Once Upon a Time is Not What it Seems

I love fairy tales and particularly enjoy revisions of traditional fairy tales, which is one reason that I’ve become slightly hooked on Once Upon a Time, a new TV show shot in Vancouver that debuted this fall.  The show goes from fairy tale land to modern Storybrooke, with the premise being that the evil witch has cursed Snow White and exiled her and other fairy tale characters to Storybrooke, where they have no recollection of their fairy tale lives at all.  The only one who can break the curse is Snow White’s daughter Emma, who is found by the son she gave up for adoption (Henry) who is now living with the evil witch (mayor of Storybrooke).  Henry is the only one who knows the truth about the residents of Storybrooke–but will anyone believe him? 

This show made me think about books I’ve read which offer interesting retellings of fairy tales.  Anne Sexton’s Transformations contains poetic renditions of fairy tales.  The poems begin with commentary on modern life–Red Riding Hood opens with examples of deceivers and Sexton counts herself among those who deceive.  “And I.  I too.  Quite collected at cocktail parties, meanwhile in my head I’m undergoing open-heart surgery”.  In describing Red Riding Hood’s cape, she says “it was her Linus blanket, besides it was red, as red as the Swiss flag, yes it was red, as red as chicken blood”.  Anne Sexton provides the reader with feminist, dark retellings of these tales and they aren’t the sanitized, safe versions we tell our children.  Sexton takes the tales to places dark and untamed.    

The book My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales contains stories by a plethora of writers, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman.  The tales of Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White are just a few of the stories that are breathed new life in the capable hands of these renowned authors.  Less well-known tales from lands such as Japan and Mexico are also revisited.  Again, these aren’t our children’s tales–but were fairy tales ever meant to be?

One of my favorite twists on the fairy tale theme has to be Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess.  I first discovered this book when I was a teenager, and I just loved  it! First, I was overjoyed that though this book had a feminist message the author was male, and I just loved the strong female character.  For those of you who don’t know this story, prince Ronald is taken by a dragon right before he is supposed to marry princess Elizabeth.  Elizabeth cleverly rescues Ronald from the dragon, but after her ordeal isn’t looking sufficiently princess-like for Ronald’s taste.  Ronald tells her, “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.”  If Elizabeth can stand up to a dragon, she can certainly stand up to the annoying prince Ronald.  In fact, her response is hilarious–but you’ll have to read the book to find out what she says.  And, yes, this IS a tale that you can read with your kids.  


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