This cartoon pokes fun at our society’s obsession with analyzing and explaining. In the original story the wolf dressed in the grandmother’s clothing to trick Little Red into getting close so that he could eat her. In modern times, however, people are rarely content with simple explanations and have a strong desire to uncover hidden meanings or themes.
The therapist is implying that the wolf has a specific desire to wear women’s clothing, possibly hinting at some kind of deeper psychological issue. Many fairy tales are subjected to this sort of analysis, picking at nearly insignificant details to try to draw conclusions about hidden messages or meanings.
While there is some merit to in-depth analysis, it is debatable whether or not many literary analysts take it too far. It is certainly possible that authors spend time concocting elaborate metaphors and symbolism, but it seems much more likely to me that the majority of analysis is wishful thinking or imagined by the analysts.
The cartoon is an amusing poke at our fixation on hidden meaning, but I think it also points out a problem we have with focusing on insignificant details to the exclusion of more important topics. As interesting as it may be to apply psychoanalytic methods to fairy tales, I think we should sometimes take a step back and wonder if we are looking at them in the right way. Perhaps a less abstract historical analysis might uncover more useful information than what is often discussed in fairy tale analysis.
A fairy tale is a short, fantastical story. Fairy tales are primarily defined by their abstractness and lack of fine detail. The location is left completely to the audience’s imagination, and the story often takes place “once upon a time.” Even the characters are vague, often with no more than one or two defining traits. Snow White, for example, is described only by the colors of her hair, skin, and lips. Sparse description allows fairy tales to target a wider audience than might otherwise be possible, and to draw attention to general themes rather than individual characters.
In addition to the vague setting, a fairy tale must also include elements of magic. This magic, however, is never a startling thing. In the story of Little Red Riding Hood, she is not surprised by the talking wolf, nor are the many other instances of talking animals considered strange within their stories. This is what differentiates fairy tales from other types of fantastical tales. Another distinctive feature of fairy tales is that they do not often contain overt religious themes. The Grimm Brothers wrote in many references to Christianity and God in their book, but prior to their work, many of the fairy tales contained only vague religious references.
Fairy tails often contain morals or lessons, as well as a triumph of good over evil. The conflict is often more brutal than might be considered appropriate nowadays for children. The antagonist is often killed in an exceedingly painful or cruel manner, such as the wicked queen in Snow White, who is made to dance in red hot iron shoes. At the time when the stories were first collected, this would not have been a shocking addition to a story for children, though it is worth noting that fairy tales were originally targeted at both adults and children equally.
When adapting a story into a film, changes must be made. It is often difficult to remain perfectly faithful to the text, especially when dealing with something as short and undescriptive as a fairy tale. There simply isn’t enough detail in the original story of Hansel and Gretel to turn into a feature-length film without adding some original content.
The biggest difference is in the mother. Instead of a step-mother who wishes to be rid of the children, the movie features a loving mother who cares for the children, but is unable to keep from growing angry with them, particularly in the tight financial situation of the family. Instead of sending the children into the woods to starve, she sends them into the woods to find berries after their carelessness costs the family a great deal of food.
The witch is also changed substantially in the film. While it is certainly possible in the original fairy tale that Hansel and Gretel are not the witch’s first victims, her other victims do not appear in the story. In the movie, it turns out that they have been turned into gingerbread boys/girls by her magic, and they are freed when she dies.
The end of the movie is “happier” by modern standards than the original story. Nowadays the idea of the family living happily ever after because the wicked stepmother may seem strange or amoral, but few would find issue with the whole family being reunited to live happily together.
From Grimm To Disney was not actually my first choice when choosing FYS courses. It was a close second behind the FYS that I believe was called “Bullshit”. I have always read a lot, especially fantasy, and while I didn’t spend a great deal of time on fairy tales themselves, I recognize their importance in inspiring modern fiction.
The interest I’ve had in fairy tales has always been this sort of abstract thing – I can’t really say that I have a favorite story, so much as I have favorite themes, or story elements. While I of course value originality in the books I read, I also appreciate some common themes that are carried over from fairy tales. The idea of an underdog triumphing over impossible odds (isn’t unique to fairy tales, nor solely inspired by them, but they have definitely done a great deal to popularize the idea.
I’m looking forward to reading into the subtext and reasoning behind why fairy tales are the way they are, and I’m curious to see whether this class will have any overlap with the elementary German course I am also taking.
(I realize this blog entry is late – I had written it and I *thought* I’d published it Sunday night, but when checking things before class I realized that it had not, in fact, been published)