LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Fairy Tales and Disney Tales: the Goblin known as Walt

The Princess and the Goblin is an interesting progression for fairy tales as the idea of a female protagonist is not only represented in this text, but the story also implores the idea that the other main characters who greatly affect this story’s development are also women. In class, we were able to spend an ample amount of time highlighting the qualities of five women who demonstrated their influence on the story. Coincidentally enough, this movie, not created though the somewhat less than imaginative mind of Walt Disney, was not very popular with audiences, such as Beauty and the Beast, which was also produced in the same yearWhat does this say about the power that Disney holds over popular culture regarding how an animated fairy tale should be viewed and critiqued? Walt Disney is anything but the model for feminism and as a result, the criticism regarding his chauvinistic tendencies in practically every one of his movies becomes more of a focus even decades after his death.

While I cannot argue that Mr. Disney did not find merit in the fairy tale of Princess Irene, it can be demonstrated through his inability of focusing on strong female protagonists and his display of women in his films, that he could have possibly been deterred from producing a film that was centered on women. In The Princess and the Goblin, the King is absent for majority of the book, and the only other real strong male character is Curdie, who while helps save the Princess, is only a supporting character to the illustrious Irene.

When the movie of The Princess and the Goblin came out in 1991, it was competing with the Disney classic film, Beauty and the Beastand we all know how that turned out. Princess Irene got lost in the castle along with poor Chip in the cupboard and was hardly a thought in the realm of Belle and the Beast.

The author of The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald, was beginning a new focus of fairy tales, which included women in a more commanding role; however, as Jack Zipes wrote in his piece Breaking the Disney Spell, Disney has a way of “chang[ing] [fairy tales] completely to suit his tastes and beliefs” (Zipes, 347). Zipes specifically looks at how Disney portrayed the film version of Snow White, but much of what he says applies to practically every movie that deals with a Disney princess. In the Grimms’ version of Snow White there is “the sentimental death of [Snow White’s] mother”, however this just so happens to be left out of Mr. Disney’s portrayal of the film (Zipes, 347). Instead, his story centered on the romance with the Prince, who of course enters on a white horse as Snow’s very own prince charming. Snow White lies lifeless in the end of the film until this man can come rescue her. As Zipes states concisely, the “film follows the classic ‘sexist’ narrative about the framing of women’s lives through a male discourse” (Zipes, 348). “Despite [the] beauty and charm” of the princesses in Disney’s films, “these figures are pale and pathetic compared to the more active and demonic characters in the film” (Zipes 349).

Princess Irene does not fill this archetype of the domestic woman, whose motive is purely as an accessory to a man. She is strong-willed, independent, and uses her title as princess to implore power, rather than subservience. Why then was the film of her journey unfavorable? The answer to this question is certainly perplexing, and unfortunately, I am not sure I will find the answer any time soon. But I feel I am more hopeful than most in thinking that as a society we will all be able to fight back against the patriarchal goblin that Disney has created in order to demonstrate a more balanced approach to the contributions of both women and men in fairy-tales.



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.


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.


Tale as old as time

A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.”Beauty and the Beast” does indeed seem to have been a part of human culture for hundreds of years, whether you’re looking at the ancient story of “Cupid and Psyche” or the beloved Disney film. But why has this story survived so long and in fact become an ingrained part of our culture? At its basis the story follows the path of having a lovely youth be taken into the possession of something Other. Then they are eventually married and depending on the version they either live happily ever after or the youth is in some way separated from their beloved. Not exactly a complicated plot but maybe its beauty lies in its simplicity. Every girl can imagine the horror of being forced to marry, or even just date, someone they don’t like and this lets the story become relatable by reflecting that fear and showing how it can be false. The story endears itself by allowing the reader to put themselves into the shoes of the beauty and have them overcome this fear alongside the beauty. At least on one front this may explain the continued success of “Beauty and the Beast” but is it still portrayed this way in popular culture?

The most widely recognized version of “Beauty and the Beast” is by far the animated film by Disney. This film features a plucky young girl who’s longing for adventure is only matched by her love for reading. Belle, through a series of mishaps, seeks out her father at the Beast’s castle and trades away her life for his, keeping with Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast”. There Belle and the Beast slowly build a friendship and to the hope of the cast of household furniture the beginnings of love. Let’s be honest though, a guy gives you sweet library like that, what can you do?

Seriously, sign me up.

So they start crushing on each other a bit when Belle is forced to leave to go to her sick father’s side. Then a few more mishaps occur to Belle, her father, and the Beast due to Disney’s addition of a villain, Gaston,  an arrogant man whom once spurned by Belle now seeks to… kill the beast and win Belle’s hand? Get more horns for decorating purposes? Oh well, what’s a fairy tale without a good villain? The Beast is stabbed by Gaston who then plummets to his death while Belle professes her love to the Beast. This love then saves him and allows him to transform back to human form. So Belle and the Prince formerly known as Beast are presumably married and live happily ever after.

“Beauty and the Beast” is also thriving on TV. The CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a crime drama where Beauty is a detective at the New York Police Department named Catherine and the beast is a soldier from Afghanistan named Vincent. Vincent is experimented on by the US government in their quest to create the super soldier. This experiment backfires and makes him beastly. You can find the trailer for this show here. Catherine witnessed her mother’s murder by criminals who then attempted to murder her but instead she is saved by what Catherine describes as a Beast. And so their relationship begins. Throughout the show’s first season Vincent and Catherine have a  tense relationship on the brink of romance while Catherine also solves crimes using the information Vincent gathers. The show doesn’t follow the classic Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” but it does involve a young beauty who looks past the monstrous qualities of a man to see his true self. As the show continues it will be interesting how they continue to handle the fairy tale concept.

This story has also been retold numerous times in books, such as Beastly by Alex Flinn and Robin Mckinley has done multiple retellings titled Rose Daughter and Beauty.  Beastly tells “Beauty and the Beast” through the eyes of the Beast from his cursing to his salvation. Beastly was also adapted into a movie. Robin McKinley’s novels tell the tale in a very similar way to Mme. de Beaumont with some modification and elaboration. McKinley really fleshes out the characters and I appreciated that the two sisters were more than an evil plot device and instead were individual women with pride and imperfections. Also her version of Beauty was no longer an annoyingly perfect girl with more virtue than anyone one person should have; she has a personality and ideas, no longer accepting her fate because that’s apparently how you prove your love in fairy tales. Personally I liked Rose Daughter the best of these three versions but they all provide an interesting take on the classic fairy tale.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

“Beauty and the Beast” is an extremely popular story that has been engraved on the hearts of hundreds and hundreds of people, whether it was their love for one of the original versions of the tale or that Belle and her Beast captured their hearts. It has been retold and re-imagined countless times. Here I barely even scratched the surface of influence in pop culture but it does give you some idea of how varied it’s reach is. I’ll leave you with the most recent reference to it that I can think of:  Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat”, a play on words that may not actually have anything to do with the fairy tale but I think it’s entertaining to see how these stories can be bent and changed to suit our society and culture.

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