I have always been in love with fairy tales, not simply the ones given to us by Disney, but the traditional ones as well. The Classic Fairy Tales was my favorite text to read. I loved the juxtaposition of the different versions of the stories. It made me think of adaptations I had seen in movies – Cinderella especially. One adaptation that has always stuck with me is Ever After, a movie made in 1998. It is so memorable to me because the characters are far more vibrant than the traditional ones (though they are by no means highly complex characters). One of the key differences in the movie is that there is no fairy godmother, no sort of fantastical outside assistance at all. The Cinderella character – Danielle de Barbarac, is in control of her own fate. She is also a very different girl than the Cinderellas of the Perrault or the Grimm tales: she is highly intelligent, stubborn, and though she is subservient to her stepfamily for the most part, she has spirited outbursts in which she rails against their domination. I would like to explore the nature of the characters in relation to the time the movie was made, comparing them with those of the traditional tale and examining in particular their gendering. Some questions I would like to consider are:
1. How does the removal of magic in the story change Cinderella’s character and the story itself?
2. Does Danielle display the traits of a classic hero rather than simply being the protagonist?
3. Danielle identifies very closely with her father, and creates a noble persona for herself using her mother’s name. Is there an Electra complex being carried out?
The classic telling of the traditional fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood” is one that has been examined cross-culturally prevalently throughout history. One of the not-so-traditional recounts of this classic fairytale is that of its incorporation into the musical stage adaptation of “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim. As a theatre connoisseur, “Into the Woods” has been a central force in my understanding of musical theatre, as it is a very well known play that is highly esteemed.
“Into the Woods” is made up of several fairy tales based upon the Grimm bothers’ retellings and includes the stories of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella”, “Rapunzel”, and of course, “Little Red Riding Hood”. Unlike the “Story of the Grandmother” mentioned in The Classic Fairytales, Little Red Riding Hood is not a “… more resourceful trickster than a naive young girl (18)”. For example, in “Into the Woods”, Little Red is coerced by the wolf into straying from the path to her grandmother’s house in order to pick flowers. Her naivety is so stressed in this musical, that the wolf sings of his plan to not only follow her but to later consume not only her but also her grandmother in the song, “Hello, Little Girl.” This song is sung by the character of the wolf while Little Red Riding hood is onstage. Additionally, there are lustful undertones to this particular score, highlighting the more racy tellings of this fairytale.
Like in the Grimm version, after Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are saved from the wolf, a moral is given in the song, “I Know Things Now” which Little Red Riding Hood herself sings. This moral is illustrated in the lyrics:
“And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn’t known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.”
As can be seen from this single stanza, many aspects of the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” are present in the musical “Into the Woods”.
Back when public executions were commonplace, such violence in fairy tales only depicted real life scenes. Nowadays, if children were to read the original Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard stories, their innocent minds wouldn’t know what to make of “clotted blood” (145) or the flesh of Little Red Riding Hood’s granny on a pantry shelf (10) . Such depictions of violence were the primary method of instilling fear in children and scare them into behaving well, but for children of the 21st century this violence is just too traumatizing.
For example, if children today read the original Little Red Riding Hood, they may never “stray from the path” (14). Better yet, they may never even insist on leaving their house! Young girls who read Bluebeard would reject the idea of getting married for a very long while. Our generation would be spooked to bits, but just imagine how much violence was needed in fairy tales to instill a fear in children who saw people disemboweled and executed in public on a regular basis?
Violence in these fairytales was needed, partly to show the horrible consequences that followed disobedience. For example, Little Red Riding Hood could have kept her grandmother alive has she not strayed from the path like her mother instructed her. Bluebeard’s wives would have stayed alive had they listened to Bluebeard’s warning. Yet, aside from violence being a delinquent-preventive measure, so it is also used to thicken the tales and build the characters.
Consider the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf is just a wolf until he is actually described killing Little Red’s grandmother. Bluebeard is simply “a sorcerer who would disguise himself as a poor man” (148) until he is shown mercilessly hacking a young girl into pieces (149). The Pig King is only a dirty pig until he strikes his new wife “with his sharp hooves…so that he killed her” (44).Violence incorporates a richness to the sinister nature of the villainous character; there is truly no substitute.
Though violence in fairytales are not generally accepted in the 21st century, it’s ability to transform the characters and establish a dark plot can be interchangeable with nothing. Besides, the majority of our media is filled with as much violence as these tales are. It’s probably safe to say that today’s readers, no matter how distasteful they find these violent tales are for children, won’t resist the urge to turn the page of a Brothers Grimm fairytale to see what happens next.