Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Will the Modern Faerie Tale Be?

The original Grimm's fairy tales were Grim indeed and highly criticized for their far too adult nature. Snow White was raped by the seven dwarfs. Sleeping beauty was penetrated by the prince and gave birth in her sleep, then she was deceived and tortured by the Prince's real wife.

In the original novel, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame," which I read when I was in high school, Esmarelda is hanged. Her love interest is already betrothed to another woman and he ends up marrying someone else. Again, the beautiful Ingenue is doomed.

In Hans Christian Anderson's "A Little Mermaid," the mermaid loses. The prince marries someone else and because she refuses to kill him, as the sea witch demands in exchange for her life, the Little Mermaid dissolves into the air.

None of these heroine's live happily ever after. The lesson to young women seemed to be that life is harsh. Love hurts and you don't always get the man you love. Many of Grimm's fairy tales showed the cruelty of men and wolves and how girls who journey outside the comfort of their homes have nothing but hardship ahead of them.

The 20th century ushered in a new age where these fairy tales were softened in order to relieve children from nightmares and inspire them to a gentler type of magic where the lines between good and evil became clearer. The Princes all became charming and nice. It was the age of being a gentleman and young girls would dream of how prince charming would  rescue them from a world of cruelty.

Yet, what gets me about this era is how the heroines still needed a man to save them from their miserable situations and this ushered in a generation of women who, though they wouldn't always accept abuse as the way of the world, they did have a new version of romance. These girls were led to believe that they couldn't be happy until they found that perfect man. That  man would be a prince, already well to do and perfect in every other way. She will be looking for this ideal in a man, expecting him to sweep her off her feet and save her from whatever kind of life she wanted to walk away from. Snow white, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were helpless without their prince but he would eventually reward them for being kind, submissive and gentle. As long as they didn't ruffle anyone else's feathers, they would be rewarded by a man who would rescue them because they were "nice."

One of the last great renditions of a fairie tale from this era was Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" which was released in 1991, near the end of the millennium. This movie shows us one of the best renditions of Stockholm syndrome I've ever seen. Bell's father is kidnapped by a beast but she offers him to take her instead. Although the beast can be cruel, she sees his softer side and falls in love with him. As sweet as this movie was, one can't help thinking, is Disney saying that its romantic to fall in love with one's kidnapper?

I look at the 20th century as a time when women were expected to be submissive and unable to solve their own problems without waiting for a man to come along. To me Cinderella is the epitome of this ideal. You have a woman who is treated unfairly and abused by her step mother and sisters. She is too "nice" to stand up for herself but is luckly enough to have a fairy Godmother save her so she can find a Prince to marry her. Why can't Cinderella just leave and find a job? Why doesn't she just stand up for herself? Instead, she does what an adult friend once advised me to never do when I was a teenager. She went from the frying pan into the fire. She used a man to get her out of her situation.
The fairy tales of the 20th century seemed to say that women will always be slaves to their situations and nothing without a man in their life.

This helplessness doesn't become apparent until someone from a different generation takes a note of it. Just as people living in today's culture are shocked and offended by the original violent fairy tales of the Brother's Grimm, children of today's generation are starting to find the fairy tales of the 20th century a bit strange. At a time when the bad ass woman is getting all the glory, the classic princesses are losing their appeal.

A while back, I rented the movie, "A Princess Bride," a brilliant classic fairy tale full of sword fights, great dialogue and love. While my son did love the movie, he was frustrated with the princess. "Why is she so weak?" he asked. "Why doesn't she help the man fight that giant rat? Why is she incapable of using that stick?"
This is coming from a boy who's mother studies martial arts and who's role model was Sarah Conner from "The Terminator Saga."

Thank God! I say. We must raise our children with self empowering ideals. Just as men are raised with classic virtues of knighthood, shouldn't women start learning to be strong and be the change they wish to see in the world? Aren't women just as capable as men of changing their circumstance and being heroes? What happens to a woman who depends on a man for everything? What if the man can't do it all? What if the Prince turns out to be a troll? What if he dies? What if her relationships aren't based on real love and respect, but on dependency and desperation? Are we to teach out daughters that their only option is to dwell in darkness until their prince saves them? Are we to live in a society where populations of women are unable to contribute but sit idly by? The ingenues of today's fairy tales are helping to slay the dragons. They have drive, spunk and courage. They don't wait for things to change. They look for solutions. I like to think that today's woman doesn't get her self confidence from feeling "pretty" but from being a total bad ass.


  1. Good post, +Lacey Reah. This change is as inevitable as it is urgent. I wouldn't go as far as defending that heroines should be «bad ass», but the trend is indeed to portray female characters as independent, self-reliant and good team-workers. The latter trait, i.e being able to cooperate and collaborate with others is, however, the trait that I tend to highlight in each of my stories. Paula

    1. Hi Paula!
      Thanks for stopping by. Of course, when I said "bad ass," I was using it in context as a catch phrase that meant capable and strong. I've met so many women tell me that wanting to be physically appealing has been the source of great insecurity and I think that creating a feminine culture around the Disney Princesses doesn't help this situation. Today, more and more women are writing. When I started off as a playwrite, I was young and also an actress. I was disturbed by how men liked to portray attractive women my age. It was as if we had no brains and no depth. I made it a point to always write strong and complex female characters. As female authors, I think we all see this as an urgent need. When we can work well with others, be a capable member of society and find solutions to problems, we gain confidence. Keep up the good work!

    2. I really like the insight about physical attractiveness turning into a liability, and also share your role model in Sarah Conner and bad ass women in general. I still believe it would be nice to have Madame Clinton as President, because i consider her a bad ass woman with an incredible work ethic. xx

    3. Hi Katya!
      Great to see you here. Bad ass women rock. ;)