentiate between folk and fairy tales.
Tatar, Maria. "Tests, Tasks, and Trials in the Grimm's Fairy Tales." Children's Literature 13 (1985): 31-48.
Alleges that fairy tales "weave realistic details, cultural values, and psychological truths into a single narrative strand."
Tolkien, J. R. R. "Children and Fairy Stories." In Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, edited by Sheila A. Egoff and L. F. Ashley, pp. 111-20. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Stresses the value of fairy tales for children but warns against the dangers of writing down to children, believing that such a trend comes at a cost to the entire genre.
Tremper, Ellen. "Commitment and Escape: The Fairy Tales of Thackeray, Dickens, and Wilde." Lion and the Unicorn 2, no. 1 (1978): 38-47.
Zipes, Jack. "The Changing Function of the Fairy Tales." Lion and the Unicorn 12, no. 2 (December 1988): 7-31.
Charts the progressional evolution of fairy tales throughout history, discussing their intent and meaning in each historical period.
——. "Wanda Gág's Americanization of the Grimm's Fairy Tales." In Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, pp. 81-98. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2001.
Relates Wanda Gág's influence on the popularity of Grimm's Fairy Tales in the United States.
——. "The Contamination of the Fairy Tale." In Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, pp. 99-125. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2001.
Discusses adaptations of the various stories first published in Grimm's Fairy Tales through an analysis of their style and overall intent.