1. The Idea of Naming
Unique names and titles contribute greatly to the success of fairytales. In classic fairytales, readers identify the protagonist as an icon, rather than a requisite to push the plot. Timeless “appellations,” such as “Cinderella,” “The Little Red Ridinghood,” “Snow White,” “Blue Beard,” etc. inheritably connect to public impression. Nowadays, every name has a story behind it, and the name itself is a story. In general, classical fairytale names feature descriptive adjectives, especially colors, which directly refer to the protagonist’s physical characteristic.
As a result, names sound both natural and indigenous that readers can easily remember.
Thanks to the widely recognized popularity, these vivid appellations now become universal symbols. For example, “Snow White” denotes unsurpassable beauty rather than a beautiful child “as white as snow.” In addition, “Cinderella” literally addresses to a maiden who works all day long in “cinder,” while nowadays the appellation represents any girl who successfully achieves materialistic progress through marriage, such as Princess Kate.
Furthermore, these lively descriptive dictions greatly impact fashion and entertainment industry nowadays; Recently, Christian Louboutin, the famous shoe designer known for his trademark red soles, announced his latest challenge: to design a pair of modern glass slippers since woman has been longing for centuries to find a perfect fit. Names in classic fairytales serve more than a reference to the character, but an idol to carry the timeless stories forward. However, compared to the straightforward names in classics, modern fairytale names feature simplicity and artificial symbolization.
For more recent days, fairytale writers tend to simplify the names but focus more on the storylines themselves.
Hans Christian Anderson, the celebrated fairytales authors in 19th century, emphasizes on the character’s identity such as “the little Mermaid, ” “The little match girl,” “Princess on the peas” instead of detailed physical descriptions. Another 19th century writer, Oscar Wilde also adopts straightforward appellations such as “the Giant,” “The happy prince” that inevitably weaken the visual impact on readers.
However, the simplicity contributes greatly to the story telling itself, since readers now pay more attention to the plot. People memorize the happy princess as a selfless donor rather than a beautiful, grandeur statue. Also, the “little match girl” from Anderson wins worldwide sympathy not for the fact she sells matches, but for the suffering. Thus, during the 19th to 20th century, fairytale names move toward simplification and frankness.
Furthermore, in contemporary works such as Judy Budnitz’s Flying Leap and Donald Barthelme’s Snow White, writers either artificially embody names with symbolization, or utilize names as agent numbers. For example, in Judy Budnitz’s Hershel, readers intuitively connect the protagonist Hershel, who sells baby as a product through baking them in the oven, to the Hershey chocolate factory. What would happen if technologies allow human to reproduce as baking chocolates?
On the other hand, names do not necessarily convey any information of the character. Barthelme assigns random names to the seven dwarfs such as Kevin, Edward, Huburt, etc. in Snow White that carry few significant annotations but effectively smooth the story telling. Thus, in modern days, authors add an artificial flavor to fairytale names that either designed for clarification purposes or for intentional symbolization. As a result, the impact of names gradually deceases from classics to modern works, since modern writers tend to focus more on the ideas rather than to establish a universally recognized icon.
5. Fairytale Family Tree
Although most fairytales initially contain violence, cruelty, and sexual descriptions, modern readers intuitively associate fairytales with a perfect heaven-like world. Why? Throughout the past three hundred years, writers, producers, and scholars gradually collaborate to not only remove the dark side of fairytales, but also invest heavily on comic elements to win popularity. As a result, from traditional Perrault to innovative Shrek, modern fairytale reinterpretations celebrate laughter, humor, and optimism to a dramatic extent.
As the first person to mark fairytales as a new genre, Perrault maintains most of the violence, sexual inference, and tragic endings in Tale of Mother Goose. However, he attempts to draw a moral lesson from each story, especially those with a sad ending. As a result, these comments provide valuable relief to readers.
For example, in Little Red Ridinghood, Perrault warns children against the danger of “talking to strangers.” Thanks to the warning, children would fear less of the unpredictable death− swallowed by a wolf, but behave cautiously in real life. Obviously, although pessimistic elements inevitably accompany some fairytales, storytellers endeavor to restore the belief of ultimate truth, happiness, and beauty in the end.
Following Perrault’s trend, Grimm Brothers deliberately minimizes the number of gloomy fairytale endings. Despite the remaining violence, almost all the princes and princesses symbolically “live happily ever after.” Since Grimm brothers target children as the major readers, they offer immediate satisfaction to intensify the optimism−originated from Perrault’s moral lessons. As a result, in Grimm Brother’s version, little red ridinghood successfully rescues her grandma as well as defeats the wolf through the hunter’s assistance. Along with Grimm Brother’s efforts, modern movie productions, especially the Walt Disney productions, further strengthen the delightful side in fairytales that elevate the genre as a symbolization of the ideal world.
Thanks to the overwhelming influence of Disney productions, fairytales win the favor of children and parents from all walks of life. In addition to the ultimate happy ending, Disney eliminates most of the bloody scenes in movies. For example, in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the evil queen falls off the cliff instead of dancing until death on iron slippers.
Thanks to Disney’s emphasis on the bright side, most antagonists receive reduced punishments. Moreover, Disney introduces music, funny appellations, and humanlike animal figures to promote the comical atmosphere. For the first time, producers assign distinguishable names, such as “Sleepy,” “Happy,” to the seven dwarfs in the Snow White movie. As a result, Disney movies root deeply in children’s hearts with a perfectly moral kingdom.
Furthermore, modern artists seek innovations to alleviate the struggle on the protagonists’ quest in Disney movies; indeed, every moment should bring laughter instead of nervousness to the audience. In addition to the removal of violence, films and productions such as Shrek and Into the woods totally renovate the storyline. No longer serving as the puppets under writers’ manipulation, fairytale characters start to reflect, comment, and even tease each other in a good nature. Undeniably, worldwide audience celebrates the humor when the green ogre Shrek awkwardly kisses the green princess Fiona, proven by Shrek’s commercial and critical success. Based on Disney’s illusion of a perfect world, modern producers further reduce the struggles but laugh at the hardship into lighthearted humor.
Overall, through Perrault, Grimm Brother, Disney and contemporary producers’ efforts, worldwide children and parents regard fairytales as the ultimate relief of the real world. Gradually moving away from the dark sides, fairytale nowadays celebrate love, trust, truth and most importantly, humor.
6. Dorian Gray and Budnitz’s stories, fairytales or not?
According to Bruno Bettelheim’s definition, Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde hardly meets the qualifications of fairytales. For Bettelheim, fairytale must provide security to readers by directly addressing to the “existential anxieties and dilemmas,” while Dorian Gray fails to offer such assurance. Instead, Wilde industriously portrays the dark side of human psyche. Also, Bettelheim regards fairytale as a reflection of growth and maturity. However, Dorian Gray obviously never grows up but dies of self-obsession. In fact, Oscar Wilde focuses on Dorian’s struggle to fight against the physical aging process rather than addresses to spiritual awakening. Although Dorian sacrifices his soul in exchange of forever youth and beauty, the eventual punishment fails to show any lessons of struggle.
Dorian not only fails to achieve salvation through good deeds, but also shows no regrets of the evil trade. Thus, Bettelheim would very likely dismiss the proposal of categorizing Dorian Gray as a fairytale. In addition, Bettelheim’s theory states that fairytales respond to “the desperate feelings of loneliness and isolation” rather than narcissism or hedonism. As an aristocrat, Dorian Gray enjoys both materialistic affluence and spiritual fulfillment. Physical beauty effortlessly wins Dorian the love from the upper class under the setting of Victorian London. Especially the appreciation from Lord Henry greatly satisfies Dorian’s self-pride.
Thus, Dorian suffers from neither loneliness nor isolation as Bettelheim highlighted but self-obsession. Moreover, Dorian lacks adventures into the world since he mostly struggles against internal human greed, violating Bettelheim’s belief of “only by going out into the cord…can find himself…and others live happily ever after.” Furthermore, Dorian Gray’s interaction with the outside world only intensifies his self-obsession, as the crowd incessantly celebrating his beauty. As a result, Dorian Gray only portrays the dark side of human psyche without suggesting any lessons about maturity and growth. On the other hand, Budnitz’s short stories satisfy partially Bettelheim’s expectation of fairytales, but still fail to generate a valuable lesson for adult to learn and grow. For example, Barren directly addresses to the insecurity of adult world: what would happen if human suddenly lose the capability to raise children?
However, the story itself fails to provide assurance and relief. In Barren, despite countless endeavor to make babies, humans achieve no progress. The protagonists “go out into the world” for solutions, for example adopting babies in China and Indian and orphans and sex. However, they return with disappointment and panic. Babies eventually re-appear not because of human’s efforts, but of the invisible hands of fate. Under Bettelheim’s theory, fairytales suppose to show children that “if one does not shy away from severe difficulties…but steadfastly meets unexpected…masters all obstacles and emerges victorious…” Unfortunately, Budnitz not only rings the alert of the danger of generation gaps, but also eliminates the optimism.
Compared to fate, human efforts appear so fragile that even the most fundamental ability of reproduction faces the danger. As a result, at the end of the story, readers close the book with unprecedented fear rather than relief. Furthermore, even happy endings do not fully represent fairytales under Bettelheim’s theory. Although stories such as Direction provide a happy reunion, the story itself fails to articulate how to achieve such success.
Even old magic provides the readers something to believe, instead of the absolute randomness. Compared to traditional fairytales, Budnitz’s stories leave the readers with too many concerns shadowing the satisfaction. Obviously, Bettelheim would not agree with such incompleteness. Instead, he would probably classify Budnitz’s stories as modern fables since they do teach a meaningful lesson to the readers. 7. Ownership of fairytales
As fairytales evolve throughout history, every generation has a unique interpretation. Obviously, Disney productions dominate the modern fairytale interpretation, for children recognize the little mermaid as “Ariel” and Beauty as “Bella.” Understandably, critics such as Jack Zipes express blatant jealousy towards Disney’s success by charging that the animation giant “has attempted to fix them in our minds.”
However, in the modern era, Disney movies achieve unprecedented popularity only because they capture the value of modern audience most successfully. Through animations, pillow books, toys, and Disneyland, Disney creates a universal fairytale kingdom with followers in every age group. Although Disney heavily emphasizes on American dream such as affluence, humor, endeavor, and perseverance, the cartoons cross the culture boundary and win recognition all over the world. After all, if Disney does own a monopoly, it is the readers themselves that voluntarily allow Disney characters to root in their minds as fairytale stereotypes.
In addition, Disney domination not necessarily sentences the death of other fairytale interpretations. Beyond the Disney stereotypes, Anne Sexton’s Transformation and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Enchant of Fairytales revolutionize my impression of fairytales in the semester, especially the brilliant comments by Sexton. As a huge Disney lover, I never doubt the beauty of fairytale imaginaries.
However, lines such as “The two sisters came to curry favor/and the white dove pecked their eyes out/two hollow spots were left/like soup spoons/” and “like two dolls in a museum case/never bothered by diapers or dust” in Cinderella add an intrinsic flavor of the real world imperfection into the Disney kingdom. Too many marriages end up with arguments. Maybe the relationship was as perfect as Cinderella and the Prince’s, but what daily arguments actually ruin the sweetness? Or perfect marriage only lasts in the museum case? Although readers frequently seek an idealistic escape in fairytales, such sarcastic comments actually provide an insightful reflection over the real life conflicts.
Compared to Sexton’s abrupt commentary, Bettelheim explores the symbolic interpretation of fairytales under logics. In the past, fairytales bring nothing more than happiness, spiritual fulfillment, and moments of relaxation. However, Bettelheim’s The Enchant of Fairytales connects the most straightforward stories to the sophistication of literature. Every character symbolizes a group of children; every adventure teaches a lesson; every journey leads to growth. Most importantly, through Bettelheim’s psychological analysis, the seemingly artificial explanation indeed collaborates into a well-developed theory. For example, Bettelheim interprets the deprivation of the cow as a turning point for Jack to “encounter the world” and “do it by himself.”
Also, the symbolization “gold” as pure wealth, “golden eggs” as the importance of producing wealth, and “golden harp” as “beauty,” or “higher things in life” totally fascinate me. As a result, Bettelheim’s logical analysis overrides my impression from Disney; for the first time that I realize that fairytales can suggest more than dream, but the complete process of growth and maturity as well. In addition, Bettelheim’s theory about the quest into the woods in pursuit of success arouses my personal memory.
As an international student, studying abroad itself simulates the adventure. Maybe I am the Hansel or Gretal who fights for survival? Or maybe I am the Jack who climbs into the sky for wealth, recognition, and maturity? Fairytales serve as a reminder of the dream. Undeniably, audience cherishes Disney stories for the vivid visualization of fairytale characters, the celebration of success, or a moment of relief. However, insightful comments in Sexton and Bettelheim also provide an alternative view: rather than stories for entertainment, fairytales open an encyclopedia that guides the path to maturity.