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The History and Modern Relevance of Fairy Tales on NPR

With scholars Maria Tatar and Marina Warner and novelist Ellen Kushner.

Fairy tales are everywhere you look today. And they aren’t necessarily for children. In a new English translation of the first Brothers’ Grimm collection, Cinderella’s stepsisters slice off part of their feet to fit a golden slipper. And the evil queen in the Snow White story is her biological mother. Films and TV shows feature well-known stories with modern twists. And many new fairy tales are aimed at a mature teen audience. It seems we have come full circle. Fairy tales were once the realm of adults until Victorians began routinely publishing illustrated collections for the very young. Diane and her guests discuss the history of fairy tales and why they still resonate.


( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
Dec. 11th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC)
I haven't had a chance to listen to that yet, but I have to chime in with a few thoughts.

Anyone who really knows fairy tales, knows the original Brothers Grimm. I think I read them when I was about 11-12. And I found them in the children's section of the library. I'm sure there a bazillion versions of the sanitized stories (thanks to Disney, but no thanks from me!), but those original stories were meant for children, not for adults. "Fairy" tales were gruesome, meant to scare kids silly so they'd follow the straight and narrow, and to let them know life. ain't. fair. The only reason today's fairy tales are considered aimed at the mature teen audience is because we molly-coddle kids these days.

A lot of stories that are fairy tale-ish are meant as teaching stories. In oral tradition in Khazakstan, very small children are told pretty gruesome stories about being wolves and how the wolves kill sheep. Well, many of the rural Khazaks are shepherds. They subsist on sheep and knowing how to butcher them is essential to their life style. Hence, they acculturate their children with variations of this fairy tale to prepare them for what they're going to have to do. (One of my student hourlies was a woman from Khazakstan getting her Ph.D. in anthropology. We had some great discussions about this. She thought they were told to kids to foster group membership; it wasn't until I pointed out the link between story and vocation that it finally clicked with her. It totally blew her away and it was something she ended up adding to a paper she presented at a conference.)

Also! I love the way modern authors/storytellers are taking older stories and turning them on their heads. Wicked and Maleficent come to mind; I love them both. If they're for mature teens and adults, it's only because we molly-coddle kids these days. Hell, my daughter didn't know what kind of animal beef came from until her teens. That's what happens when people get too far from their roots as hunter-gatherers.

So, as I mentioned, haven't listened to the broadcast yet, so I could be saying what they're saying and what you're already thinking, but since you posted about it I couldn't leave it alone. :D
Dec. 11th, 2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
They talked a bit about the sanitization issue and more of how to read/intepret the stories over time, for instance the increasing emphasis of sexualization in Little Red Riding Hood versus fears about blended families in stuff. They didn't touch on, much, the use of fairy tales as proto-feminism in 16th and 17th c. France, which I think is most interesting myself (basically you have wealthy women in forced marriages writing lots of adventure stories with girl protagonists and happy endings, circulating them in manuscript and in private salons, then they suddenly gain good ol' Cultural Capital when men start retelling them). But it's a great listen, and I love all three authors!
( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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