Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Modern Fairy Tales"

It seems everywhere I turn lately, I see another trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman. It has me thinking about the general idea of modern interpretations of a fairy tales.

There are different ways that these interpretations can work. They can try and tell the story in its original way. Or they can add twists like this movie will be doing, or like Ever After does. Or they can be removed to a different time and setting, like Enchanted or the ten movies named some variation of Another Cinderella Story. The latter two ways are something like inverted the fairy tale.

I say this because fairy tales represent aspects of their cultures, maybe in more or less abstract ways and often in changing ways. Snow White can stand for a complacent woman waiting for the marriage that will define her life, or she can be a patient and ingenuous person maintaining hope for better times. The fairy tale acts as a kind of carrier for ideas like this. But when we reinterpret fairy tales, we pull out certain aspects of it and put those into a new picture. Probably we are taking out from the original the pieces that feel most applicable to ourselves, but still we are not really making another fairy tale. It's still just inspired by a fairy tale. It has something of the abstract nature of fairy tales taken away, and it didn't form as part of a natural process (that no one remembers). We can track the progress of the creation of Snow White and the Huntsman or Enchanted, but not of the original Snow White or Cinderella tales (maybe of recordings of them, but their actual first origins).

But I don't mean to say that fairy tales are never intentional. It's a complicated thing to define a fairy tale; Tolkien, though, describes them quite well in his article "On Fairy-Stories."

I think my main point is that "modern fairy tales" aren't so much stand-alone fairy tales as they are conversations with the collective body of fairy stories. They're one person's (or one group's) take on what all these stories or versions of stories say, mean to say, should say, or could say.

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