June 22, 2018

EVER-CHANGING FAIRY TALES by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

Do fairy tales always remain the same or do they change to suit each generation?
EC's contributing editor, Kiyomi Appleton Gaines, shares her thoughts on the topic in this week's article:
Some people have been very upset recently about the results of a survey that found that parents are changing fairy tales in order to make them more gentle tales for their children. Changing these classic tales, many an argument goes, is nothing but political correctness run rampant.

Yet fairy tales have always been retold, embellished, and otherwise changed to suit the mores and preferences of the current generation. Our current standards of child-rearing, begun with and passed down from the Victorians, is that children should be coddled and protected. What should we expect but that it should include the stories we tuck little ones into bed with? And why not? They're small and it's definitely better than the workhouses of yore! However, very few children, even among those parents and grandparents now bemoaning the loss of the "good old days," ever actually heard the original versions of fairy tales while being put down to bed as tots to begin with.

Red Riding Hood ranked as the tale most often changed for younger ears. The Perrault version of Red Riding Hood, one of the oldest written versions, was in fact drafted as a warning against young women engaging in sexual activity in the age of Louis XIV's notoriously libertinous court. Sure you don't want to edit that a little bit before sharing it with a youngster?

Fairy tales were never initially intended as stories for children, let alone bedtime stories to fall asleep to. Fairy tales were not meant as moral injunctions to "scare kids straight," as it were, but were often primarily stories women would tell each other to pass the time of spinning and weaving - this is why we talk about "spinning" a tale, "weaving" a good story, or telling a "yarn."

That's why so many of these old stories feature young women in unlikely situations, and resolve with reinforcing culturally prescribed behaviors for wifehood and motherhood.

Perhaps parents are too cautious. Crime statistics show that we're living in one of the safest times to grow up in the developed world, yet parents are literally charged with child endangerment for leaving their child to play unsupervised in the park or walk to and from home - things many of us wiled away many hours doing.

We also may very well underestimate what children, even young children, are able to handle. I re-watch movies I saw as a young child and thought nothing of at the time, and now am horrified by the degree of loss, violence, threat, and general darkness that permeates even old Disney standards. This gives me pause to reevaluate my perspective, because as a child, I wasn't upset by it.

But changing stories to suit current need and preference is nothing new. The old versions of stories are not being done away with, and are still tucked in libraries, bookstores, or are just a query away on the internet for curious young readers to explore. Parents are doing their best in a time when they themselves face considerable real world uncertainty and insecurity. If that means giving Sleeping Beauty consent in that wake-up kiss rather than diving into #MeToo with their five-year-old, I say good job, parents, of claiming your place in the long parade of oral tradition!

But those parents themselves might benefit from digging into their own favorite remembered stories to gain inspiration, hope, and courage from the heroes that reside and triumph in the trying and uncertain circumstances there.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine who writes stories and articles inspired by folklore and fairy tales. 
Find more of her writing at A Work of Heart
and follow her on Twitter @ThatKiyomi

Cover: Amanda Bergloff 

Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts about Kiyomi's article in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!
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Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru HERE

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Guy S. Ricketts said...

Wonderful article, Kiyomi. As much as I appreciate Disney and their take on fairy tales, I much preferred the original "dark" versions by, say, the Brothers Grimm. The edge to them make them more enjoyable. And yes, I agree that kids can handle the unhomogenized stories just fine.

AMOffenwanger said...

"Fairy tales were never initially intended as stories for children, let alone bedtime stories to fall asleep to." Yes, so true! And this: '...this is why we talk about "spinning" a tale, "weaving" a good story, or telling a "yarn."' What a great piece of insight! I'd never made the connection before.

Lissa Sloan said...

Great article! We have been talking at my house recently about the appeal of gruesome or taboo stories to kids. Even though adults may not think them appropriate, they must be satisfying to kids on some level (some kids, at least).