TSS: Once Upon a Time

Hey hey hey there SSers! How's it goin? I've been lagging on a couple of book reviews and since they're all on the same topic - FAIRY TALES - and all are NON FICTION, I thought I'd tie them in together.

Last month, when I was hardcore 'gotta get me some knowledge on fairy tales', I picked up a handful of nonfic books about the topic: Touch Magic by Jane Yolen (which I did a full review on here), Picturing the Rose: A Way at Looking at Fairy Tales by Marcia Lane (full review here), Little Red Riding Hood Uncloacked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of the Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein, and finally The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives by Sheldon Cashdan.

What I noticed in all of these books is that they (for the most part) open in the same way, justifying and defending fairy tales. After this is done, each decides on their own definition. While I can appreciate this, it can be repetitive and pedantic. Yes, yes, fairy tales are different because they involve magic. Yes, yes, much like myths there is a hero's journey to some extent involved (Arnold van Gennep calls it the rite of passage - from LRRHU). Yes, yes, the fairy tales generally involve a separation from society and a return with a maturity and understanding of the world. And finally, there is "exaggerated violence, as scholars like Maria Tatar have suggested, dramati[zing the] good and evil of villains." (LRRHU, 55)

But ya wanna know what really intrigues me? Is how fairy tales came to be. In LRRHU, as the title obviously states, the book is a focus on the Red Riding Hood tale. It's totally neat to see a book focus in on one fairy tale, especially since the tale has been told through out various countries (Lon Po Po for the Chinese, I love this version!). They are all similar, yet different. It really pulls me into believing in Jung's collective unconscious. (I am trying not to go on a tangent, but wouldn't that explain the similarities of creation myths as well?!).

The thing about fairy tales is the change over time. So you have Perrault who is one of the oldest known tellers who tells it one way. And then you have the Grimms come along and they take out the sexual innuendoes of the tales and insert more gore and violence. And then, you have Disney who makes them all honky dory.

Then, there's when real life becomes art and art real life. So, here it is in the late 1500's in Germany. Bedpur to be exact. And there are tons of werewolf attacks. Including a real serial killer! Stubbe Peeter (1589)! He was alleged crimes of rape, cannibalism, murder, and incest, all whilst wearing a wolf costume. Fiction and reality begin to blur. The big bad wolf is not a part of society.

Although the focus on Red Ridding Hood somewhat bored me at times, I have to share the most disturbing tale which comes from France. It's a grandmother's tale, meaning it's passed down anonymously. As the story goes, when Red Riding Hood (RRH) enters the grandma's house the Wolf tells her to have a bit to eat and points to the mincedmeat loaf. What RRH doesn't realize is that the meat is her dead grandma. The Wolf then tells her to drink before she comes into the bedroom. RRH drinks wine, which is actually her grandma's blood. Upon entering the room, the Wolf tells RRH to get undressed, which she does. At this point, while in bed with the Wolf, RRH begins to realize that there is a problem. She asks the Wolf if she might use the bathroom. The Wolf wonders out loud why she doesn't just pee in the bed. Finally, the Wolf allows her to go outside on the condition that a rope is tied around her. While outside RRH ties the rope around a tree trunk and runs away. The last line of the tale is the Wolf waiting for the return of RRH and shouts: "are you shitting a load?"

Now, it is obvious in the LRRHU book the goal of fairy tales are to teach lessons. In TWMD, the author claims that fairy tales don't teach lessons. TWMD has more of a psychoanalytical drive to fairy tales than the other books which overall I'm not too fond of. This book chooses to focus on more Freudian terms. For example, Snow White is thought to be an illustration of the Oedipal complex. Snow White wants to marry her father and the stepmother wants her gone because she's afraid that the father will want her more. I'm not a big Freudian fan to begin with, which is probably why I was more turned off by this book more than the rest.

However, there was an element that I did like and thought it had it's purpose: "As soon as we move beyond the 'once upon a time', we discover that fairy tales are about vanity, gluttony, envy, lust, deceit, greed, or sloth - the seven deadly sins of childhood. Though a particular fairy tale may address more than one 'sin', one typically occupies center stage." (TWMD, 13). I do think that this is an interesting way to look at fairy tales but I think that there is more to it than *just* this, ya know? Fairy tales are about transcendence, about the inner journey as well as the tangible journey. They are about evolution and the simplicity of the good vs. evil dichotomy helps us visualize that transition.

I admit, I did not finish TWMD. I set it aside halfway through and then brought it back to the library. I don't know if it was the Freudianism in it or just merely me becoming burnt out on fairy tale criticism.

I have since realized that I like finding out the historical ambiance in which the fairy tale was created. The tales show us where we come from, who we are, and what we hope to become. They are universal and apart of all cultures. They show us that we are connected: we desire the same, we fear the same, we hope the same, we dream the same. For that reason alone, I would argue fairy tales are important to our culture and our education.


  1. This topic is one my husband has studied to a certain degree but I'm afraid I don't know a thing about it!

    btw, I never heard back from you about your GLBT prize this months, since the P&P girls no longer have any bookmarks in stock? I'd love to send you something and am just waiting for your word!

  2. Interesting post. I need to read the books your mentioned here.

    Here is my Sunday Salon post!


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