Published on New York Spirit
Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. – C.S. Lewis
Ah! I Never Grew Up.
I remember storytelling sessions at bed when I was a kid. I just couldn’t fall asleep without hearing the tales from the land of speaking animals, kindhearted fairies, royal kings and queens, ingenious court men in the kingdom, witches and wizards, enchanting forests, the magical mirrors, the beautiful mermaids and the happy endings. The story used to finish off but my imagination used to take me to the world where I was in the midst of breathtaking gardens and floating clouds. Life moved ahead but my love for fairytales never ended. Thanks to Disney for recreating that world. Tinker Bell’s world looks familiar to me. Ariel’s adventures fascinate me. Alice’s wisdom awes me. The field between ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Happily Ever After’ still mesmerizes me.
Bad Example for Kids?
I came across a research conducted by British TV where they found out that parents are scrapping traditional fairy tales as they believe it is scarring their kids. The gruesome details of Big Bad Wolf gobbling up grandma in Red Riding Hood are leaving their kids in tears. Goldilocks is supposedly condoning stealing. Cinderella is painting a bad picture as she is a young girl doing housework. Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the dark forest. The term dwarf allegedly is inappropriate in the Snow White story.
I never saw these stories in this light before. I never thought that kissing frogs will lead me to a prince or that stealing is good. I think children can distinguish between the fantasy and real life. I don’t think fairy tales scarred me even a bit. (Well, considering that you do not take living in air-castles a side-effect). It might sound outlandish to the practical world out there but the glittery magic of fairytales has instilled the belief in me that no matter what bruises world might give; no matter what difficulties we may face in life; no matter how challenging the task is, with true efforts and pure soul, it will all be a happy ending.
The Infinite Wisdom through Symbolism
The original ending of many fairytales was more ghastly than what is shown or printed as they were meant for adults. It is hard to say which the original script is because there are several versions that emerged in different parts of the world. Folklores are believed to be traveling throughout the world with different outfits and names suiting the culture and perhaps the folk-teller of that place.
Cinderella story has an Indian equivalent story where the princess loses her shoe in a forest and the prince found it and later marries her. The Greek version has Rhodopis whose shoe was picked up by an eagle and was dropped off in the lap of an Egyptian king. Germans have Aschenputtel, Italians have Cenerentola, French have Cendrillon; there are thousands of versions of this fairy tale. Same goes for other fairytales as well.
The wisdom is simplified and symbolized. We are something of each character of the story. The witches are the darker side of our own self; the ego at times. It tricks us into believing the illusion which later traps us. The Snow White ate the apple, Hansel believed in the false promise of food and a warm bed. Getting lost in a forest is equivalent to getting lost in the labyrinth of the vastness of life. Only when we face our darkest fears, we become the true warriors. The characters fight their way out and that’s when life changes from them. The life lessons are learned only by passing through the path of what we call mistakes. The virtue of patience and kindness seems to be struggling at first but in the end, the power of love wins the life. This love is not literal to the romantic relationship but signifies the overall healing power of love in our hearts. Giving love and compassion is the secret to a ‘happily ever after’.
The Re-Creating Possibilities
Maria Tatar, an expert on classic fairytales, once said in a discussion in 2014, “I am deeply committed to the idea of creating our own versions of these stories. That is, if you’re not comfortable with Gretel getting behind the witch and pushing her into the oven, tell it in a different way, or rewrite it. Or you know, look at another cultural production that takes the story in a different direction.”
I agree with her as I am seeing the innovative methods adopted by the new-age schools while portraying these stories in the play for younger age group. In the story ‘Three little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf’, instead of the first pig getting eaten by the wolf, he ran away to the second pig’s house and then both of them ran to the third pig’s house. When the wolf entered through the chimney and was supposed to fell down in the boiling water cauldron and die, they changed it to falling down in warm water post which the pigs helped him out of the cauldron and put antiseptic on the burns. No bloodshed, no skin-rip; happy ending with a moral.
The cinema is also giving depth to these negative characters by projecting the circumstances that led to their bad deeds. That doesn’t make them less of an evil but gaining perspective helps not to stereotype step-mother or any such real life character. Movies like Maleficient, Snow White, and the Huntsmen, Cinderella are breaking these stereotypes. The princesses are not hapless anymore. They can take care of themselves yet believe in the power of love and compassion. Shrek told us how prince and princess are not picture perfect yet perfectly in love.
With the changing times, the fairytales too, are going through the evolution and for the good. The original ones were there to suit the thought process of that society. The allegory was weaved around with what was relatable to that world. Even so, I always took those versions as a story and not a literal rendition of this world. I took the fascinating parts out of it which I felt could make this world more beautiful. This is the beauty of a story – it can be customized to the varied audience and weave the magic it is meant to create.
May the magic of fairy tales never cease to amaze us, fascinate us and inspire us!