Throughout the past few months in this course, I have learned a great deal of valuable information regarding fairytales and folktales that I will take with me throughout my life. By reading the original versions of numerous fairytales, and analyzing the viewpoints of numerous theorists, I have been able to create my own opinion about the value and importance of these fairy tales. In this paper, specifically, I will be discussing why fairytales matter, debriefing about a theorist we have talked about in class, discussing one concept of the course that surprised me, discussing one concept of the course I found most interesting, and lastly, giving suggestions for topics to discuss in upcoming classes.
The first topic I want to discuss is why fairytales matter. I believe that fairy tales do matter because of a variety of reasons. More specifically, I have found importance in these tales through my own experiences and readings this semester, most notably “Why Fairy Tales Matter” written by Maria Tatar. One example I can recall is from my childhood when I was five years old. Around this time, when I was still learning to read, I fell in love with the story of “The Three Little Pigs,”. Every night I would make my mom read this story to me until, eventually, I learned how to read it myself. This core memory of mine is just one example of how influential fairytales can be, especially in the childhood developmental years. One other place I have found importance in these tales is in the article “Why Fairy Tales Matter” by Maria Tatar. In this article, Tatar gives her opinion on the importance of fairytales and why we should keep telling them. One concept Tatar points out is that fairy tales in their purest forms “serve as portals to wonder worlds, to sites that combine danger and beauty in ways so alluring that they inspire the desire to wander into new imaginative domains” (Tatar 56). Once again highlighting their importance in childhood development, Tatar explains how fairytales and all forms of children’s literature allow for the stimulation of the imagination. Having tales that stimulate imagination allow for the development of children’s minds, aiding in the education of our younger generation. In Tatar’s words, “anything can happen” in fairy tales, and this uncertainty is what we love so much about them (Tatar 56). Through both my personal experiences, and the article by Maria Tatar, I have found great importance in fairytales, and I have realized just how much they matter in our society.
The second topic I want to discuss is about one of the most important theorists we have read about in our class this semester. Jack Zipes, in particular, has stood out to me during these past few months. First off, his article called “Breaking the Disney Spell” resonated with me in various ways. In this text, Zipes discusses how powerful Disney’s interpretation of fairy tales are and how they have shaped the way we view these classic tales. Zipes asks questions like “what does the Disney spell mean” to make us think about why we are so impacted by the Disney movies (Zipes 333). Additionally, Zipes takes us through the different stages of fairy tales, explaining how and why changes have been made to the tales over time. More importantly, in my opinion, Zipes discusses the notable differences between the Disney and Grimms versions of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. Zipes explains how Disney took the original German version of the tale and “transformed it into something peculiarly American” (Zipes 347). Some specific differences between the two versions include the anthropomorphism of animals and the addition of names for the dwarfs in the Disney version (Zipes 347). This article particularly resonated with me because it reminded me of how much I used to love Disney movies. When I was younger, in addition to reading, my mom would watch movies with me, specifically Disney movies. In fact, the first Disney movie I ever saw was “Princess and the Frog”. Sitting in the movie theater, I was captivated by the bright colors and exciting music that was featured in the film. The Zipes article made me realize just how much I was personally affected by the “Disney spell” (Zipes 333). These bright and exciting details that were added to the Disney film were aimed towards children in order to get them interested in these tales. I believe Zipes helped me the most to understand fairy tales because he informed me about my own experiences, and in turn, I was able to more accurately understand the themes and lessons behind all of the tales.
One thing I have learned in this class that surprised me was the vast number of sexual undertones in many of the original versions of fairy tales. One example comes to mind: “Little Red Riding Hood”. When we first read this tale, I was expecting to read a happy tale about a little girl who journeys through the forest to her grandmother’s house. I was extremely surprised to learn how much the little girl is sexualized by the wolf. In one version we read, the wolf tells the girl to take off all of her clothes and get into bed with him. This element of the story was very unnecessary, and I believe it is a reflection of the views of the time period in which it was written. As we learned early in the class, the Grimms collection of tales were called “Children’s and Household Tales”. This name was used to show that the stories were written for both children and adults alike. The sexual undertones in many of these tales, thus, were included to add an adult element to the tales. They were added to make the stories interesting for the older population. No matter the reason, these undertones completely surprised me and made me think more about the possible undertones in other tales I have read.
In this course I was most interested in the tale of “Bluebeard”. Before taking this class, I had never read these tales before, so reading them was a new adventure for me. The tale of “Bluebeard” details the life of a wealthy king cursed with a strange blue colored beard who can’t seem to keep a wife. The king had many wives over the years but each one had disappeared mysteriously. Eventually, after many years of loneliness, the king finally got remarried to the daughter of a nobleman. One day while the king was out on business, he gave his wife the keys to all of the rooms in the castle. His only rule was that she could not unlock the door to the secret closet. Bluebeard’s wife, like many other fairy tale protagonists before her, let her curiosity get the best of her and she unlocked the forbidden room to find the murdered bodies of all of Bluebeard’s past wives. After discovering the gruesome secret, the wife tried to hide the evidence by putting the key back but, unfortunately, it was permanently stained with blood. Upon Bluebeard’s arrival at the castle, he found the blood splattered key and immediately threatened to kill his wife for disobeying him. Luckily, the wife’s brothers came to her rescue and killed Bluebeard in an act of revenge. I found this story to be the most interesting of the tales we read in class because of the sheer amount of gory subject matter that it incorporates. Before taking this course, I thought that all fairytales were only made for children. After reading the tales in this course, it has become clear that many of our most widely known tales were originally written with adult audiences in mind. This story interested me the most because it changed my entire outlook on the genre of fairy tales.
One thing I believe the class should focus on in the future is a feminist view of fairytales. We talked briefly about the idea of sexism in fairy tales in our discussion about Jack Zipes, but I believe that future students in this class could benefit from learning about all the ways our famous fairy tales have been specifically curated to perpetrate patriarchal attitudes into our society. By learning about the issue of sexism more thoroughly, we can learn not only about our society and why it works the way it does, but we can also learn how to be aware of this sexism and how to avoid it while reading these tales. One other specific thing I believe should be taught in this course is the effect that reading fairy tales has on the average reading level of elementary-aged children. Reflecting on my story about “The Three Little Pigs,” I think it would be interesting to learn more about the effect reading fairy tales has on the brains of children. Although this is a very specific topic, I think it would be interesting to learn about how reading this story as a child affected the development of my brain. I believe that incorporating these two topics into the future classes would allow for more complex discussions to be had.
All in all, I believe that this course has been extremely influential in many different ways. Whether it be through reading a plethora of tales, or learning about the viewpoints of numerous theorists, I can confidently say that this course has completely changed my outlook on the topic of fairytales and has given me knowledge that I will take with me for years to come. Although there were one or two things that could have been added to the course, I was still surprised and interested by multiple things, and I believe that this class is worthwhile for any student to take.
Tatar, Maria. “Why Fairy Tales Matter.” Western States Folklore Society, pp. 55-64.
Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Disney Spell. 1984.