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.

 

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Caution Kids: Dancing in Red Shoes May Cause Death (or psychosis).

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At the end of a comment I made on a blog post from last week, I happened to mention that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes (1845) was adapted into a horror film by South Korean director Kim Yong-gyun, who was inspired by Andersen’s tale. After I posted the comment, I actually watched the film and realized that this reimagining encapsulated a lot of the same themes as the fairy tale, and even subtly included moral messages.

The film revolves around a recently separated wife and her daughter. The mother (Sun-Jae) stumbles upon a pair of cursed pink high heels, which are so intriguing that she snatches them off of the subway platform and runs home with them. She soon comes to find out that her daughter (Tae-Soo) has become frighteningly obsessive over the shoes, which leads her mother to do some investigation of the cause of the shoes power. She then discovers that although the original owner of the shoes escape from harm, the person who takes them will die with their feet chopped off.

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Throughout the film, there is a lot of conflict between the mother and daughter. Tae-Soo knew about her father’s infidelity and immediately began to disobey her mother. The shoes, acting as a catalyst for Tae-Soo’s erratic behavior, push things farther (and add an essential horrifying element). The shoes also affect the character’s normal psyche by compelling them to act outside of their nature. The mother becomes more and more aggressive with her increasingly rebellious child.

Morality comes along after the shoes do the bidding. The shoes act in revenge against the “thief,” and forces them to repent for their sin (via payment by bloodshed). This is not too far from Andersen’s tale, which ends with young Karen having her feet chopped off by the executioner. Towards the end of the film, the mother realizes that this–in theory–inanimate object has warped her sense of priority: as a mother, as a friend, and as a human being.

Sun-jae: [Angry] Mommy loves Tae-soo very much… But mommy really hates when Tae-soo lies.
Tae-su: [Crying] It’s not a lie! Daddy really came! He said he’s too cold and to take him out!
Sun-jae: [Angry] Don’t lie to me!… I told you that daddy couldn’t come here. How can he? I told you he can’t come here, so how could he? How can he?… Why did you lie? Why did you lie?

I was overall impressed with how the film combined elements from a child’s fairy tale into a more adult themed movie. Although both versions can be considered “horror,” the familial themes and morals faced are still relevant today.

 

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Little Red Riding Hood: Choosing the Right Path

After reading the stories regarding “Little Red Riding Hood,” I was really surprised about the underlying themes of sexuality and morality that I had completely overlooked when I was younger.  I simply remembered the story in terms of the lesson: don’t talk to strangers. However, now, I see much more complex and deeper aspects – specifically, the recurring image of choosing the right path.

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I was extremely taken aback by “The Story of Grandmother.” I had never read this version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and I seriously question if this particular story should be read to children. After eating the meat of her dead grandmother, Red Riding Hood removes all her clothing and actually climbs naked into bed with the wolf. Clearly, there is the implicit notion of sex and the danger of men. Although Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” does not involve the removal of clothing, the little girl does indeed climb into bed with the wolf and ends up being devoured by the beast. Again, the wolf entices (more like seduces) the young girl into bed with him.

In both of these tales, I found it interesting that they included the notion of “paths.” The wolf asks Red Riding Hood which path she will be taking to go to her Granny’s house. She divulges her route and the wolf arrives at the home before her. In my opinion, these repeated ideas of “paths” symbolizes morality and choosing the correct way of life. Unfortunately, Little Red Riding Hood strays from the path of righteousness, loses her innocence, and gets punished by the wolf. This notion of being a good, virtuous girl is also found in Grimm’s version. Red Riding Hood does not follow her mother’s rules and wanders off the path. She is again consumed by the wolf and regrets not listening to her mother.

Generally, I was taught the moral of “Little Red Riding Hood” was do not talk to strangers. Now, I see that there are much more complex implications: the dangers of men, loss of innocence, immorality and sexuality, importance of obeying one’s parents, and choosing the righteous path. This article also explores some more complex meanings in “Little Red Riding Hood.” What I once thought was a cut and dry, simple tale is actually a very significant story with very intricate meanings.

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