Tuesday, January 29, 2013

on Fairy Tales

Here is the basic fairy tale:
Prince decides he wants to find princess to marry.
Sends out a notice that all available maidens/princesses should come to the castle so he can choose the one he wants.
Princess/Maiden is thrilled to be chosen.
They are married.
They live happily ever after.

The kids and I recently read Sugar Cane, A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace. I loved that in this version Rapunzel (or Sugar Cane) has dark curly hair!


Reflecting on this book further I realized it followed the same pattern as every fairy tale (which makes sense - it is more or less the story of Rapunzel).

  • Why in every fairy tale the prince/male has the choice of female he chooses to marry? 
  • Why do all of these women flock to the castle/male with the hope that they will be the chosen one? 
  • What if there was a better match elsewhere? 
  • Why aren't there stories of men vying for a females hand in marriage?

I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the language that sounds like finding a partner is a shopping adventure where one (male) "chooses" and "gets" a female once he decides he wants to get married.

I keep feeling like we "should" do fairy tales/legends and then I get frustrated and put them away for a while ... until I bring them out again and remember why I put them away last time. 


Jen said...

As a traditional fairy tale fan, I can think of many stories with the men vying for the women.  True, usually she is some royalty, but often the consequences for failure to win her hand are death.  Twelve dancing princesses, The White Snake, and the Devil with the Three Golden Hairs are 3 that jump to mind.  They aren't exactly for the little ones, however.

lovermont said...

I was so excited to see you comment! I am at the library now and was ready to go and check out the books you mentioned ... but if they are not age appropriate for our almost 5 year old and our 6 year old ... maybe working in traditional fairy tales when they are approaching teen years makes more sense? Thoughts?

librarian pirate said...

Some versions of 12 dancing princesses would be fine for your kids - depends on the retelling.  I like Rachel Isadora's version - but then again I love most of Rachel Isadora's fairy tale books.  I'm also a sucker for slightly fractured retellings.  The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, for example, or The True Story of the Tree Little Pigs.  There are also tons of fairy tales that don't deal with marriage at all, Jack and the Beanstock, Hansel and Gretel, Molly Whuppie, the Three Little Pigs ... I am also a big fan of Laurel Long's version of The Lady and the Lion.  It's a fairy tale that's very Beauty and the Beast like but without the whole Beast being an abusive jackass thing.  The man is under an enchantment and it's up to the girl to go on a quest to save him.  Love it.

Personally I feel like stories shouldn't be taboo just because their feminism isn't perfect?  My in-laws started giving Disney Princesses the girls at Kaylee's first Christmas so my strategy has long been to have conversations with them about the movies and books instead of to ban them.  "Goodness, if only King Triton wouldn't have lost his temper over and over again and Ariel hadn't been so impulsive they could have talked about all this!  What do you think would have happened if they had talked about what they wanted without yelling at each other?"  "Isn't it great how Ariel saves Eric's life?  She really saves the day!"  "Wow, the Beast doesn't treat Belle well at all, does he?  I sure wouldn't marry someone who treated me and my father like that no matter how much he seemed to change!"  "I love that Belle went charging after her father to save him.  She was so brave!"  That sort of thing.  

Jen said...

Great response!  Yes, there are many retellings of 12 Dancing Princesses especially.  I like to keep it old school with The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, so the age appropriateness and other political correctness issues really depend on your preferences and your desire to talk it out with your kids.  Some of the images--people eating babies, young girls getting their hands chopped off-- are definitely too intense for my 2.5 year old.  

And I agree with not making things taboo due to imperfections.  

lovermont said...

Rachel Isadora recently came up in a discussion on fb about picture books that have non-white characters. I'll look into her fairy tales too. We've done Jack and Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel (although this one is hard for our kids to get their heads around - why would a dad let this happen to his kids?!?), and lot sand lots of the Three Little Pigs. I've never heard of Molly Whuppie - and I'll see about interlibrary loaning the "slightly fractured retellings" - I like those too.
Everyone in our life knows there will be severe consequences if princesses come into this house simply because we have a daughter. I'm thrilled that we've avoided all of that so far .... it's not going to be much longer, I know.
I'm so impressed with your observations/questions when watching Disney movies - that's awesome. Hopefully when we found ourselves watching one of these, I can remember your thoughtful talking points!

lovermont said...

ps - when can you come and be a librarian in this area?!? I looked at the card catalog and approximately NONE of the books you mentioned are available ... actually Molly Whuppie is at the library so we'll get that one ... the rest we'll put in the Amazon cart to think about later ...

librarian pirate said...

wait wait wait!  I forgot that I usually read a sanitized version of Molly.  In the original Molly tricks the giant into killing his wife in a pretty brutal way - so read it yourself first?  Because depending on the version of the story it might be super violent.  Also what the heck kind of library doesn't have everything by Rachel Isadora?  Can you interlibrary loan them or request that your library buy them?  Because she's lovely!  

lovermont said...

Thanks for the warning! I'll pre-read first! Some violence is okay but killing a wife - not so okay.

There is a three-county inter-library loan system ... I thought I was looking at ALL the libraries .... but I was actually just looking at our library ... so the whole system has loads of Rachel Isadora! Woo! So I might just start at the top of the list and inter-library loan all of them over time. Good idea? I think so :)