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Yes I am. Ask my mom. Ever since I was five years old I’ve had the same, threefold dream: get a job, become financially independent and get an apartment. Now, at the ripe old age of 22, I have fulfilled my lifelong dream. Ha! And it feels awesome.

Sure, I’ve had other dreams. Ever since I was 12 – which was when I spoke my first words of German – I knew that I wanted to be German professor. But this was a dream which could only be realized after the primary objective was attained: Independence. That was my dream. And now that I’ve got it, my dream has expanded: enjoy it. Protect it.

More than one of my friends has called me a nutcase for being so obsessed with being able to take care of myself by myself. But you see, it’s not my fault. I blame the fairy tales. Specifically Young Adult novels based on fairy tales. Especially those written by Donna Jo Napoli.

Napoli was one of the defining authors of my early years. It was her, Leon Uris, and Charles Dickens (weird, weird mix). And the book which I remember most from that time is Napoli’s excellent Rapunzel-retelling, Zel.

Cover for the Paperback Edition of 'Zel'

This + Exodus + A Tale of Two Cities = 10 Year Old Me

I have a very clear memory of reading this book. I was in my elementary school’s library, which was purple, and had hulking green Apple computers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Greetings, ladies and gentlemen, dwarfs and elves! That’s right…I’m back. Thought you’d never see me again, did ya? Heh heh. Well, just as a quick update: I’m finally out of school and headed to Germany for a semester (a German semester, March – July). So I have a month to rest at home and do things like update this darned blog. Also, when I get to Germany, all my classes will be on Children’s Literature and Fairy Tales, so expect lots of updates then, too. Yessirree, I am back indeed.

And what a better time to be back than today? For the movie version of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic children’s tale Coraline just came out. And also recently, his wonderful new The Graveyard Book just won the Newbury Medal. (Look for another post on The Graveyard Book, soon). Wonderful!

Of course, one of the reasons that I love love love Neil Gaiman is that he shares my philosophy on children’s literature and violence (she said with a cackle). In fact, one of the things he said in a recent interview with the Star Tribune (Minneapolis’ newspaper; Gaiman calls the Twin Cities home…and so do I, in the summer! We must be meant to be) was that when one takes out darkness and violence from children’s tales, one loses the meaning of all that is light and gentle. Bravo, Neil!

But anyway, away with my ax-grinding. There’s business to be done!

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In Defense of Fairy Tales

Why do I write this blog, anyway? Why am I going to devote my life to studying fairy tales, writing articles and doing research that no one will ever know about or read? Why don’t fairy tale scholars do something more ‘useful’ – like cure cancer, or work at a battered women’s shelter?

Why do fairy tales matter?

It’s a tough question, actually. And tricky especially for me, I suppose. I was raised in a household where I was always told that I should grow up to give back to society. Studying fairy tales might be a lot of fun, but doesn’t seem to really give anything back to society. Or does it?

First, I want to dismiss the argument that a lot of people probably think of when they’re trying to justify their existences. The argument goes like this: “Well, it matters because it’s beautiful. Man cannot live by bread alone! Art and scholarship are needed, just like we need medicine and engineering.”

No. Art is a wonderful, glorious thing. But we don’t need it like we need medicine and electricity. And man can live without the artists, the writers, and the fairy tale scholars. Would they miss us? Maybe. After a while, probably. But taking away their doctors and engineers would be a lot more noticeable and hurt a lot more because society truly needs things like medicine and infrastructure.
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Just a few days ago, Boston.Com aired this article on how fairy tales have become watered-down and sanitary, the better to appeal to Mummsies and Daddsies eager to spare Little Tulip/Timmy from the Harsh World.

Of coures, His Holiness Of Fairyness, Jack Zipes, gets to pontificate for a bit:

Zipes reads his own Grimm Brothers translations in Minneapolis-St. Paul elementary schools, and says he has seen young kids latch onto the classic, dark versions of the tales. Some of the most disadvantaged students, he says, “really relate to us, because we’re telling tales that they experience in their homes.” And even kids shielded from terrible strife find connections to fairy tale worlds. Of Cinderella, Zipes says, “What are we talking about? We’re talking about today. How many families are split today?”

::Dae Rants:: See, now here’s my problem. We’re only looking at these tales from one point of view. The first question we always ask is “how is this relevant for me? Sure, these fairy tales are interesting. But what do they say about me?”

Answer: they may say something about you. Then again, they may not. As a child, I noticed that some girls truly did identify with Cinderella/Snow White/Sleeping Beauty. Some tried to, or thought that they did, because that’s what the ruling culture-dogma told them they should do. And some just felt left out. “Where’s the fairy tale for me?” They asked. Deep within our young, lolly-pop loving selves, we became convinced that some people got fairy tale endings, and that some people didn’t. Or, more to the point, we believed that there was only one kind of fairy tale.

This is blatantly not true. The Brothers Grimm (just to name one fairy tale tradition, because there are dozens) wrote over 200 fairy tales. That’s right. Two hundred. I’ve read them all, I’ve studied them for years. And let me tell you something. Only about 20% of those tales are the Princess Tales that we now immediately associate with fairy tales. There are just as many peasants as princesses. There are soldiers, tailors, cobblers, and miller’s daughters. In fact, my favorite tale of all time is Räuberbräutigam (Robber Bride-Groom), which tells the story of a miller’s daughter who escapes from a band of robber-cannibals (which includes her fiance), and is then uses her wedding feast as a trap to catch them. Seriously. She’s a strong, kick-ass, takes-no-shit kind of a gal. These women exist in fairy tales, too. We just don’t see them as often.

Why is that?

1) Money. That’s right. Disney. Hollywood. They know that glamor, sex, and royalty sells. They also know that simple ideas make stronger impressions. They’ve also picked up on broader trends in our culture that have little to do with fairy tales (in their pure form), but everything to do with changing gender-roles, religion, sexual mores, and sexism. In short: they know they can make money off of princesses.

2) History. The Grimms did not originally make much money off of their 200 fairy tales. (Are you sick of that number? Because I haven’t even begun to be sick of it yet…) They therefore put out a small edition, “Die Kleine Ausgabe,” in 1825. This edition contained only 50 tales. Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and all their pals were among them. This book made money and upped sales, in part because the society it depicted and the tales it contained were simpler and easier to digest. These are the tales that have mostly entered into popular culture. The more complex and subversive ones remain under the radar. But. They. Are. There. And in my view, they are quite empowering. ::end rant::

Back to the article!

Our dear friend and guide Joanna Weiss has this to say about sanitizing fairy tales:

In truth, I think I’ve told a [sanitized] version of that one to my little girl, putting my own, gentle spin on the story. And there is reason to protect the smallest kids from the violent parts of fairy tales, says David Bickham, a research scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. Young kids are already exposed to plenty of violence, he says, in news reports and superhero stories.

I agree with the fact that kids are exposed to a lot of violence today. Video games in which children shoot guns, steal money, and beat up women are very, very horrific (at least in my mind). But censoring fairy tales is not the solution. Stopping your children from playing the damn video game is the solution. Then the pointless, mind-numbing violence will be out of the picture. Then you can read your kids the real fairy tales. Then maybe they’ll grow up with a more complex view of the world.

We need to think carefully about what we read our children. If we read them puffy, empty, simple and sanitized stories in an effort to spare our children nightmares and pain, then our children will grow up to be puffy, empty, simple people, with just as much substance to them as the stories we fed them when they were children.

…that i have ever seen. This website, Grimm Fairy Tales.com, is possibly one of the more disturbing things that I have ever beheld (and yes, I saw what Walt Disney did to Snow White). This is a site where children can hear audio versions of the fairy tales (they have two as of this writing, The Bremen-town Musicians and Faithful John) read out loud to them, as well as follow along in print, and see the stories acted out by (poorly drawn, creepy) characters. What scares me the most, however, is the intro to the site, in which we are greeted by two goblins, both wearing T-shirts. One says ‘W’ and one says ‘L.’ You guessed it: the dancing, springing, jumping Wilhelm and Jacob…the Goblin version! Gaaaaaaah!!

“Hi kids! Welcome to the enchanted world of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.com! My name is Ludwig!” (Ludwig is pink with blue hair, and rather skinny. Also, side note: Ludwig did *not* collect fairy tales. That was Jacob and Wilhelm. Can you get any more elementary?)

“Und my name is Wilhelm!” (Wilhelm looks like an obese frog).

“We’re the Grimm Brothers!”

“Would you like to read a story, or play a game perhaps?”

“Just click the flashing button to begin!”

Wilhelm burps.

“Excuse me!”

WHY is Jacob Grimm now named Ludwig????

And it gets worse. These corrupters of the True Faith will not rest! All you have to do is mosey on over to Andersen Fairy Tales.Com to get sick to your stomach all over again! The curtain opens on a woodland scene, with a castle in the background, fairies flying all over…and Hans Christian Andersen, dressed in a purple waistcoat.

Hans: Hello there! I’m Hans Christian An-der-sen. Welcome to An-der-sen Fairy Tales.com. Come in! Read one of my stories. Learn a little, and play a while. Click the flashing button to begin!

Ahhhhhh!!!! My eyes!!!!! Thou shalt not turn the Brothers Grimm into Gremlin-Frog hybrids! Hans Christian Andersen is not Mr. Rogers on crack! I’m sure it says that somewhere in the Big Book. Doesn’t it say that somewhere in the Big Book? Parents: read your kids the books. Please oh please.

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Warning: this blog contains fairy tales (which may be unsuitable for grouches), a flying pig (which may be unsuitable for realists), and textual analysis (which may be unsuitable for chemists). You stand warned.

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