Fairy tales were the first real stories, originally told via word of mouth and carried like wildfire. They were passed down to future generations orally, long before literary intervention. Of course during this time many stories got lost, but through literature and films these fairy tales have been immortalised and kept for our generation as well as the next.
When one thinks of fairy tales it is usually coupled with Disney adaptations of the likes of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, and yet it cannot be forgotten that the roots of these fairy tales were traced back to the likes of Perrault and the Grimm brothers, where the “happily ever after” story was not ever really the case at all.
Fairy tales were told to kick children out of bad habits, to scare them from straying off the correct path in life (literally in Little Red Riding Hood). Even though fairy tales were not originally for children, many have been watered down thoroughly to appeal to a younger audience. I’m sure many people believe that fairy tales are just about dainty love stories and ugly step sisters and do not pay attention to their darker messages which comment on the morality of society. There have even been cases where parents of today refuse to read fairy tales to their children because of their themes involving execution, kidnapping and of course there are always problematic stories about the demoralization of women through passive heroines such as Cinderella.
But even though some parents refuse to read their children fairy tales, these stories – one way or another – will always be around and be talked about, because there is this belief we want to hold on to: that good will always triumph over evil. There is a naivety in all of us surrounding good and evil, and when we watch something based on a fairy tale, we can feel comfortable in the inevitable conclusion that good will reside over all evil. Fairy tales offer us something different. Fairy tales allow us to experience things we would never dream of experiencing, they don’t just comment on life, but as C. S. Lewis believed, they add to it, and therefore offer us an escapism from the mundane nature of everyday life.
Fairy tales will never die because they are forever retelling and recreating themselves. Fairy tales shouldn’t be solely thought of as “Once upon a time…” stories, and many writers such as Angela Carter have upturned these notions, defying them with a different kind of fairy tale: stories exploring sexuality and bionic heroes. She gives a voice to many of the passive women in traditional tales. She takes you to a place which is not necessarily a place of light heartedness, but a place which allows you to experience the weird and wonderful. You get a sense of surrealism mixed with a notion of “could this really happen?” And somehow the answer to this is “possibly”. It cannot be forgotten how many writers have been influenced over the centuries by fairy tales and how many of the books and films we watch have elements of these tales in them. We will never stop telling fairy tales, because we will never stop telling stories. Although fairy tales are retold and adapted they never lose their appeal, someone is always there to listen, to watch, to read and to experience and this is particularly apparent today.
Fairy tales are not merely left to the wonders of the imagination or made up in pixellated form, but they burst onto our screens in a magnitude of action and brilliance. Snow White and the Huntsman has recently been released, an obvious adaptation on the original Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs we all know, and also Little Red Riding Hood was released in 2011 staring Amanda Seyfried. Even romance films such as A Cinderella Story have brought fairy tales into the modern day. We are now not just told fairy stories orally, but we can physically see them unravel. If “seeing is believing”, then we are all trapped in the mystical world of the surreal. Be it Narnia or somewhere between Pandora and Earth. The writer W. H. Auden commented that “the way to read a fairy-tale is to throw yourself in[to it]” and today there is no way to shy away from this.
Fairy tales will carry on being read, intervened and adapted because they offer more to the imagination than normal stories and tap into each and every one of us. They change with each generation. Suddenly Little Red Riding Hood is the one pulling out a knife on the big bad wolf, and the princess chooses the beast rather than the prince. Fairy tales are immortal, you just need to take your pen to your check list and tick which one will be adapted next.