I was chatting on the phone with a friend on Friday and he asked me if I believed in fairy tales. I deflected the question onto, “What do you mean by ‘believe in fairy tales’?” Because it really is a deeper, more complex question than it seems on the surface. Usually, people think of believing in fairy tales as romantic daydreams all day long and a “happily ever after” at the end of every story.
But I’ve read fairy tales. In most of them, you go through hell several times over before getting to a happy ending (see the Handless Princess tales for one example). And sometimes there is no happy ending at all and they end with death or maiming or losing everything you love (such as when The Little Mermaid dissolves into sea foam).
So I’m not sure what to answer when asked if I believe in fairy tales (though I did have a good laugh after our conversion, when I realized I’d been wearing a shirt that says “I believe in fairy tales”). However, I suppose the short version would be to simply answer “yes” to any version of the question.
- Do I believe in happily ever afters? yes, but only if 1) you work to make it happen and stay committed to falling in love with that person the rest of your life, or 2) if we’re talking about the Christian hope of spending eternity with God as Jesus’ bride.
- Do you believe life can be cruel and horrible before you get a happy ending? Certainly. In fact, I’d say it’s much more rare to get happiness without having some kind of trial first. And without the contrast of highs and lows, I doubt we could truly appreciate the good things.
- Do you believe happy endings aren’t guaranteed and life can feel senseless and hopeless? Yes. I’ve lost two friends close to my age to suicide, one to a car accident, and one to an illness. In my local church group, several families have lost young children or have kids and grandkids battling horrible illnesses. Sometimes there’s just no good explanation for why things turn out the way they do.
All too often, people dismiss fairy tales as out-dated children’s tales that teach things irrelevant to the modern world. I’ve heard the heroines are too passive, the dark tales too dark, the happy tales too unrealistic, the messages outdated. But I would argue the complicated nature of fairy tales is the aspect most relevant today.
Taken as a whole, fairy tales refuse to see life as easily explained. They present the strangeness, complexity, and downright cruelty of life in a stripped-down story form that refuses to be brushed aside. And many do earn their reputation for ending “happily ever after” because even after all the terrible things that happen they insist on hope. And that’s why I believe in fairy tales. I believe in the magic of storytelling, it’s power to hold a mirror up to our world, and our deep need for fantasy that illuminates reality. And I believe that in a world which refuses to make sense we need a hope that defies logic just as persistently.
Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale. Favorite Disney movie, favorite Robin McKinley fairy tale retelling, favorite original tale … basically, I’m a fan. So you can imagine that I was beside myself excited when Disney announced their live-action remake of my favorite fairy tale. And yesterday, I finally got to see it.
It’s been a while since I wrote about fairy tales, so many of you probably don’t know that I’m not just a fan of Disney. I love the original tales as well. In many cases, I like them more than the lighter, tamer, happier versions. It’s hard to believe there was a time when it was considered normal to read children bedtime stories where stepsisters hack their own toes off, children throw witches in ovens, and princes fall from towers into thorns that blind them.
They weren’t just creepy stories for kids, though. Fairy tales represent a rich folkloric tradition passed along and refined by both male and female storytellers. And plenty of research has gone into documenting these stories’ histories, discussing their role in society, and cataloging the different styles. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is 425C in the Aarne–Thompson classification system. It’s one of a surprisingly large number of animal groom fairy tales and most likely has it’s roots in the story of Cupid and Psyche.
Fairy tales have always generated discussion and debate. This time around, people are talking about bestiality and wondering why this “tale as old as time” has endured for so long with such twisted ideas at its roots. But if we equate the Beast with an animal we miss the point of the tale. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim believed the “animal groom” stories were “intended to reassure virginal brides about sex” (i.e. he seems scary, but once you get to know him he’s not so bad).
Beauty and the Beast goes deeper than most tales of this sub-type, though. What we know as Beauty and the Beast was first written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. In this earliest version, as in subsequent versions, the Beast has to prove himself worth loving. Continue reading
Last week, I updated an old post called The Missing Disney Princesses with a brand new MBTI Chart featuring the 14 official princesses (well, technically there are 11 official princesses, plus Anna and Elsa who have their own line, and Moana who hasn’t been crowned yet. So it was more like the “Official + New/Popular Princesses Chart”).
There are other Disney women, though, who’ve been completely snubbed by the Disney princess line-up and I wanted to include those as well. I had them on a separate chart in my previous post and I wanted to follow that pattern this time as well. Eilonwy and Alice were the most requested characters I left out last time, so I’m adding them. And I’ve also added a character no one asked about from my favorite underappreciated Disney films — Maid Marion from Robin Hood.
Note: I’m not using anything from sequel films (just to help narrow-down the typing choices), so that’s why you won’t see Ariel’s daughter Melody (for example). I also type using cogitative functions. If you’re not familiar with that aspect of Myers-Briggs theory, click here and here for a two-part introduction. Read on for detailed explanations for why I chose these types for the unofficial princesses, and click here for the post about the other princesses.
A couple years ago, I made a Myers-Briggs chart called The Missing Disney Princesses that quickly became one of the more popular posts on my blog. Now (finally!!!) I get to update it to include our new princess, Moana.
But I’m not just adding Moana to my chart. I’m also moving around a few of the other princesses. Last time, my focus was on showing that we don’t see all the personality types represented by the Disney princesses. Both Intuitive and Thinking types are under represented among Disney’s ladies. That’s still the case, but this time my focus is on explaining why I typed each princess the way I did.
In the two years since publishing the last chart, I’ve learned more about Myers-Briggs typing. I’ve also re-watched several of these movies, considered comments from readers on the previous post, and asked advice from fellow personality type and Disney enthusiasts. In response, I’ve re-typed several characters (which is noted and explained in the individual character discussions).
Note: I type using cogitative functions. If you’re not familiar with that aspect of Myers-Briggs theory, click here and here for a two-part introduction. Read on for detailed explanations for why I chose these types for each character. Continue reading
Last week, I compared A Secret Garden to my favorite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. The subject of this week’s Classics Club post, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, has fairy tale elements which are even more obvious.
It’s pretty much the exact same story as Cinderella — an only child whose sweet disposition is unaffected by being spoiled is left in the care of an unkind woman after her father’s unexpected death. The austere and jealous guardian transforms the girl into a servant who lives in an attic and makes friends with rodents and birds. Eventually, a wealthy man swoops in and rescues her (Tweet about it).
There are even jealous “step-sister” figures in the form of some of the girls at the school (we’re looking at you, Lavinia). And you could call Ram Dass a “fairy godmother” of sorts, since he transforms Sara’s dingy attic into a princess room simply because he notices she’s so kind and wants to do something nice for her. It’s a key fairy-tale trope — eventually Magic (or it’s human equivalent) will step in and set things right if only you’re a good person.
I suppose there might be better ways to spend a Sunday than baking scones, reading and blogging about books and watching Star Trek, but I really can’t think of any right now. They’re cinnamon apple oatmeal scones, and the books are by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and it’s classic Trek with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Does it get any better?
Both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess are re-reads on my Classics Club book list. They were some of my favorite books as a child, and my sister and I watched the film adaptations over and over when we were younger. Since they also qualify for the Women’s Classic Literature event, I decided to make them my first classics reads for the new year.
I can’t tell you how much I wanted a secret garden. Actually, I never really outgrew that — I’m sure gardens surrounded by high stone walls covered with ivy are more alluring than ones just sitting out in the front yard where anyone can see them. That garden with its hidden door is probably why The Secret Garden was always my favorite of the two books. That and the fact that there were boy characters — books with just girls in them are nice, but books with boys and girls are better even when there isn’t a hint of romance. Continue reading