Wednesday, October 24

A Rapunzel with no prince? Fairy tales revisited

Fairy tales in which the princess gets her prince and lives happily ever after are often distortions of the original folk stories, changed to make them more palatable to a patriarchal society, according to research at a Canadian university.

Jenn Guare, a senior at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, decided to examine fairy tales through a feminist looking glass because of her interest in how children's literature affects how women come to see their place in the world.

"A lot of early fairy tales were written and told by women," Guare said.

"When you go back in time, it might seem that the fairy tale might get more sexist and patriarchal, but they actually don't."

The differences are often slight, Guare said, but the voice of women and their desires for their lives definitely comes through in older versions.

"That was all sort of erased when the Brothers Grimm and when Disney took over these tales," she said, noting that the Brothers Grimm versions of old folk tales are perhaps the most sexist versions in existence as they were written for the patriarchal society of the 19th century.

For instance, in the 1812 version of Rapunzel made famous by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm -- German academics best known for their collections of folk tales -- Rapunzel is banished to the desert by a witch until she is found by the prince.

"She never does anything to control her own life -- she's just passed around from the witch to the prince and you never get sense of what she wants," Guare said.

An old Italian version, "The Garden Witch," tells the tale differently, with the girl saving herself and returning to her mother. There is no mention of a princely rescue.

This version likely originated as an oral tale passed down from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, said Guare, adding that the earliest version of the Rapunzel story dates back to 500 BC.

"We have an idea -- that was actually perpetuated by the Brothers Grimm themselves -- that these are the archetypal tales and these are the most 'real,' or 'genuine'," Guare said.

"But fairy tales go back generations and centuries and we need to possibly go back to those tales and accept their validity and see if there are maybe tales that are more useful in today's context."


1 comment:

Cammy said...

thats wicked. thanks for the post. I'm always interested in fairy tales and how distorted they've become over the years. I fucking hate the princess stuff...