Check out Joanna Weiss's article, "Fear of Fairy Tales," in the Sep. 21, edition of the Boston Globe. In it, she writes that modern re-tellings of fairy tales are so sanitized, they're rendered impotent. Disney is, of course, an easy target when making this claim. Their "Little Mermaid," drifts so far from the Hans Christian Andersen's original that the only thing left in common between the two is a fin. Disney's heroine marries her prince; Andersen's sacrifices earthly love as well as her own life, but is rewarded with an eternal soul. I read the original to my own daughter when she was about four, skipping over the more violent descriptions. It was, still is, a favorite.
Weiss argues that bland characters sell more associated toys. Based on the number of mermaid dolls my daughter owns, I might disagree. Weiss notes that the original Rapunzel somehow got pregnant up in that tower, and what parent wants to buy her daughter a pregnant Rapunzel? (Well, Sarah Palin, maybe, but that's for another post...) I think there's more to it than marketing. Fairy tales get a bad rap, but they deal with some complex emotions. For the Little Mermaid, the story's subtle message is that sometimes love means letting go. Maybe we assume children can't understand nuance in a story because we struggle with nuance ourselves.
Watch the audience graph droop during the presidential debates when a candidate attempts to explain a complex issue. We grownups need our information in black and white, in bullet points, in sound bites. Save the gray areas for those wacky academic types! It's possible that by spending a little more time in some old-fashioned fairy tales, we'd all do a little better handling reality.
-- cross posted to Under the Covers...