Note to Reader: If you have not read my fairy tale, ‘The Forest of Lyca’ this will not make an awful lot of sense. Please see that post before reading this one!
The fairy tale is an ancient form of story that many of us encounter at an exceptionally young age and become some of our earliest memories of literature. The precise origin of the fairy tale is unclear, although it is thought that they are birthed from folklore: oral tales told for entertainment and distraction, inherited through the generations and passed on from travellers, blended by the many recipients who each would detract and add parts to the tale to suit their needs. Jack Zipes recalls the social history of fairy tales to state that:
‘Their origins as oral folk tales can be traced back thousands of years to the ice age […] Recent historical research has demonstrated that the primitive folk tales were told as socially symbolical acts to unite the people of a tribe, to provide a sense of community. As such, they were cultural endeavors to interpret and understand natural and social phenomena […] Religions and ideologies that became male-oriented caused the contents and functions of the characters to be changed.’ (Zipes 1982 23)
It is surprising that fairy tales known from childhood exist in many separate versions and variations. If one were to consider the tales of Red Riding Hood, as I will be doing primarily, it is likely the tales from Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm that surface to memory. However the tale dates back before both of those versions and continued to adapt after their publication, absorbing many of their elements whilst removing others. It is perhaps this evolving and fluctuating nature of the genre that captured my interest and inspired me to create a tale that borrowed so much from another story whilst maintaining its own identity.
Whilst reading the traditional fairy tales it is sometimes easy to overlook the dark and sinister content within them – this is often due to the association they have with being read to children and the assumption that their content has been deemed appropriate for that audience. However, upon submitting them to closer study, it becomes clear that they are filled with violence, misogyny and taboo that one would not think to subject to children. This is a point that Maria Tatar comments upon:
‘For many adults, reading through an expurgated edition of the Grimms’ collection of tales can be an eye-opening experience. Even those who know…that doves peck out the eyes of Cinderella’s stepsisters…or that a mad rage drives Rumpelstiltskin to tear himself in two will find themselves hardly prepared for the graphic descriptions of murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and incest that fill the pages of these bedtime stories for children.’ (Tatar 364)
The genre of the fairy tale itself was another reason that I decided to dedicate my creative writing piece to it. Within the fairy tale there is scope to create and imagine, something that I was extremely keen to do. The fairy tale has become mostly directed towards children and therefore can embody the elements of fantasy and departure from reality that the majority of fiction for adults lacks. I decided to keep within some of the structures that fairy tales seem to conform to, but was nonetheless left with far more freedom. I decided I would emulate Angela Carter’s ability to create the fantastical world of the fairy tale and set it out as children’s fiction whilst, at times, mixing mature themes into the narrative that would be deemed inappropriate. I have, therefore, intended to merge the styles of several fairy tale authors into my piece. The style of the writing and the themes share likenesses with both the traditional fairy tale authors and Angela Carter in her tales of The Bloody Chamber. My story is at times graphic like Carter’s but it attempts to keep its suitability for children by only hinting to its graphic nature and with potentially disturbing and horrific events being averted and resolved. This is similar to some of the traditional authors, the Grimm’s tale of ‘Little Red Cap’ for example. The girl is consumed by the wolf but is rescued almost immediately by the huntsman. It sits between the authors too by emulating much of Carter’s themes yet keeping the patriarchal framework of the predecessors. An example of this is the scene during the tale wherein the spectre-like image of Alice’s brother attempts to rape her. Although the description is not explicit, the references and metaphors are not overly complex and it is obvious to most readers what the indication is. However, Alice is rescued and the crisis is averted.
It was important to my tale that I emulated certain facets of Carter’s tales – ‘The Company of Wolves’ being the main inspiration. I have included certain elements such as the description that makes it clear the heroine is at the age of puberty and the use of pathetic fallacy regarding the weather. Another example is introducing the gothic convention of the uncanny in scenes such as the one with Alice’s brother. She recognises him but simultaneously does not know who he is. I also mention Alice’s ‘mounting unease’ (Beatson 12) or phrases similar to represent the uncanny, which is a direct influence from Carter who mentioned that the uncanny in gothic literature ‘retains a singular moral function-that provoking of unease.’ (Carter 1974 133). However, Carter’s tales are more of a feminist reading, and I preferred to keep much of my tale colluding with the patriarchal themes contained within the traditional tales. I found difficulty finding balance when demonstrating the story as a classic tale yet at also adding the mature and hardcore elements of Carter. An example of my mixture of the two is in the final line: ‘And she lived.’ (Beatson 17) This displays the fairy tale ending but without the archetypal ‘happily ever-after’ closing phrase – this suggests to my readers that life to come will be hard for Alice, but keeps the emphasis on the fact that she had survived.
The key intention of the piece was to highlight the graphic and mature themes within the traditional fairy tale by (like Carter) accentuating them and placing them amongst the fantasy and innocence of a child’s story. Additionally, I wished to display the type of moral tale that was so often used in the classic variations within a fairy tale that was written in the present day. By the plot being subjectable to a reading of a girl’s rite of passage – with the forest being her journey through adolescence and the struggle it poses and threat to her virginity – I was able to emulate the educational style of editions of Red Riding Hood such as Perrault’s and the Brothers Grimm. The key morals that I intended the piece to illustrate were the proverb stating that it is unwise to trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that to stray from the metaphorical path will lead to punishment. This is most like the traditional fairy tales; the most lucid of examples of this is the moral message at the end of Perrault’s tale.
Another one of my intentions with my creative piece was to remove, alter and merge various conventions that are typical throughout the classic fairy tale. This included elements such as the style, the structure, themes and other conventions that I discovered after undertaking my research into my primary and secondary texts that I personally identified, and furthered by my research into secondary material. This is an element of my companion that I will come onto in the research section.
Furthermore, I wished to show a different example of the dangers of adolescence by colluding with Perrault’s moral. The tale obviously shouts that girls must fight hard to control their desires and be aware of false prophets. The creatures seem so beautiful that she wishes to follow them and she believes that they are helping her are then revealed to be the very things that destroy her. These creatures can be interpreted as hormones that are developed within adolescence and the traditional character of the wolf that is translated as a symbol of the male gaze and male sexuality and lust – either way they are tempting Alice to follow them, and by doing so she is presented with her demise until, that is, she wakes up. It would be prudent to note at this stage that the views and morals contained within the tale are not my own, but ones that I provided to strengthen the theme of my text. A Freudian and Laconian reading of my unconscious intentions might prove different, as I have studied with the interpretations of the classic tales, but on a conscious level, the views are not ones I share.
The formulation of the fairy tale came in different stages as opposed to one drafting and redrafting process. I had for some time wished to write a children’s story and had the rough idea of a creature that I would depict as evil and terrifying that would in fact be the rebuked saviour. It was after deciding to choose the creative writing option for my independent project that I realised not only did I have a basis of a story available, but that its genre and predecessors had an excess of criticism and secondary reading available to me.
When considering characters and settings I decided that I could add significantly to my story by emulating the Red Riding Hood tales whilst simultaneously enabling an effective critical reading. I therefore began note taking with spider diagrams and setting out key features of the variations of the tales and finding the parts that I would apply, change or eradicate completely. The result was five separate a3 sheets of paper that started with spider diagrams and progressed to a list of bullet points that outlined intended plot, characters and themes.
I had decided on the name of the piece to be ‘The Rankvile’ which was also to be the name of the creature that dwelled within the forest. However, as the writing of the first draft came to an end, I realised I could not introduce the name of the creature without affecting the tone I hoped to create. Consequently I progressed without adding the name in and, once the final draft was completed, I had decided not to name the creature at all to grant it additional mystery and fear. I felt that if I could create enough of a shroud of fear around the monster’s persona it would not only increase enjoyment in the reading, but act as an even greater twist when reversing the creature to being a positive character. I achieved this by the application of vivid imagery to the description of the monster and concurrently allowing a greater opportunity to describe the same features in a positive light towards the end of the story. An example of this is the way in which the natural light from outside the forest turns the creature’s ‘mouldy claws’ into ‘the most beautiful and pale skin.’ (Beatson 16). I eventually decided to rename the story: ‘The Forest of Lyca’, as it is the forest in the tale that symbolises Alice’s journey and it is the forest that creates the real evil. The name of Lyca is a reference to the girl within the poem ‘The Little Girl Lost’ by William Blake. This poem, it could be argued, depicts a young girl’s descent into adolescence and adulthood, which is similar to my tale where Alice’s entire journey into the forest is her rite of passage and depicts her battle with adolescence and journey to adulthood. Another piece of intertextuality resides in the choice of the protagonist’s name. This is a reference to the protagonist and themes in both Alice from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Angela Carter’s short story ‘Wolf Alice’.
I found difficulty in not rushing into the writing of the fairy tale, as I had so many ideas I was keen to put together. This made the planning process and note taking procedure arduous and, although making spider diagrams and lists, I eventually felt prepared to begin constructing the tale. Although I ended up with a long and well embellished story of which the word count came to just over 11,000, I was left with the challenging process of removing large amounts of it that I had, ultimately, written for my own pleasure rather than for the success of my independent project. By cutting such a majority of the fairy tale down I lost the in depth characterisation that I had managed to build and the extensive description and imagery that went into the settings and emotions. However, by keeping the tale much shorter, it made it more dramatic and I was able to capture much more the feel of a fairy tale as opposed to a short novel of children’s fantasy fiction. In hindsight this is unquestionably something I would have done differently and will learn from; the need of planning and properly formulating my ideas in a structure so that they will correlate with the themes needed to allow my piece to be subjectable and to be the critical reading I wished it to be.
A further element that I feel I could have improved on within the writing of my fairy tale is my time management. This was something that I was aware I would struggle with and therefore did attempt to work hard on. To endeavour to manage my time effectively I spent sections of selected days during the week working on it shortly after handing in my topic proposal at the end of the first semester. This was a positive step, but I feel that I may have been benefitted further from actually planning out the schedule in which I would write parts and checklists to include the themes and elements I needed. It is this type of discipline that I would apply in the future.
As an overall project I feel that it has been a success – I am satisfied with the end result. I feel that I have managed to translate the aspects of it that I aimed to. I found that the most beneficial way to check I was achieving my aims was to call on others to read it and give their overall impression. This included fellow students on my course who were able to give a critical opinion from a literary theory perspective, members of family that work within publishing and friends and family who were able to bring a fresh and more basic opinion. I asked these readers to email me their thoughts on the piece, their personal opinion on its deeper meanings and how it made them feel whilst they read it and after. I received similar, encouraging feedback from all groups, which stated that they felt it was extremely dark, had a childlike feel to it but that they were unsure at times if it was suitable for children and surmised that it would down to parental decision. This was exactly the type of feedback that I had been hoping for, as this was precisely the opinion of the Brothers Grimm after their revised edition of ‘Little Red Cap’ was made more appropriate for children, despite its sinister themes. This is illustrated in their introduction:
Therefore we have taken care to leave out of this new edition expressions which were not suitable for children. Yet there may be objections. One or another parent may find material embarrassing or offensive, so that they would not be comfortable putting the book into the hands of children. In such well founded individual cases, the parents have an easy choice to make. (Shavit 327)
All of the readers that I had give feedback also noted that the story sharing similarities with the Red Riding Hood tales and other early fairy tales, notably as a rite of passage tale with strong moral undertones. One fellow student even asked me if I had read Angela Carter, as the graphic style reminded of them of her work.
I have found the project to therefore be a general success and, despite the aforementioned elements of production management that I would change, I feel very satisfied with its outcome.
Research and Analysis Section:
In preparation and throughout my composition of the fairy tale I undertook thorough and vast amounts of research for secondary material and critical work concerning the fairy tale genre. It is no surprise therefore, that the beginning stages of my research were dedicated to understanding the genre and its conventions and structure.
One of the quintessential theorists concerning this is Vladimir Propp who listed thirty-one functions and a ‘Dramatis Personae’ of characters. Studying this I was able to understand the structure of the folk tale as expressed by Propp and was therefore able to select the parts that I wished to use for my own fairy tale. The functions and characters set out by Propp served a beneficial role, as I was able to play around with them and work them into the twists of my fairy tale whilst keeping to their specifications.
Propp’s ‘Dramatis Personae’ lists the characters that he identified in the material he studied. ‘Our working material consists of 100 tales. The rest is reference material, of great interest to the investigator.’ (Propp 386) From studying the collection of tales he surmised that he could condense the characters into seven broad figures with qualities that each of the ones he had encountered would embody.
The characters within my tale of the ‘The Forest of Lyca’ certainly display qualities and characteristics that conform to those guidelines stated by Propp, although due to my aim of the tale incorporating a mixture of traditional and modern there are some deviations. For example, my tale contains Propp’s character types of the Hero (Alice) and the Villain, of which there are more than one. However my tale merges many of Propp’s character types. For example the roles of the Donor, the False Hero, the Princess, Dispatcher and Helper are blurred and merged to almost a point beyond recognition. This was my attempt to challenge some of the traditional conventions whilst still maintaining some. This is something I also applied to my working of the functions stated by Propp.
The beginning of my tale assents with the first seven stages of Propp’s functions. The ‘absention’ (Propp 386) occurs firstly, as the reader is introduced to Alice having left her home and is embarking on her journey to and through the forest. Secondly the ‘interdiction’ (Propp 386) is addressed as the warning Alice receives is stated to the reader as she recalls it. I had already touched upon the second function with the description of the creature and the tragedy of the missing children. This serves as a warning to the reader, as they are encouraged to understand that there must be already be a warning and ban from entering the forest. This ban and warning is of course broken as Alice enters the forest to retrieve the cure for her mother. This serves as the third function: the ‘violation’ (Propp 286) and is followed a short while after by Alice’s departure from the path, the warning that is stated as part of the second function. The fourth function is the ‘reconnaissance’ (Propp 286), which appears to be addressed as Alice begins to hear what she assumes to be the creature that she also assumes to be hunting her. However, as we discover, the creature is not the real villain and as Alice flees from its noise she falls at the feet of one of the enchanted animals that dwell within the wood. It is this then that serves the purpose of the fourth function and simultaneously fulfils the requirements of the fifth, sixth and seventh functions in one motion. By meeting one of the enchanted animals, the real villains, and by trusting it, Alice falls prey to the ‘reconnaissance’, ‘delivery’, Propp’s fifth function, the ‘trickery’ and the ‘complicity’ (Propp 386). The villain attempts to find something out about the hero, obtains it, attempts to deceive the hero and finally succeeds as ‘the victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps the enemy.’ (Propp 386).
It is from this stage that my tale begins to divert from Propp’s formula. The decision to deviate from the formula was mainly because I wished to introduce the elements that would conflict with the quintessential conventions that I had indentified with the genre from my secondary reading. As mentioned, I wished for my fairy tale to emulate both the traditional versions and the editions such as ‘The Company of Wolves’ by Angela Carter.
After analysing the traditional conventions and structure of the classic fairy tale, I began to analyse the variations of the Red Riding Hood story and read critical work surrounding it to further my understanding of its themes and conventions. An element of this that I was most interested to explore was that of the degree of explicit and adult themes that resonate throughout so many of the traditional fairy tales. For the sake of this companion, I will limit my investigation into these themes in only the most prominent versions of Little Red Riding Hood.
The earliest recording of this iconic tale is ‘The Story of Grandmother’ whose specific origin is unknown. The story is one fraught with taboo throughout with references to murder, cannibalism and bestiality. After the wolf kills and stores away the remains of the little girl’s grandmother, references are made to the little girl consuming them shortly before giving the wolf some sort of ‘medieval striptease’ (Burns, 32) and being lured into bed with him. One has to speculate at the purpose of the gruesome undertones within this story. When reading and analysing this tale it is important to realise that it was not solely written for children, or indeed intended for them at all. Secondly, to provide distraction and entertainment, tales necessitated higher degrees of melodrama within them, as Tatar so candidly states: ‘Is it surprising that, in a an age without radios, television, and other electronic wonders, they favored fast-paced narratives with heavy doses of burlesque comedy, melodramatic action, scatological humour, and free-wheeling violence?’ (Tatar 3)
Perrault’s tale eradicates the striptease contained within its predecessor in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but its contents are still rich in violence, with undertones of rape. After the evidence of irresponsible bad parenting: her mother sending her off alone through the woods and the statement of that ‘The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stop and talk to wolves’ (Perrault 12), the girl succumbs to temptation and picks flowers and chasing butterflies whilst the wolf proceeds to murder her grandmother. Little Red Riding Hood arrives, eventually, at her grandmother’s house and fooled effortlessly by the wolf into believing that he is in fact her grandmother she obeys him without question to remove her clothes and climb into bed with the wolf. After some elementary discoveries by Red Riding Hood that her grandmother seemed slightly different, the wolf swallows her whole. It would be my suggestion that the cruel and sadistic application of taboo exists within this Perrault tale to serve an even greater purpose than when used in the earlier, original tales. The moral following the girl’s demise advises girls to learn from Red Riding Hood’s example and beware of wolves of all kinds. The intention of the tale appears to be one of moral purposes, to keep children on the Christian path. Despite this there is certainly an air of sadism within the text from the author. As Burns describes, Perrault ‘is amusing himself vicariously with the thought of seduction while warning little girls who are innocent and pretty to be careful.’ (Burns 31)
Tatar suggests: ‘Sex and violence: these are the major thematic concerns of in the Grimms’ collection, at least in their unedited form.’ (Tatar 369). ‘Little Red Cap’ is no exception and takes a different approach to the tale than Perrault with different intentions behind it. Despite the wolf having his metaphorical ‘way’ with Little Red Cap and her grandmother, he is discovered by a huntsman travelling through the forest who cuts him open, rescues the two females and (with the help of Little Red Cap) fills his stomach with stones before sewing him back up and allowing him to wake up and disembowel himself. As in Perrault’s version, there is strong evidence to support the devouring of Little Red Cap and her grandmother as a symbol of the text being a rape narrative. Susan Brownmiller suggests the swallowing of both Little Red Cap and her grandmother who are completely docile and defenceless ‘is a parable of rape’ (Brownmiller 343) and elaborates that the tale encourages girls to ‘stick close to the path, better not be adventurous. If you are lucky, a good friendly male may be able to save you from certain disaster.’ (Brownmiller 344). But the difference with the application of taboo within the Grimm’s tale is in the difference of their intentions. It is to serve a more educational purpose than Perrault’s moral tale – simply to teach children to obey their elders, and that if they do, no harm will come to them. ‘Unlike Perrault, who has written a moral story about innocence and its frailty in the face of raw violence, the Grimms’ tale has its roots in the necessity for obedience’ (Burns 33).
It is clear from my research into the adult themes within these traditional tales, that they are rife with them, and the authors unafraid of using graphic and grim elements to translate their intentions. I would argue, that the reason taboo is so heavily featured within the tales, is for the specific intention of the author; whether for education, entertainment, sadistic satisfaction or to impress moral guidelines.
Not only were almost all traditional fairy tales written by men, but the female characters represented within them tend to be ones of a far less than flattering quality. It is from my research that I have learnt that the majority of female figures presented throughout fairy tales were essentially portrayed to be to be the domestic female, without independence that conformed to patriarchy. It is Marcia Lieberman and her article on the acculturation of women in fairy tales that influenced this stage of my research principally. Lieberman states that ‘among other things, these tales present a picture of sexual roles, behavior, and psychology,’ (Lieberman 384) and it is clear to see truth in her statement. Consistently, the traditional fairy tales present women to only be positive characters if they conform to social roles and display the characteristics that, presumably, were desirable in the time that they were written in. The heroines are portrayed as mild tempered and passive beings who require nothing but their beauty and desirable temperament to be rewarded with or saved by a prince or courageous male, and are helpless without him.
‘Most of the heroines … are entirely passive, submissive, and helpless. This is most obviously true of Sleeping Beauty, who lies asleep, waiting for a brave prince to awaken and save her. (She is like the Snow-White of “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” who lies in a death-like sleep, her beauty being visible through her glass coffin, until a prince comes along and falls in love with her.)’ (Lieberman 388)
As illustrated here by Lieberman, the heroines sole purpose is to remain docile and beautiful, to not upset the status quo and to await the arrival of their prince and, or, future husband.
The idea of the heroine’s need for a male character to save and marry her, and one could suggest, for her to serve, is prominent throughout the majority of the fairy tales. In variations of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and, most importantly, Red Riding Hood, the heroines are weak without redeeming male characters. It could be suggested that Red Riding Hood is portrayed as completely reliant on men. Within ‘Little Red Cap’ by the Brothers Grimm, the girl is not only fooled and controlled by the wolf who, I would suggest, represents masculine lust and sexuality, but requires the rescue from the huntsman. It is interesting to note here that further interpretations state that the action the huntsman performed could be read as antagonistic towards both sexes as opposed to solely women. The action of cutting the wolf’s stomach open could be viewed as a caesarean section response to the wolf’s metaphorical pregnancy. This could be viewed as women punishing men as Fromm describes:
‘How, then, is the wolf made ridiculous? By showing that he attempted to play the role of the pregnant woman, having living things in his belly. Little-Red-Cap puts stones, a symbol of sterility, into his belly, and the wolf collapses and dies. His deed … is punished according to his crime: he is killed by the stones, the symbol of sterility, which mock his usurpation of the pregnant women’s role.’ (Fromm 241)
The theme of the female characters total passivity and reliance on male figures to save them is something that – like the majority of the conventions of the classic fairy tale in ‘The Forest of Lyca’ – I have deviated from at points whilst maintaining similarities. Alice is, undoubtedly, an archetype of the female characters within the traditional fairy tales. She is helpless, at the mercy of others and is constant need of being rescued. She displays certain traits of resilience, level-minded and logical thinking that the traditional heroines do not, which was my attempt to make her character a slightly more complex and memorable one so as the reader may feel more empathetic with her. Nevertheless, ultimately her beauty, submissiveness and rapidity to succumb to the beautiful creatures’ temptation results in her embodiment of the traits that are quintessential to the heroine of the traditional fairy tales. Conversely, there are no explicit references to the chauvinistic rescue from a hero, prince or huntsman. Alice is repeatedly saved, or at the least the reader believes she is saved, by the very things that intend to hurt her. This is another convention that I have decided to warp to make the piece more critically engaging to consider when comparing it to the traditional fairy tales. However, despite there being no explicitly male character who comes to Alice’s rescue, the animals who supposedly save her are implied to be men; the centaur for example is a male and there is a stag as opposed to a deer. They are also the combined character of the wolf, embodying male sexuality, and intend to eat Alice which, if we agree with Brownmiller’s view above, is a threat upon her virginity. The centaur, for example, echoes the line from ‘The Story of Grandmother’ of “You won’t be needing them anymore.” (Beatson 15) when instructing Alice to leave her red cloak outside which, as mentioned, can be read to symbolise her virginity.
As mentioned, the typical heroines are portrayed as passive and domestic. Furthermore those that are not and are instead ambitious, independent and powerful, are portrayed as evil or inhuman. The queens without kings are usually evil; the cunning stepmothers are wicked, and even the fairy godmother in Cinderella who demonstrates power and independence for good is not human: ‘Women who are powerful and good are never human … those women who are human, and who have the power or seek it, are nearly always portrayed as repulsive … and are generally shown as active, ambitious, strong-willed and most often, ugly.’ (Lieberman 197)
The concept of beauty is an important one when considering the patriarchal role of women within the classic fairy tale. It is evident throughout the study of the majority of the tales that to be a beautiful girl is to be a decent person and, above all else, to be rewarded. As part of a family ‘the prettiest is invariably singled out and destined for reward’ (Lieberman 385) and it is clear that beauty is rewarded and ugliness punished. In variations of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, it is the beautiful character that is ultimately the one who has the happiest ending. ‘Beautiful girls are never ignored; they may be oppressed at first by wicked figures, as the jealous Queen persecutes Snow-White, but ultimately they are chosen for reward.’ (Lieberman 385). To be beautiful grants the ultimate reward: a prince to marry or a happy marriage where they will fulfil a domestic role successfully. One can therefore make the conclusion that fairy tales were encouraging girls to think only of their looks, ‘and the focus on beauty as a girl’s most valuable asset, perhaps their only valuable asset.’ (Lieberman 385).
After studying this concept from Lieberman’s article and other secondary critical material, I began to consider how I wished this to affect my own fairy tale. I considered that within the classic editions of Red Riding Hood it could be construed that the heroine is punished for her beauty but, unlike the previous characters mentioned, not rewarded afterwards. In Charles Perrault’s version, I would argue that the girl’s beauty is not the only reason for her burden and punishment, but that it is her lack of awareness of it that brings her to an ending that is far from ‘happily ever after’. Maria Tatar confirms this when she describes the Grimm and Perrault’s intention to make ‘the heroine responsible for the violence to which she is subjected. By speaking to strangers (as Perrault tells it) or by disobeying her mother and straying from the path (as the Grimms tell it), Red Riding Hood courts her own downfall.’ (Tatar 6) Perrault’s version is followed by the moral epilogue, warning girls to beware of men who covet their appearance. It is this idea that I have decided to apply to my tale. I vividly describe Alice’s blossoming femininity and beauty and it is this that the reader is led to believe makes her such a target, from the creature that senses her stage of puberty to the constant convert and extrovert references to attacks upon her virginity. However, to keep the tale on the borderline appropriateness for children, Alice finds that it was all a dream, and that her childhood innocence has been prolonged as she looks at the untarnished red cloak upon her door, which can be read in this case as a metaphor for the unbroken hymen.
However, an element that I have partly shared and partly reversed, depending on the view, is the one that beautiful characters are good and the ugly ones are bad. The creatures in the forest are beautiful and elegant and therefore Alice feels compelled to trust them against the horrifically ugly creature that she thinks means her harm. However, once out of the light that the forest (and in reality, adolescence) casts, she realises the once beautiful creatures are ugly, and therefore the evil and the once feared creature is in fact beautifully pure and consequently good. One could argue that I have gone against the convention and presented the beautiful creatures as evil and vice versa, but it is the former interpretation I had envisaged.
From studying the theoretical material surrounding the negative portrayal of women it is necessary to consider the historical and social contexts of the time of the recording of the fairy tales. I have previously discussed that the tales contain extremely negative portrayals of women, however, that is speaking from a present day viewpoint. A feminist reading of the fairy tales is, in comparison with their origins, startling recent in history. The historical and social context of the tales’ time of assembly is one of patriarchy and where women held a far more prominent role in the domestic side of life than the vocational, and although perhaps some of the depiction is slightly one-sided and extreme, it is important to consider the differences in society. Jack Zipes comments on the relevance of the attitudes towards women present within the Grimms’ tales:
What became apparent […] was that the Grimms’ tales, though ingenious and perhaps socially relevant in their own times, contained sexist and racist attitudes and served a socialization process which placed great emphasis on passivity, industry, and self-sacrifice for girls and activity, competition, and accumulation of wealth for boys. (Zipes 1979 3)
Secondly, the education of women was considerably different and exceptionally limited in the time that the tales were written. In the time that Charles Perrault was writing his tales, the 17th century, the level of education offered to men was severely different to that of women. The tales were of course written exclusively by men, and read more dominantly by men. Even at the time of the publication of the Grimms’ tales, they were still releasing stories that were appropriate to their audience. ‘Wilhelm consistently tried to meet audience expectations. And the reading audience of Germany was largely bourgeois, growing in power and becoming more Biedermeier or Victorian in its morals and ethics.’ (Zipes 1979 8) I would argue that this does more to explain than excuse the portrayal of women, as the overwhelming material I have read supporting this interpretation has led me to believe that that despite these factors, the representation is still decisively negative and derogatory.
After writing a fairy tale with many of the elements that the traditional tales contain, several facets about them have become clear to me and raised certain thoughts. Firstly, the degrees of the themes that lie within the pages of the tales are more sinister and twisted than I had realised at the beginning of this project. I realise that the reasons behind the application of them from my study of the tales and critical material are down to their intentions, both conscious and unconscious, but it still surprised me to see the extent of them. Similarly to this, the other elements discussed within this companion have been enlightening to me in regards to the medium of the fairy tale. But after writing my own and attempting to emulate these qualities, whilst adapting some, and changing many, I have discovered that to attempt to recreate them with similar intentions would be near impossible within today’s society. Angela Carter succeeds admirably in completely modernising them, with an explicit feminist twist upon them and making them so vivid. However, to attempt to write a contemporary fairy tale with the themes that the classic tales embody, and direct them towards children no matter what the intention, would not be accepted. Not only is equality between the two genders more level than it ever has been, but many forms of socialisation and imposing roles upon children at a young age is rapidly being discouraged. I for one do not believe that adults would permit a story written in the modern day to be read to children if it contained such conventions. Correspondingly, children now are more intuitive and discerning than ever before and I do not think that many of the extreme themes directed over their heads to their parents or into their subconscious would be missed. This is mirrored at the end of ‘The Little Girl and the Wolf’ by James Thurber:
‘for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out her basket and shot the wolf dead. Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.’ (Thurber 17)
- Anon. “The Story of Grandmother” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1999). 10-11.
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- Front Cover Image Selected From: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/03/21/the_dark_forest_of_childhood/