In English, Yr 11 have been busy preparing their Spoken Language presentations as part of their formal GCSE English language assessment. Last week they presented their talks to the class. And what an impassioned group of young women they are! There was a huge range of topics and interests represented and many diverse opinions and ideas expressed articulately and passionately. We will be publishing some over the coming weeks, keep an eye out for more.
The Journey of Fairy Tales Through Time – by Sasha Sausmann
Fairytales are thought to have been an oral tradition as far back as the last Ice Age. And they have remained with us through to one of the hottest times our planet has experienced. So how did they do this? What’s the secret of the fairytale? Well, this is their journey.
Fairytales originated as stories depicting complications and their possible resolutions or repercussions. They often include enchanted motifs because humans have forever been fascinated with the idea of magic. Fairytales ventured with the people who held them close to their hearts, and they spread and incorporated new themes as cultures mingled and settled.
And in the end, people did write them down. But before we get there, a very significant point in our story is France during the 16th and 17th centuries.
This was during the Romantic period, where all forms of art were immensely revered. Many French aristocrats would gather in the salons of Paris and would discuss the issues of the day with their fellows. After much debate, they would come to a point when they could relax, and what better way than through storytelling. Each would retell stories that they heard growing up, the stories that shaped who they were as people. The tales told in these salons helped bring the fairytale into a new era like the ones we know today.
And, many incorporated subtle snubs at society. Especially how societal expectations often do more harm than good. Even those with messages against the monarchy arose.
But they had to make sure that the material that they were presenting was still acceptable for the time, so it was subtle. But still, it marked a desire for change and signalled the beginning of a new social era. At least a start reflected in art, which has great potential to spread and make its cause heard.
Then the Pre Raphaelite movement emerged in Europe, people had this desire to explore pre-Christian roots. Beliefs in spirits and in the forces of nature. This was the time of industrialization and mass urbanization. So people wanted a refreshed perspective and the ability to escape past the black smoke of their coal filled lives into a realm of the more mysterious themes that are explored in folklore and fairytales. Here we have two main characters, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.
The Brothers Grimm were born in nowadays Germany. And they grew up with art and literature all around them, so later in life, they had this desire to collect folktales. They travelled to settlements in the surrounding area, to find and write down the stories in their purest, most unscathed form. Of course, each community had its own little twist on the same plotline, so in the end, a characterisation system was made so that they could record slight variations of the same fairytale, but be able to put them under one hood.
However, their first volume was heavily criticised as they were very gruesome, touched on some taboo themes, and were deemed unsuitable for children, children being the target audience,. Therefore, in later editions, the brothers sandpapered the stories and removed mainly the sexual references and violence experienced by the protagonists.
The next stop on our journey is Hans Christian Anderson. He wrote many things but is most famous for his fairytales. However, instead of collecting folktales, like the Brothers Grimm, he was inspired by their prominent motifs and wrote his own. Tales such as The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Snow Queen, among many others, were written by him.
Moreover, Anderson is thought to have been bisexual. And interestingly, his beloved fairytale, The Little Mermaid, was originally an extended metaphor written in a love letter that he sent to his crush. Anderson personified himself as Ariel in the tale. And it shows how he believed that he was out of reach of true love, thus him being ‘under the sea’. It warned of the dangers of not being able to express one’s true self in society and how their restrictions can lead to the detrimental outcome seen in the story. Since in the original, Ariel doesn’t marry the Prince, unable to speak and tell him the truth, she disintegrates into foam. All encompassed in a now beloved, Disney-remade fairytale.
And talking of Disney, their release of the animated full-length feature film Snow White in 1937 was revolutionary. It helped cement the idea that fairytales were for children. As Disney adapted more of these folktales for animation, very much drawing on the work done by the Brothers Grimm as well as Hans Christian Anderson, they brought the stories closer to people in our modern age. And it is through the Disney films that these tales continue to live on and spread in today’s society.
This is one journey that the fairytale has ventured on, the European one, and there are countless others that each deserves a 10-minute speech. But interestingly many have ended up in the realms of Disney, and have been globalised through their work.
So, in the end, why have fairytales been so successful? They’re just some story about made-up characters that do things that on earth are impossible. And yet they have stayed with us right through to the modern age.
Well most often, fairytales teach us lessons, lessons that are timeless: don’t give up hope, don’t let greed get the better of you. They depict problems that are synonymous with everyday life. The fact that they have been adapted so much just shows how they change as the people telling them to change, and yet fundamentally, their core stays the same. You can really hear all the people who have narrated them before, their voices still echo, and their hardships still resonate. Fairytales give us hope that we are not alone in our troubles.
Moreover, they are set in no specific location in space-time, they are often ‘Once upon a time, in a land far far away.’ They could be anywhere, and at any point in time. Yesterday, in 50 years, in your back yard or on the moon. Thus they stay with us, as they can always be made relevant.
And so if the fairytale you hear, the one written in a book, or presented by Disney, does not quite click with you, then follow in the footsteps of those before. Adapt it until you have your own unique version. Since it is through this, their continuous regeneration that fairytales continue to live on.