LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Fairy Tales: Depicting the Development of Female Gender Roles

          For centuries, fairy tales have permeated many cultures and societies. While these tales often served to entertain children and/or teach them morals, they also serve as reflections of the societies and time periods in which their numerous versions developed, spread, and were transcribed. In particular, the evolution of many tales follows the development of gender roles and expectations of the societies in which they originated. This can be seen in how many popular tales have adapted over time and are depicted in popular culture today.

            In many traditional fairy tales, female characters fell into a dichotomy, filling the role of the heroine or the villain. The heroine was a depiction of the ideal young woman: beautiful, compassionate, youthful, calm, and often naïve. The female villain is depicted as older, often a mother figure (or stepmother), who is cunning, jealous, and downright malicious. This could be seen in tales such as “Cinderella” and “Snow White,” both of which featured a young, beautiful, virtuous young woman at odds with a malicious, jealous stepmother. This dichotomy reflected the common conceptions of women during the time that they were told and transcribed, as women were valued for their beauty, youth, and virtue, while ambitious, scheming, outspoken women were seen as tainted, inappropriate and improper.

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Cinderella startled by her stepmother’s reflection as she comes up behind her.

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Snow White and her stepmother disguised as an old beggar.

            With the dawn of filmmaking in the 20th century, fairy tales began to appear in a new medium, and eventually became wildly popular. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of this wild popularity in many different forms, such as film, television, and music, and in adaptations that reflect modern depictions of gender roles. For example, in the 2012 movie Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White, though similar to film adaptations of earlier films, is depicted as much stronger, outspoken, and motivated, as the audience sees her suit up in armor and fight for the kingdom that was rightfully hers. In another adaptation of “Snow White,” Mirror, Mirror, also released in 2012, the audience watches as an in-control, and clever Snow White feeds her stepmother a poisonous apple originally meant for herself. These films are just a few examples of contemporary adaptations of traditional fairy tales, with more outspoken, clever, and go-getting modern heroines that are much more reflective of the typical woman in our American society today.

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Diary of Wimpy Men: the Feminine Males in Fairy Tales

As Disney and society tends to make us believe, the men in any story should be brave, heroic, manly–knights in shining armor. But some of the men in the classic fairy tales, in the presence of a strong heroine, are suddenly helpless.

In Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, there is a constant theme of the weaker male in order for the heroine to succeed. brothers and the father “cried real tears” (De Beaumont, 36) whereas Beauty’s sisters had to fake them with onions when Beauty had to depart to the Beast’s castle in luau of her father. Beauty, the decidedly not damsel in would-be distress, doesn’t even shed a tear.

The father seems to be entirely helpless when he lost in the storm and at the hands of the Beast: “he heard a loud noise and saw a beast coming toward him. It looked so dreadful that he almost fainted…the merchant fell to his knees and, hands clasped, pleaded with the beast” (De Beaumont, 34-35). Beauty on the other hand, shows more composure upon first meeting the beast: “she could not help but tremble at the sight of this horrible figure, but she tried as hard as she could to stay calm.” (De Beaumont, 37). Beauty shows more composure in the face of danger than her father. The father even allows her to die in place, as opposed to finding a loophole using any sort of cleverness. So why does the male have to be less masculine in order for the woman to fill in as heroine? The perceived gender roles should, in theory, not have to flip in order to have them both maintain a sense of courage in the face of danger. Such a trade-off in traditional roles is not even something feminists can complain about!

Even the beast, who maintains his sternness in the early part  of the story basically commits suicide in the end because of loniless losses a bit of that masculine credibility. In order for the female character to be allowed as the heroine, the beast has to fail (as opposed the option of just finding her himself–he’s the one that owns the magic mirror!). It is understood that it just a fairy tale, but it shouldn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t be strong.

Thus, this problem begs the question of why the female character is allowed to be more masculine and the male characters a little more feminine. It could be that in the father’s case, his obligations to his family cause him to be more aware of what the loss of his life would cost them, causing him to be more pleading with the Beast. One could argue that Beaut had already excepted her fate of death, made peace with that fact, and was rewarded for her kindness and virtue in order to accomplish the moral example that De Beaumont attempts to set for young girls. But the Beast has no apparent excuse other than any prior sins, which he actually could have improved on in his solitude.

 

De Beaument, Jeanne-Marie. “Beauty And The Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42. Print.

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Character Analysis: The Pig King

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The Beast character in Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s 1756 version of Beauty and the Beast is the most common and notable to an individual with general knowledge of fairy tales. He is depicted as a creature with an intimidating appearance, but a kind and gentle personality. Beaumont’s Beast is portrayed as a hero when he rescues Beauty’s father, a gentleman by actually taking the time to prepare a room for Beauty, and perhaps even a needy and clingy man in which Beauty’s departure of more than 2 weeks causes him to become ill to the point of being at the brink of death towards the end of the story. In contrast, we have an alternative version of the Beast known as the Pig Prince from Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s story The Pig King. This “Beast” takes the form of a pig and is actually born as one in the beginning of the story. Despite his appearance, the pig was overconfident, demanding, and mirrored a very witty and mischievous monarch. The Pig Prince became the protagonist of his own story and his “Beauty,” Meldina, only served as the woman who would appease his wishes of getting married.

One could argue that the Pig Prince could have gained his spoiled and arrogant mindset by the way he was raised. His mother never once gave up on him and, as a piglet, was raised like royalty. He grew accustomed to his pig-like self and was taught to not be ashamed of his outer appearance since he was still a prince on the inside. Despite the fact that he grew older, his nasty habits of wallowing in the mud or dirt and rubbing “his sides against [his parents’] garments” never once receded and seemed to accentuate the pig persona he had developed over the years of his life. In contrast to Beaumont’s Beast who seems to be ashamed of his appearance, the Pig Prince is raised to accept his appearance and perhaps lives in a delusional world that a prince with the appearance of a pig was actually considered normal.

Overlooking the pig related impulses the prince has in the story, he still acts like royalty and demands that he be wed to a beautiful girl of his choosing. When he gets the opportunity to meet his betrothed, his interactions with her may be interpreted as abnormal to the average person, but if one takes a closer look, his nuzzling and dirtying of his betrothed’s garments is a sign of affection. In his own way, the Pig Prince shows his affection through his pig-like persona which has been accepted by his parents. When this love is rejected and he overhears his betrothed planning to murder him, the prince is quick to murder the woman he had once loved. Although it may difficult to sympathize with a murderer, the Pig Prince is experiencing insecurity from a judgmental person for the first time and one cannot help but wonder the pain in his heart when he discovers that his betrothed is plotting to kill him. Coincidentally enough, he is judged again by the second sister and murders her as well. Could it be that the Pig Prince is so prideful that any sign of being judged will put him into a fit of murderous rage?

Now we all know the common routine of fairy tales such as “third time is a charm” and the moral of not judging a book by its cover, but what exactly can a reader call the Pig Prince in this story? Beaumont’s Beast asks Beauty to marry him and it is only until the third time that he gets his wish, on the other hand, the pig prince murders two sisters to get to the third and youngest sister, who willingly accepts his proposal. Moreover, judging a book by its cover should really be considered when discussing Straparola’s murderous pig prince. Towards the end of the story we discover a pivotal point in which he has apparently been wearing a pig skin the whole time. Now why would he wear a pig skin? One could assert that he was merely testing his wife candidates. Of course, we have to overlook the fact that he murdered two girls and tip our hats off to him for being so conniving to be able to come up with such a genius plan. What can we call this character? A villain, an anti-hero, perhaps even an evil genius! We do not encounter these kinds of protagonists that often in fairy tales and it is interesting to note that he may be symbolizing the reward a daughter gets when she accepts her husband for who they are… because if they do not, then death is the only option.

“Surely you jest!” you may interject, but I kid you not! Let us not forget the time period this was written in and how arranged marriages went accordingly. To the contemporary mind, a woman should choose the man she wishes to spend the rest of her life with, but back then it was not the woman’s decision. In fact, our lovable prince pig handpicked his ideal wife and demanded their hand in marriage. He was a jerk, but an intelligent and sneaky one at that. A woman who willingly accepts the man selected for them by their parents would most likely be rewarded, in this story’s case a handsome prince who has a bad habit of dressing up as a pig. The action of murdering the two sisters who rejected his love showed the consequences of going against their parents’ wishes. Undoubtedly, one should probably not take this literally as it can be inferred that murder and whatnot in fairy tales were meant to deter a child from doing something bad that was against their parents’ wishes.

Finally, this character is very important to the story seeing as he is the protagonist of the story. Perhaps if we replaced him with Beaumont’s Beast here would be less “casualties” and more of Beast’s self-loathing and moping for being rejected by the first sister. I do not think Beaumont’s Beast would be able to handle rejection twice like the pig prince.

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The Little Mermaid’s Character Quest for Immortality

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In Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Mermaid, we are given a poignant portrayal of a young girl’s superficial search for love and freedom, juxtaposed with an intrinsic quest for an immortal soul. It is this quest, Anderson suggests, which is an internal need and hope for our heroine. On the surface, the story is an aching narrative of silent despair and unrequited love. The little mermaid sacrifices her family and the only home she has ever known, to obtain only the friendship of the prince and have to mutely watch him sign her death warrant as he marries someone else.

The little mermaid (it is taking serious restraint for me not to call her Ariel) is a character of conflicting traits. Largely, the girl beneath the sea is completely different than the girl above the sea. The implications of her actions down below tell us certain things about her character: For years she pines for her fifteenth birthday so that she can see the world above- passionate; she puts herself in substantial danger by saving the prince from the shipwreck- brave; she leaves her entire family and her home for an unknown land where her very existence hangs in the balance- daring, and perhaps a little foolish; she thinks nothing of how her departure will affect her family- not wrong by any means, but definitely a selfish characteristic . The picture that these details conjure in our heads, a modern heroine’s illustration to be sure, are proved time and time again to be wrong once she reaches the land. The little mermaid makes no gestures to win over the prince. She is devoted to him, but any traces of her passions are gone. She seems content to watch him look at her as simply a friend, and to marry someone else. Logic seems to suggest she would find another means to communicate with him yet no measures are taken. She is as thoughtful as she always was, yet now she is selfless and a figure of quiet suffering and pain. In the end, she sacrifices her own life and saves her prince who ignorantly ruined her life. The passionate daring child of the sea is gone, replaced by a young woman who has experienced great heartbreak.

This journey of character, and the very end of the Anderson’s story, suggests greatly that the little mermaid’s life has been a quest for an immortal soul.. The trials she experiences as a human—her tongue being cut out by the sea witch, the pain and mutilation of her tail into legs, that each steps she takes will feel as if she is walking on knife points—these experiences are the quintessential example of obstacles set before a hero on a quest. And it is these obstacles that prompt the question For what? The answer to this is not the humanly reward of love or earthly happiness, but instead the heavenly hope of an afterlife. She is given three hundred years to become pure, with the eventual pay off, if she works hard enough, being the obtainment of a soul. If she is virtuous, she can achieve a fate greater than becoming sea foam, thoughtlessly floating on the waves. This, I believe, is what Anderson is attempting to relay to children. That the little mermaid was a soulless creature who cast aside passion and selfishness to live a life of piety and quiet self-sacrifice so that she may gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven. And most importantly—she did not obtain this opportunity by snaring a husband, but instead by self-sacrifice and silent devotion to virtue. Attempting to find a happy motivation in this story is impossible and I am at a loss as to why Anderson would inflict the idea of such quiet suffering on children. But it is clear through his writing that the little mermaid’s journey from the sea to the land, and ultimately to the sky and heaven, is one of great depth and religious meaning.

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Development of Children’s Literature

Children literature is very interesting for many different reasons. First it is interesting because it seems to be the only type of literature that is written by a author that doesn’t directly relate to its audience; many children authors are older so they might have different experiences then their audience. Even though children literature is meant for the pleasure of children it is highly censored by adults. Adult authors write the stories, so most of the times the stories include things that adults believe children should know. Children readers want to experience something that is outside of the norm like people who can fly and talking animals. However adults, want children literature to have a story line that will teach the readers a lesson. For example, many adults don’t like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because it is full of fun but doesn’t have any moral lessons in it. So today we often seen stories that are funny and enjoyable by children but also praised by adults because of the moral lessons that it contains.

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The Tiger’s Bride

“He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sand paper. ‘He will lick the skin off me!’ And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur,” (Carter, 66).

In the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, by Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont, the innocent and virtuous Beauty falls in love with the Beast for his kind nature, in spite of his beastly appearance. As a result, the beast’s curse is lifted and he transforms into a handsome prince. In the case of Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”, however, the Beauty not only gives up her innocence, by showing her naked body to the Beast, but the Beast is not a kind man by nature, but a swindler who won the Beauty in a gamble with her father.
In the woods, when the main character sees the Beast, a tiger, shed his disguise and reveal his true form, she expresses feeling as if her chest ‘ripped apart,’ (Carter, 63).

Here, for the first time, the Beauty appears to show sexual attraction to the Beast, rather than mere love for his character. She is attracted by his beastly form, not in spite of it. Upon shedding her clothes, and bearing her nakedness for the first time, the Beauty experiences a sense of freedom, the shedding of social constraint and expectation to clothe oneself and restrict oneself within a certain form. She essentially sheds the disguise that society forces one to wear, to be chaste and virtuous, to appear acceptable.

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At the end of the tale, the girl is allowed to return to her father, having done her deed and paid her father’s debts. The girl decides to remain in the Beast’s estate, however, and sheds her clothes, walking naked into the Beast’s room. Here, instead of the Beast transforming into a human, the Beauty’s human flesh is shed for that of a fur coat, as she transforms into a beast, herself. At this moment, is it as if Angela Carter is expressing that humans are in fact the beasts, and the purity and innocence that we seek can only be found in the animal kingdom. Not only are there no social constraints in the animal kingdom, but the act of sexual attraction and action are simply natural, and necessary, rather than seen as something to restrict or deny, especially in the case of an unmarried young woman. By shedding the form of humanity, the Beauty and the Beast are able to be truly free, without any need for virtue, charm, or civility. They have instead returned to the purity and beauty that is nature.

Source: Carter, Angela. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Tartar, Maria. New York: Norton, 1999. 63, 66. Print.

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Fairy Tales: Symbolizing What’s Relevant

Fairy tale origins arguably display a clearer sense of a historical period and its ideological traits of highest importance better than any other texts.  The symbolism masked behind stories of regular, everyday individuals encountering unusual situations or magic can explain to a reader vividly the state of the specific society and its social structures.  It was stated throughout our text’s introduction at various points that fairy tales were often used as an oral tradition in which families and close-knit groups would gather round to alleviate the anxiety of a stressful work day while simultaneously entertaining each other and teaching valuable lessons to children about morals rooted in fantastic stories of similar characters encountering magical creatures and adventure.  Maria Tatar also warned readers to not become too preoccupied with uncovering symbolism seemingly blanketed across various generations as said symbolism could fluctuate in its relevance to a specific culture or time period due to differing interpretations and relevance.  This specific facet of the tales interested me in that many occurrences and resulting lessons may remain stable through various generations although readers will find that characters will symbolize the most important aspects of the specific time period from which the text was gathered.

Maria Tatar stated in her novel The Classic Fairy Tales, “Some versions of Little Red Riding Hood’s story or Snow White’s story may appear to reinforce stereotypes; others may have an emancipatory potential; still others may seem radically feminist.  All are of historical interest, revealing the ways in which a story has adapted to a culture and been shaped by its social practices.  The new story may be ideologically correct or ideologically suspect, but it can always serve as the point of departure for debate critique, and dialogue” (Tatar XIV).  The classic tale of “Snow White” by Brothers Grimm tells the story of a young, beautiful girl who falls victim to the jealousy of her father’s wife.  The evil queen plots to end the girl’s life so that she may remain as the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, but ends up falling victim to Snow White’s clever plan to punish her for her wrongdoings.  Despite this, Snow White seems to maintain her sense of beauty, dignity, and, most importantly, purity throughout the story, which was representative of the expectations of women, and more specifically, young girls, of the time.

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Walt Disney’s interpretation of the classic Brothers Grimm character

In our contemporary society where issues of equality—whether it be gender, racial, sexual, etc.—reign supreme in the realm of social significance, we find that fairy tales are being recreated in the vision of authors who support the changing ideologies.  A more modern Snow White developed by Rupert Sanders in his film Snow White and the Huntsman displays a courageous young female who doesn’t necessarily adhere to societal rules or roles.  She wears armor rather than dresses as she fights monsters and beasts until she eventually returns to the kingdom to murder the Queen and reclaim her thrown.  This is obviously a result of a society shaped by feminist views and gender equality as the main character serves more as a strong and independent heroine rather than a damsel in distress.  I feel that this is one of the most crucial interpretations of Tatar’s novel that we can gather—fairy tales are classic tales passed on through generations but cannot remain unchanged as they gather cultural relevance and are shaped accordingly based on the need for certain lessons of morality incorporated into the upbringing of that society’s youth.

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Rupert Sander’s vision of Snow White depicted by Kristen Stewart.

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A “classic tale” with a “new twist” is certainly one way to describe the new movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Unlike the Grimm fairy tale this modern day revival of the classic fable picks up right where the brother and sister left off, with a quite unexpected twist. Bounty hunters on a mission, Hansel and Gretel face a new journey that is a tad more extreme than forming a path of pebbles and breadcrumbs.

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While the movie appears not to make any major changes regarding what happened to those children in the woods, it certainly spices up how they decided to continue their life after Gretel threw the witch into the oven. Rather than completely change the story’s premise, this film attempts to make this classic fable more applicable for an older generation. As a child, the story of Hansel and Gretel was something I heard before bedtime; however, now as I am about to graduate from college, reading this fable is not necessarily on my list of burning interest. The movie, however, is attempting to make their journey of life after the witch into something that is more relatable to the Twilight and Hunger Games generation that is yearning for vampires, death, and of course, some violence. In essence, I believe that movies and television have created a new form of fairy tales for the young adult generation. No longer do we await to hear a bedtime story, but now we become anxious with excitement at the thought of a midnight release.

While my thoughts on this spin of the classic tale range from interest to varying degrees of ridiculousness,  I admit while the premise of witch hunters is outlandish, modifying a tale to make it seem more current for an older generation is appealing. Movies such as this, among others, are giving an older generation a new way to enjoy their favorite stories, and if they add a couple twists like bounty hunting, then so be it.

And, for your viewing pleasure….

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Bluebeard and Violence: This Folktale is Not Yet Rated

Bluebeard, a French literary folktale, the most famous version written down by Charles Perrault, tells the haunting story of a violent aristocrat whose new wife discovers actual skeletons in his closet – the murdered bodies of his previous wives.

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Girl, I think the least of your problems is that his beard is blue.

Its classification of being a folktale shows that it was a story passed down by generations so it might not have been originally “marketed” towards children like other texts. The inclusion of a moral, and that it is classified alongside other fairytales, obviously leads to children reading or being exposed to the story. The discussion arose in class if a story where the protagonist finds a forbidden room where her new husband literally hangs the bloodied bodies of his previous wives is appropriate for children.  (It’s not!) One classmate cited that he had only heard of Bluebeard because he read Cracked.com’s “5 Grimm Fairytales You Should Only Read to Kids You Hate.”

Here’s the link: http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/5-grimm-fairy-tales-you-should-only-read-to-kids-you-hate/

So, if childhood is so sacred, why are we doing this to our kids? While parents probably would never read Bluebeard to their children as a bedtime story, they would read or allow their children to read equally violent stories. Children’s stories and fairytales are riddled with swordfights, bewitched hot iron shoes, and evil witches being thrown into ovens. A most recent young adult bestseller The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, has children as young as 12 fighting to their deaths in a televised contest.

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If you didn’t cry during this scene you’re a monster.

The hypocrisy that arises to me, however, is how other adult themes are extremely off limits to children. In class, we discussed how sexually advanced storylines like incest are banned because they can get too real. Isn’t the prospect of a serial killer rounding up bodies in his house a little too real? It is intriguing to think of the lengths parents go to suppress sexuality and other adult themes but are open to exposing children to violence based solely on the hierarchy of what society deems important.

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Fairy Tales for Twenty Somethings

Fairytalesfor20somethings.tumblr.com is a blog which takes fairy tales and modernizes them for the 21st Century.  The author updates both the characters and the problems for the “Disney Generation;” that is, those who grew up in the 1980’s and 90’s watching the approximately twenty animated films released by Disney during that period. (which was when the highest concentration of animated films came out, as well as when they were the most popular). In “Fairy Tales for 20 Somethings” technology replaces magical assistance in fairy tales.

The blog plays on the common fears and anxieties of ‘twenty-something’ adults to create stories about fairy tale heroes in the modern age in a similar manner to the universal fears found in traditional tales.

In this post,the author places Cinderella in the modern age, even saying that she has a Facebook. The author relates Cinderella to the reader by saying “sometimes she just had to write a Facebook status about how shitty her day was.”  This turns Cinderella into a twenty-something everyman—a figure instantly relatable to an audience member. This also makes the audience member relatable to Cinderella, fairy godmother, prince(ss), castle and all.  This idea of “I am just like a character in a fairy tale” is prevalent throughout the entire blog, but the blog expresses that by showing fairy tale characters attempting to deal with their problems without the aid of any magical assistance.  The idea that even fairy tale characters have the same or similar problems that we ourselves have seems to make our struggles less personal and more universal.

In this post, the iPhone feature “Siri” becomes a fairy godmother of sorts and gives Beauty advice on how to introduce Beast to her family. In this blog, technology replaces magical assistance as the third party which helps the protagonist accomplish dreams, or at least feel better.  The replacement of the magical figure with everyday technology shows that in the same way that the fairy tale figures have the same problems what we do, they also have the same resources for dealing with those problems, and reinforces the concept that they are relatable to the audience member, and makes the struggles less personal and more universal.

In the same way that the tales themselves have been modernized, the medium through which they are being conveyed has been modernized as well.  Throughout history, fairy tales were passed down through the oral tradition.  In the modern day, however, the closest thing that we have to the oral tradition is blogging—with the advent of the internet, people began writing and telling stories, and most of these people wrote the same way that they spoke. The oral tradition, then, lives on via the internet, even if the light of the campfire has been replaced by the light of the computer monitor.

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