The term fairy tale originated in late seventeenth-century France, where aristocratic ladies in salons created fanciful stories with elements of folk tales, actual literature of the time, and a sub-genre called the wonder tale, a story in which a protagonist overcomes a series of challenges using magic and achieves an exemplary life or extraordinary success as a result. This idea of the wonder tale is very important to understanding why fairy tales are the way they are. Wonder tales spun off from the morality of folk tales around the ninth and tenth centuries of the Common Era. Much of the tension in the plots of these tales derives from the feudalism of the time. People were divided into classes of peasant,clergy, or nobility. Without these divisions, many of the ideals we see in the most famous fairy tales would not be present. This is a significant departure from earlier tales in which most of the clashes were a result in one way or another between gods and mortals, as you may remember from reading myths.
Although fairy tales were initially for adults, they were eventually recognized as a wonderful way to present ideals to children. Two of the most famous early adapters of fairy tales for a children’s audience were Sarah Fielding and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. They were somewhat controversial because some people believed fairy tales to be inappropriate as they promote neither religion nor good manners. In fact, polemical texts such as Sarah Trimmer’s Guardian of Education not only condemned fairly tales but also condemned any type of literature that might give children the impression that imagination or fun was desirable. To some extent, the early authors of fairy tales did attempt to use them to model good behavior, as we can see when we look at original versions of the texts. However, by the time the nineteenth century rolled in, abridged versions of these tales abounded in both GreatBritain and the United States. These tales were designed solely for amusement.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a classic tale which has undergone many changes since its original publication.Those of you familiar with only the Disney version may be quite surprised to see the differences in theFrench version. Some of you who are a little older may also remember a television series of the same name which became a cult classic. Look for similarities and differences between the versions as you read. Keeping in mind what I said earlier about attempts to teach model behavior, consider what values are being promoted in this written version.
In contrast to “Beauty and the Beast,” “Hansel and Gretel” is an original German Grimm fairy tale written for adults. Again, this is a story most of you should be familiar with, albeit in a sanitized version.I have always been surprised Disney didn’t pick this one up for animation as it features the classic motif of the evil mother/stepmother, one which appears in many Disney remakes. As you read this, you might think about why this tale is one that has not been pulled forward into modern culture as prominently as others have been. That said, you can look forward to a new film coming out in 2013: Hansel and Gretel:Witch Hunters.
“The Reluctant Dragon” is another tale which has been through Disneyfication. However, Walt Disney took this classic tale and turned into a promotional venue for his then-new movie studios in Burbank,which hardly does the tale justice. The story is a take-off on the famous tale of St. George and the dragon, well known to Catholic children of the time. I’ve provided you with a link to the original story in this unit. Again, look at how the original ideas from the first story are adapted into the second one and see what has changed and why. Keep in mind that the original text is meant to be religious in nature whereas the second one has a dual purpose of entertainment and morality.
“The Iron Giant” is written by Ted Hughes, considered to be one of the master poets of Great Britain.The famous movies of recent times are very loosely based on this. To best understand this fairy tale,keep in mind the Cold War information I presented in the last unit and be sure to read the introduction carefully. Do you consider this work to be a fairy tale, or is it well-disguised (or maybe not-so-well-disguised propaganda for the author’s political views? What moral lessons do you take from this, and how do they compare and contrast with those of the other tales?
The Paper Bag Princess is a modern American/Canadian fairy tale. In it we see the return of some our favourite characters: a prince, a princess, and a dragon. However, that is one of the few similarities between this story and those of earlier times. How do you see contemporary morality reflected in this story? How does the author strike a balance between entertainment and reflecting cultural values?
Last but definitely not least, “Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale” provides us with a written version of a tale that was originally part of oral culture and became a sort of fairy tale. I wish we had the fully illustrated version of this as its drawings are quite stunning and capture the images of the written word well. In reading this, what values do you think the Apache intend to transmit to their children? How is it the same or different from other types of fairy tales? What elements of oral culture do you see in the piece? (Remember that orality and literacy chart from a couple of units ago? Now might be a good time to go back and review it.)
We continue our foray into the world of fairy tales in this unit, but this time we’re looking at multiple versions of the same tale: “Little Red Riding Hood.” This story should be familiar to most if not all of you,but I’m not certain you’ll see a version of the tale in this unit that matches the one you were told or read as a child. The sheer variety in this section demonstrates what can happen with one general idea which gets diffused across cultures and through various schools of thought.
This section is called “Texts and Contexts.” It provides us with literary works, background, and criticism numerous forms so we get a sense of how one simple fairy tale that started with the Grimm brothers could turn into such a literary and cultural icon. This case book approach gives all of us the chance to look in great depth at a subject, something we don’t often get to do with regular literary anthologies. I hope you’ll pay very close attention to all the materials.
As you read, one thing I’d like you to pay particular attention to is shifting relationships. Whenever we engage in critical thinking about a text, author, literary work, and audience are the three chief variables which we have to consider. From your 1301 and 1302 classes, I hope you remember some of the basics of rhetoric in general and of literary rhetoric in particular because they will help you a great deal in thinking about how each writer uses these tools. In each piece, you should be able to see how the relationships between the author, the work, and the audience change. For example, Tony’ Ross’s work is High Modernist in nature. This means it recognizes a divide between art and popular culture and places a higher value on that which it deems artistic. See if you can recognize that tendency as you read.Ross relies on his readers to know the basic narrative of LRRH, identify it in elements of the text, and then reconstruct the story and its social context from within his own writing.