It is unlikely you could have missed the numerous new and different interpretations and re-imaginings of classic fairy tales and myths. It’s in movies with “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the upcoming “Into the Woods,” it’s on TV with shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon A Time,” and it’s in books like Meg Cabot’s “Abandon” series and “Alice in Tumblr-land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation.” The things we love about these retellings is that it takes a story we know and love and makes it new and fresh and fun. Sometimes these re-imagined stories are good and sometimes they are terrible, but the ones I hate are those that take classic stories meant to spark imagination, inspire children, and teach them about life and love and turn them into a depressing picture that looks too much like real life.
Now before you get angry, let me say I know that most fairy tales, at least the Grimm ones, originally ended, well, badly. But even those weren’t accurate to real life, and while the endings lacked that Disney quality they were still meant to teach children about listening to their parents, the dangers of talking to strangers, etc. So, I do realize that many of the most well-known or favorite interpretations come from relatively recent sources, my argument is not as much with retelling classic tales, but turning them into strikingly depressing, pathetic versions of themselves. After all, the little mermaid may have originally died in her story, but at least she died for love.
There is a big difference between turning Snow White into a sword-wielding warrior and taking Cinderella and making her a divorcee because she was unhappy with Prince Charming. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes these versions are funnier, and on particularly bitter (read: lonely, single) nights I might like to think that happily ever after wasn’t that great after all. However, there is a purpose to these stories. They exist in every culture, and despite the small differences they can cross cultures and teach us valuable lessons about life. They put people into extraordinary situations and tell us something about our ordinary lives. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
I don’t want to read or watch a story about a depressed King Arthur who is lost and too scrawny to lift Excalibur. What I love about fairy tales (and what you do too) is what they inspire: hope and the belief that there is something better waiting. This view might not be realistic or very adult, but it’s what I’m looking for when reading, especially when reading a fairy tale or myth. Real life is depressing enough (it’s everywhere, it’s pervasive, and you can’t get away from it), but a fairy tale, as archaic as some might be, teaches us that happiness is within our reach. The truth is that very few new versions of old tales and myths are improvements. They might have our favorite actresses portraying them or take out our least favorite characters, but in the end the story itself should rarely change. Occasionally, they can portray the princess or the villain in a way we didn’t see, but versions that increase our knowledge of our favorite stories are rarely changing them at their essence. Studio executives and publishing houses like to use fairy tales and myths because they are public domain, but that doesn’t mean we need to keep tweaking them.
Do you have a favorite reinterpretation of a fairy tale or myth? Let us know on Twitter at @litdarling
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