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Fractured Fairy Tales?

A dragon who just wants to find love. A fair maiden who doesn’t require a hero’s assistance. A wolf more misunderstood than big and bad. Cantankerous gingerbread men. A woman who has the option to have the prince, but choses a straight-laced widower instead—starting her own business to boot. An evil Rumplestiltskin. A princess who chooses to be ugly and in love instead of beautiful with a kingdom. A wicked witch who isn’t all that wicked. A lost princess who ends up in love with a wanted criminal.

These are the things that make up today’s fairy tales, and not everyone is pleased with the change.

One of my favorite books as a child was The True Story of The Three Little Pigs. The story was told from the point of the view of the wolf (who is now in prison, unjustly). The famous day of the alleged huffing-and-puffing he was trying to bake a cake for his ailing granny and realized he didn’t have a cup of sugar. He was recovering from a nasty cold and it surely wasn’t his fault that the pigs built such crummy houses. He had to sneeze right when he went to knock on the door. And yes, of course he ate the little pigs. Who was he to leave a free meal just lying there in the rubble?

With the resurgence of shows and movies like Once Upon a Time, two Snow White retellings in theatres this summer, Shrek, Ever After, Tangled, and the musical Wicked, the fairy tale outcomes we were taught in childhood have been tossed on their heads.

My question is: Is this a bad thing?

About a week ago I listened to a radio talk show that spent an hour denouncing the latest Snow White movie, Mirror, Mirror. The talk show host argued that fairy tales were crafted and meant to stand for allegories for the Christian god. The fair maiden in need stands for humanity. The hero who always wins is Christ, and the dragon and witch pair together to form the perfect picture of evil. She claimed that these new fairy tales are messing with our subconscious. They teach our kids it’s okay to befriend bad people. They tell us that we don’t need a hero, and maybe evil isn’t as bad as we think. The host said she was scandalized when Snow White picked up a weapon to fight the bad-guy herself. Snow turned to the prince and told him that he was foolish to think she was waiting on a man to save her. *gasp*

Um, can someone throw this talk show lady a life preserver? Because she’s drowning in a sea of ridiculousness.

First, anyone who claims this statement probably hasn’t read the real fairy tales, I’m talking about the originals written by the Brothers Grimm (truly grisly reads). In these stories some of our beloved characters end up with cut off limbs, some of the heroes are down-right cruel in dishing out justice, and some of the heroines end up alone (read the real little mermaid if you want a despair-filled story that ends miserably for the heroine – the stuff of nightmares). Clearly, our radio host is referring to the Disney-fied versions of the stories. And let’s be serious, I hardly think Disney was trying to add subtle Christian themes to their movies.

Second, such thinking takes away from the excellent lessons that can be learned from these fractured fairy tales. Why is it terrible to teach a child not to judge someone by their outward appearance? Just because a man looks like a prince it doesn’t mean he’ll treat you like one, sometimes the true gentleman who will cherish you is the loveable ogre. The princess in Tangled marries a criminal, how’s that for a story of redemption? Showing the side of the character who has always been dubbed “bad” teaches children that they should weight information before making snap decisions—that there is more than one side to every story. These are valuable life skills. Teaching young girls that their only goal in life shouldn’t just be to wait around for a man is good, and teaching them to stick up for themselves instead of being Wilting-Wilmas, even better.

What about you? How do you feel about people messing with the commonly-known versions of fairy tales? How do you feel about adaptations of stories that paint the story in a different light, making our beloved hero the villain and the villain misunderstood? Do these changes assault our morals? If you see value in them, what are some examples?

Much love -Jess


About Jess Keller

I'm an author, speaker and chocolate eater who's chasing hard after my dreams.

9 responses »

  1. I’m so glad someone is talking about this. I personally feel you have to take it on an individual basis, story by story. I tend to root for the underdog, and it is refreshing to see ugly princesses and atypical heroes in a positive light. I am writing my own avant-garde fairy tale, which is something new for me. My characters will champion those with neurological challenges in a fun and off-beat way in hopes of raising awareness and acceptance for Aspergers Syndrome, seizure disorders, short term memory loss, and the like.

    I think the trend started with the wildly popular Princess Bride with its quirky cast of a gentle giant with a gift for rhyme, a recovering alcoholic Spaniard bent on revenge, a hero turned pirate turned antihero, a short, lisping pseudo-mastermind. . . and a princess about to marry the villain of her own volition. In the end, when true love wins, the timeless values we cherish are upheld and in fact strengthened. Story is a powerful vehicle, and we who write are its guardians. It is an awesome responsibbility to use that power for good.

    • I never thought of the Princess Bride as a fairy tale, but I think you’re right Kathleen. I think the reason it’s still so popular (besides being funny and having amazing quoting ability) is that it goes against our sterotypical roles of hero/heroines. Down to the good guy being the person wearing black.

      The stories you’re writing sound interesting, I hope to see them in print!

  2. I just love this article! I am an avid follower of Once Upon a Time. (You’re welcome, ABC.) I appreciate these fractured fairy tales because of their creativity and the brilliance of the writers in making these tales fresh and new. And I have read the original Little Mermaid by Andersen and the original Snow White by the Grimms. Even though Disney did keep some of the darkness in Snow White, they neglected to leave in the evil witch’s punishment (a dance to the death in red hot shoes.)

    As for teaching children lessons, these new fairy tales can open a wonderful dialogue about bullying. As a school teacher, bullying is now on the forefront of all schools, with the recent intense media coverage of those students who chose to end their lives because of bullying. I remember watching Beauty and the Beast in the theater with my parents and my mom talking to us afterward – she said that although Gaston was handsome, he was the villian. The Beast was frightening and awkward, but had the heart of gold. I can honestly say that that message is still with me to this day. You can’t judge people by appearances.

    I say, keep the “fractured” fairy tales coming!

    • Excellent points Renee! How cool that your mom took the minute to have that conversation with you after Beauty and the Beast, and I think it’s powerful that it stuck with you. I wish more parents would engage their kids in moments like that — it teaches them to think critcally.

      P.S. And thanks for the correction! Littler Mermaid is Andersen, not Grimm.

    • P.S. What did you think of last night’s Once Upon a Time?!?! If that guy isn’t Rumpel’s son, who do you think he is? I have my money on him being one of the Brother’s Grimm. We shall see…

  3. Great post! I love fractured fairy tales. Anything that I love (fairy tales, Jane Austen, etc) only gets better the more I can experience it and that included looking at the story from different view points and expanding my imagination. There are some really great re-dos out there for kids, and I love Once Upon a Time for adults to get their fix in too. Even if a story doesn’t resonate with me, I think there is value in redefining the roles and situations for new generations of readers.

  4. I think were are sending a different message to our kids. Beautiful isn’t always desirable or a measure of our worth. Women can and should be all that they can be. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Different isn’t always bad. Step parents are ot always evil. Those can be good things just as the old standards were good things with one stipulation. Whether yesterday’s tales or today’s, if the message is against the Bible’s message, they’re wrong.

    • Thanks for this Sharon, I completely agree. There is value in any story that points out Truth. The old fairy tales have valuable lessons (didn’t mean to minimize that, I was a fairy tale junkie as a child, still love them).


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