Masters tales

Fairytales and Folk Stories

Wednesday 20th February 2013

Now I have been addicted to fairy tales in the past. As a child my illustrated collection (two volumes) were my favourite books, but seriously I hadn’t thought about them for a very long time. So when I realised that the lecture was about fairy tales I was interested. But I did see the fairytale as a particularly old-fashioned type of writing. The old line drawing illustrations and the princesses in ball gowns, two-dimensional princes and animals that can talk. My eyes were opened!

First though the history. The fairytale came into its own with Perrault and the Grimm brothers. They were not necessarily written for children but more likely for adults and those at court. Any written story would have had a limited audience in the 1600’s as most but the well educated were illiterate. So Charles Perrault wrote modern fairy tales for his time, 1690’s, They were all illustrated in modern dress, again of the time, and had to have a moral teaching. The style of the illustrations and the moral fiber of the stories continues into our fairy tales, but we are only talking about a small amount of the tales. The other more widely used tale was by word of mouth.

It was these tales that the Brothers Grimm tried to capture. They saw that the increased movement of people could, potentially, contaminate the source of the German fairytale and so they wrote them down. They wanted their stories to express the base nature of humans, to say something about ourselves. But their first volume was criticised because the stories were not German enough, they rejected titles that were too close to those written my Charles Perrault. But what I found surprising was that they changed the language:

  • Fee / Fey (fairy) became enchantress / wise woman
  • prince became King’s son
  • princess became King’s daughter

Then the tales move into the Victorian era, and here they were picked up by a number of authors and given a sprinkling of fairy dust. Basically they became a mass of imagination, dragons, violence, good and bad. But no sex or sexual images, or at least no obvious ones. The images are always there – in the background or suggested but rarely shown.

So what about modern examples… Well, I love a little movie called “The Company of Wolves” and I was surprised to find it on the list of modern-day fairy tales. It is one of a series of short stories in “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. I’d like to say I was restrained but I had bought the kindle edition before leaving the classroom. Wow! Get a copy and give it a read. It shows the development of the female as a character from a passive creation to an empowered well-rounded character. The other examples we were given were also “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeanette Winterson and “Red Red Shoes” by Charles Way (this is a play).

This whole lesson was an eye-opener and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And have begun to create a re-working of Rumpelstiltskin. It is just fantastic, to pare back a fairy story and find its roots and then re-write it in a modern setting. And to change the audience – from child to adult. I have a copy of the Brothers Grimm and I have been flicking through it feeling as though I am in a sweet shop and someone has removed all the lids and said – help yourself.

But a re-working doesn’t have to be like the original. Just like Charles Perrault or the Grimm’s you can choose how you create the story. What is it you want the tale to mean? All I know is that it is thoroughly enjoyable. Give it a go – I dare you!

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