I stumbled on a thread in the National Novel Writing Month forum which asked about Dark Fairy tales and whether anyone else was thinking of writing them. It provoked another discussion regarding the fact that there are many reworkings of fairy tales but that didn’t necessarily mean future reworkings were now taboo. Avoiding, for the moment, the issue about what makes a fairy tale ‘dark’, I think fairy tales should never be put back on the nursery shelf.
The tales are a way for us to explore ourselves. In her introduction to Tales of Wonder, Jane Yolen makes the point that at least one of her stories is not about the person that was its inspiration but about Yolen herself and her experience of the mother/daughter relationship. Therefore despite the fantastical elements of the tales they are places that focus on human personalities and relationships. Disney often gets accused of sugar coating fairy tales but in Tangled the bit that stands out the most for me is the portrayal of Mother Goethal’s relationship with her ‘daughter’. Goethal is constantly slapping Rapunzel down, not only by keeping her locked up but by highlighting the younger woman’s defects. This is most clearly shown in the song Mother Knows Best. I challenge any wicked step mother to be as calculating and cruel. In Fairy Tales we find greed, selfishness, insensitivity that leads to abuses of power, but there is also courage, loyalty and the ability to transform. That is one of the most powerful corner stones of the Fairy Tales. As pointed out by Terri Winding in her introduction to Snow White, Blood Red they represent an inward journey, a place where we can go and return sharper and more aware. By revisiting these tales and taking inspiration from them we are also becoming part of the story. We get to play with rich and archetypal imagery like blood on snow, red slippers or a maze of thorns. We can journey with dangerous beasts through dark forests, and we know the rules, and knowing the rules means that we know how to break them. Both Jane Yolen and Angela Carter say that they do not see their works as retellings but that they take the content of the existing tales and use them as the basis for creating new stories. Stories where Beauty is free to become the beast and the Prince doesn’t have to be charming. I think that Fairy Tales are a powerful shared cultural language, and that they still have as much to offer as we do as people. We’d be mad not to go on that journey, even if it is only for our own benefit.