The Reworked Fairy Tale: A Reading List
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The written form of fairy tales as we know it grew from the oral tradition of retelling stories of folklore and fantasy, passing them down through generations to entertain and educate children. Typically, these tales relied upon a mysterious enchanted world of princes and princesses, crafty old women, ogres, witches, dragons, dwarfs, magic, romance, and the tomfoolery of man. Elements of sexuality and violence were common.
Though fairy tales, in one form or another, have always existed, most of what we know comes by way of a handful of sources: the father of the genre, French author Charles Perrault, whose tales included Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and Little Red Riding Hood; those great German curators, the Brothers Grimm; and the beloved Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author of The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes, among others.
But before these still-familiar figures, there were the Italians Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile—and before them again, there were Roman tales, Chinese Taoist works, Aesop’s fables, the One Thousand and One Nights and the Sanskrit Kathāsaritsāgara.
And more recently, of course, there’s Disney. When most of us think of fairy tales, we’re thinking of the Disney versions. By the 1920s, fairy tales had become a source of inspiration for Walt Disney. Cutting most of the sexual content and violence from the originals, Disney made a series of shorts known as Laugh-O-Grams beginning in 1922 with the Perrault/Brothers Grimm crossover Little Red Riding Hood. After testing the waters in the 1920s and early 1930s, Disney was ready to produce child-friendly feature-length hits, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) which of course was based on the Grimms’ Snow White. From there, Disney’s very colourful, sanitised, and watered down cinematic retellings became the popularised norm.
Many books have tried to subvert those diluted Disney versions we’ve all grown up with, offering us a new, more adult slant on what has come before. Here are six.