Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Article: "Why Haven't We Outgrown Fairy Tales?" (with Maria Tatar)

After having had so many fairy tales invade our theaters and TVs in such a short period of time (the last couple of years),
WHY are they continuing to invade our screens?

From The Washington Post, comes an article on a topic more than a few people have been speculating about recently with fairy tale films, series and spin-offs still being big business, despite having had a slew of them the last couple of years.

Maria Tatar
Seeing Maria Tatar* was weighing in, I thought people would be interested to see what she has to say. It's quite a brief article and seems a little haphazard and sparse but, as always, Ms. Tatar says things well, even in a short space.

The article discusses why fairy tales continue to be popular, what fairy tale characters does Ms. Tatar think are most relevant to us as a society right now and what's the reason for the trend of retelling tales from a darker point of view, sometimes, like Disney's movie-in-production Maleficent will, using the villains POV.

Interestingly, the answer to the question posed at the top of this post isn't really answered. it's discussed why fairy tales continue to be popular but Ms. Tatar doesn't put forth any theories on why there's a fairy tale zeitgeist right now.

(Note: retelling tales in a darker, more gritty form isn't limited to fairy tales - it's everywhere: look at the new, very successful Batman franchise, Man of Steel and any other "reboot" of long-loved heroes. They're all showing their dark side, their struggles and people are can't get enough right now.)
Fan made poster - Disney has now confirmed the release date for Maleficent will be JULY 2, 2014
While the questions are fascinating (and I'd love to see more people giving their two cents on them), there was one question in particular I wanted to highlight, especially as there's a strong resistance to the subject being called a fairy tale at all.
Toney: “Once Upon a Time” has spin-off coming this fall, “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” why “Alice and Wonderland”? 
It’s our story about disorientation, being in a world that feels like nonsense. How do you manage, cope and survive? I think of my fourth-grade teacher sternly telling me that it’s not a story for children. Alice faces a deep existential crisis. She’s assaulted verbally. She’s constantly losing control and having to regain control. 
Tatar: That we’re taking up that story seems really important. Everyone thinks they’re in a world of crisis, especially with new technology. There’s a divide between digital natives and the rest of us. We use tales like “Alice and Wonderland” to teach us how to move forward. They take us to other worlds but also propel us forward to think about who we are and how we think about things in our own time and place and crisis situations.
(Emphasis is mine.)

Fan made OUAT-Wonderland poster
I agree that there's something about Alice that's changed in the last, perhaps, twenty years or so. There's definitely something happening with Alice and Wonderland - not as was written by Lewis Carroll but in the way certain characters and motifs have taken on a life of their own in society and pop-culture. And not just in England, where you would expect, or the US where you would think perhaps Disney had a big hand in making it popular (which he did but not in the way it has become so), but all over the world. Asian countries in particular adore Alice and her Wonderland.

I wrote something briefly about Alice during the Goodreads chat with fairy tale lecturer and author Kate Wolford and am adding it because it's essentially talking about the same phenomena:
On Alice: the book(s) totally creeps me out BUT (and I mean to write an essay on this sometime soon) I think Alice is a prime example of society turning an "idea" (because not that many people have actually read the books) into a cultural/societal fairy tale (I added societal because although the English sensibilities remain in many ways, Americans love the (Wonderland) world, so do Asians etc etc). The images and motifs have been given a life of their own beyond the book and because of such, have become a fairy tale in the true definition which is continually mutable according to the world and people telling it retaining it's motifs and speaking beyond culture and time...
It was written rather hurriedly, stream-of-consciousness style and may not make as much sense as I wanted to, but hopefully you get the idea. The main thing is, we, as fairy tale people, can't afford to ignore Alice, or her Wonderland any longer. Saying "that** isn't a true fairy tale" isn't going to fly any more. Which begs the question: what do we do about Alice?

I recommend a read of the Washington Post article. It's a quick read and only begins to touch on the topics (I wish it had been a meatier interview!) but it should get you thinking and hopefully all of us talking to each other. Everyone else is. Just take a look through the comments below the article - these are people who are seriously interested in the question and for the first time in a while, they're interested in what fairy tale people have to say.

I'm also curious to think what tales you believe will be focused on next. Tatar says "giants" and more male figure stories. What do you think?

*If you're just tuning in to the blog and are unfamiliar with Maria Tatar you'll see she's one of the people who we regularly pay attention to, having written many wonderful resources for fairy tale study and being  a Harvard University folklore and mythology professor. 

** By "THAT" I mean - NOT the book by Carroll/Dodgson but the Alice stories, the motifs, the idea of Wonderland and the character of Alice herself.


  1. I love this post mainly because I have yet to outgrow fairies ;)

  2. Oh I did not know that you started up the blog again! I must have changed my email address since then, but I'm on it now lol. Looks like I've got some reading to do!