Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Article: Fairy Tales Return to Their Horror Roots

Yay! Here's an article which I expected to be essentially more of the same sensational complaints every other article about "scary fairy tales" seems to have at the moment. This one, however, actually makes some good observations and asks an important question.

We find past common issues like child abandonment, losing limbs and being eaten by sneaky creatures so horrific that so many people feel a knee-jerk reaction ("take them away!") is required as an appropriate response to tales that include such things. As a result our children in particular end up with sanitized, "shiny" versions of tales that do little more than distract momentarily to entertain us...
Mirror, Mirror looks like an anachronism precisely because it’s so pristine. These aren’t dark woods so much as they’re a Hollywood set, or an incomplete CGI rendering. It’s hard to be terrified of a world where people’s teeth literally sparkle, and curses turn people into adorable simulacra of puppy dogs. These people are plastic: even if you cut them to the quick, there’d be no blood or guts to spill into that snow.
... But even as many protest details brought to light on finding out the darker origins of favorite tales, when times get tough we can't help but look to darker tales in the hopes of finding our way through our own. Even the obvious "shiny" Disney echoes in Once Upon A Time are proving to have a different meaning now. I'm particularly thinking of this past Sunday's episode where we see Snow White sweeping and singing... (Note: emphasis in bold is mine.)
(also from
Once Upon a Time has a bit of that shininess problem, though conceptually, it’s gone darker. There’s a girl who turns into a wolf, and an actual heart in a box that’s been identified as belonging to a character we’ve gotten to know. That’s upsetting, even if we don’t see the organ itself. Grimm, which recently got a second-season pickup, and has improved by focusing on the core relationship between the detective and the werewolf, has been horrific from the beginning: we’ve got stolen organs, fights to the death, and incredibly ugly acts of murder all of them. The premise of the show itself is deeply unnerving—that there’s something else hiding under the skin many of us present to the world.  
And Once Upon a Time and Grimm are nodding at a question it’ll be important for fairy tale storytellers to consider if this trend is to continue. In the absence of the dark woods, the arbitrary nature of feudal lords, the horror of high infant mortality rates (at least in the developing world), the wolves that steal the sheep, what are our terrors? And which stories are the best matches for telling them? The persistence of crime dramas would suggest that the big city has replaced the big woods, that serial killers are our ravening beasts. But I’m not sure we have myths to embody the new fears generated by a world that’s much larger than the village, or the disembodied terrors of the digital age.
You can read the whole article HERE.
I feel like congratulating writer Alyssa Rosenberg for finding a relevant (and helpful!) angle on a very tired and (usually) under-researched hot-button issue.

You already know how I feel about this. I don't know what I would have done without fairy tales as a kid. What I have to wonder is: what would horrify someone from, say the Grimm's time (pre to mid 1800's) about our world? I would suggest our modern society isn't quite as different as we'd like to believe. People dress differently, connect and travel differently and technology is different but the same essential issues plague us today as much as they ever did. Predators of all kinds troll both our streets and online paths, con men stoop to taking advantage of the poor, the elderly and even children and where does the most child neglect and abuse in the world? Right under our noses. (I've blogged on this before - see additions to the post in red, including the links - but it bears repeating.) Currently the US leads the developed world in deaths in children as a result of child abuse. (See HERE for some scary recent statistics which I gather have not improved since the time of publishing, including a link to a news report which lays it out clearly.)
When you look at the tales in this light how can people think fairy tales have nothing to offer people, especially children, today? This is a very sad reason for the tales to be told, I know, but if they give hope and help save lives, that alone should be reason enough to keep sharing them. Though I sadly don't think this will ever go away there are many other reasons to keep telling fairy tales as well. I can only hope all your reasons are good ones too, but just in case they're not, and just in case it helps, you can be sure I'll keep telling these fairy tales with both the darkness of the woods and the hope of the way through that they offer.

With that said, I'm going to share this 5 minute animation, also included in the article and first seen on Cartoon Brew. It's a silhouette retelling, simply called Red, and is being described in various places as "a very dark version of Little Red Riding Hood." I have to wonder what isn't dark about LRRH, even in it's most benign form. Maybe all the cute wide-eyed girls in storybooks today have rewritten the tale in people's heads more than you would think. As far as this short goes, I would rate it as a solid PG13 - not for little kids but mainly because you see some of the violence. It's beautifully done:
Red is a modern day silhouette film based on the classic fairy tale. Directors Jorge Jaramillo and Carlo Guillot, with musician/composer Manuel Borda, explore the drama, horror and realism of the story in a beautifully stylized way. (Cartoon Brew)
RED from RED on Vimeo.
One final note: the premise of the article is that fairy tales have their roots in horror. I would argue that, that isn't actually the case. They have their roots in dealing with the realities of the time, which because the gore is often so "seen" then, we regard it as horrific. Unfortunately one of the main differences between then and now is we're better at hiding the gore (both visceral and psychological) from plain view. Just because we don't see people bleeding in front of us every day doesn't mean it isn't happening and it doesn't mean there isn't horror present. Fairy tales just tell it like it is. I find that very refreshing. It helps me know when a wolf really is a wolf. There's nothing quite like a heads up on that.

Note: In case it wasn't clear, the images throughout this post are from the short silhouette film Red as well.

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