Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guest Post: Why Fairy Tales Matter

The always wonderful Briana from Pages Unbound very graciously offered to write a post all about why fairy tales matter for the Fairy Tales Retold Challenge. I hope you fairy tale lovers like it as much as I do, and that you’ll take the time to follow her blog!

Now that you’re done doing that, you’ve got a guest post to read!

Anyone who reads my blog will know I am a huge fan of retold fairytales—hence why I am participating in Debz’s 2012 challenge! Awhile ago I mentioned to someone that I was writing, for fun, a retelling of my own. The response was the somewhat dismissive question “Isn’t that rather trite?” For a moment, I had to think. There are a lot of retellings in the book market. So what makes them valuable?

A proper fairytale is often rather simple, which is why the opportunity for modern expansions and re-workings are so great. Yet in their simplicity, they manage to show their readers something of truth. A fairytale, in just a few words, can teach a lesson or impart hope. Their themes are timeless, and so they can never grow old or become cliché.

“Cinderella” is one of the most beloved fairytales because it is a story to which nearly everyone can relate. On one level, it validates the classic American dream: Work hard and you can go far in life. But it also says there is moral justice in the world: Work hard and be good, and you will be rewarded. The villains, in turn, will be punished. How can the story of being rewarded for merit ever be overused? Failing to tell it would be tantamount to suggesting that life is unfair, that people never get what they deserve. And who wants to believe that? Being good would be so much more of a struggle.

“Beauty and the Beast” shows us the value of being kind to others and of looking for beauty in unlikely places. Belle goes to an unpleasant situation with courage in order to help her family. Like Cinderella, she is also rewarded, but she does all the work. If she had remained bitter, she could have missed the opportunity to find a man she loved.

Do these scenarios seem unlikely? Sure. There are ways the lessons of these stories can be warped: Let people walk all over you and then hope a prince will come rescue you. Or: Fall in love with your captor. But these are the circumstances of the stories, and not the points. The point is that it is possible to endure, and to make the best of whatever situation life throws at you. There are a lot of people in the world who need to hear this and know that life can better, particularly if you put a little effort into it.

People rewrite fairytales, then, not because the original ones are somehow lacking but because they are provocative. In their brevity, they are somewhat like poetry. They say a lot in a short space. Yet unlike some poetry, they are still stories. Behind the lessons and the truths, there are still characters and events, and it is only natural that we should want to know a little more about the people who caused or witnessed such amazing events. The themes are universal, so sometimes we just want to see that Cinderella can be a girl in China, a boy in Appalachia, or a cyborg in the future.

Fairytales show us the world as we hope it is—with magic, with clear right and wrong, with opportunities for everyone. Rewriting them is important because it brings the lessons closer to home, as we adapt the characters and situations for our times, and because it shows us which lessons we think are important. The stories we choose to tell say a lot about us. Whether we emphasize “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Little Mermaid” can reveal something about society. Whether we personally rewrite or reread “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Little Mermaid” can reveal something about us as individuals. But that something will never be that we are trite.


  1. My daughter (age 7)is really into the original fairytales and boy, I'm really starting to hesitate reading them to her! There are some great messages in them, but I'm not loving how everyone falls in love at first sight (most of the time) and often without even speaking a word. That's just one issue I have. ;)
    But I have been reading the retelling versions and many of them I really enjoy. I like the new spin that authors put in, whether it's the romance, setting or time period, it's fresh. And I like that.

    1. That's why I read retellings. Fairy tales are timeless, and I love seeing how they can turn out when placed in a new context.

      I think it's great that you're reading fairy tales to your daughter. I have a 5 year old sister who can't get enough of them. I'd recommend checking out Gail Carson Levine's Princess Tales. They're really short retellings, and while most of them do have love at first sight, they're witty and charming and manage to sneak in some of the lessons the original fairy tales have.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. I agree that the opportunity to expand on the romance is one of the great benefits in retellings. I love seeing relationships actually develop.

      It can also be rather amusing to see authors try to explain events that might be taken for granted in short story but which are, in fact, rather odd!

      Thanks for reading!


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