One of my favorite books as a child was a paper-bound copy of Grimm's fairy tales. I read and re-read them, enjoying some more than others, but those stories have become part of my own fantasies and imagination. The stories collected and re-written and edited by the Brothers Grimm have come from a long tradition of oral story-telling and in that tradition are constantly being re-told, adapted, embellished, and re-contextualized into other forms. Fracturing fairy tale is a contemporary variant of what has been always done in fairy tales in that story is changed in some way--except that this term is usually associated with questions of gender representation.
Feminist criticism and re-visioning of fairy tales has centered on exposing the gender ideology that is perpetuated in tales. Criticism has focused on the passivity of young girls waiting to be rescued, the encoded binaries in a text that equate beauty with goodness, the representation of evil stepmothers, and the closures which seal a girl's dependency on a prince. I would particularly, like to raise questions of what kind of changes are being made in regard to picture book versions of `fractured' fairy tales.
A number of different approaches are used. In her parody, Prince Cinders (New York: Putnam, 1988), for example, Babette Cole changes story by altering point-of-view, reversing gender roles, and by fracturing the portrait of the ideal, handsome prince. Another approach has been to fracture gender role expectations in original tales that use the narrative plot form and conventions of traditional fairy tales. Jay William's Petronella (New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1973) is an interesting older example. Katherine Paterson addresses gender equity in her original tale, The King's Equal (HarperCollins, 1992). In looking at re-tellings of tales such as these, I wonder to what extent they fracture ideologies of gender and beauty that have been encoded into traditional tales. Do these stories go beyond merely reversing gender roles? Are there ways in which these alternative stories might be considered feminist texts? In relation to thinking about feminist approaches to fairy tale in picture books, there are, I think some basic questions we can ask in relation to re-tellings that purport to fracture or change traditional tales in some way:
I believe in the magic and power that fairy stories have in shaping our own and children's imaginations and fantasies. I take delight in discovering the different ways in which stories have been re-visioned but I think it important to discuss just in what ways `fractured' tales produce alternative meanings and experiences for children.
Created June 24, 1997 and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey