Fairy tales are controversial in nature. The alterations made to match the needs of a society at a given point in time both resolve and create such controversies. This page introduces a number of the issues, arguments, and debates surrounding fairy tales and specifically "Snow White."
"Again the mother in Snow WhiteHansel and Gretel became a stepmother. That Wilhelm Grimm did not concern himself so much with an educational approach can be particularly clearly seen in the ending of Cinderella. While we read in the first edition that after the discovery of the real bride, "the stepmother and the two proud sisters paled and became alarmed," we find in the later edition that both stepsisters were condemned to the dreadful punishment of having their eyes picked out by doves, whilst no mention is made of punishment of the stepmother. Here it is quite clear that aesthetic considerations directed Wilhelm Grimm's pen. The end must be fashioned-it must not be so colorless-everything must be quite clearly demonstrated."In the "Introduction" to Opening Texts William Kerrigan writes:
"It is a well known factor in the history of culture that the noble ideas of the great spirits gain ground only gradually. Therefore it is not surprising that the whole 19th century in the educational field was far from being ruled entirely by the ideas of the age of reason. And so in the next decade there was further public criticism of the educational deficiencies of Grimm's Tales. Above all there were complaints about the figure of the guilty stepmother. People thought this presentation of the stepmother in the folk tale an injustice to the many good stepmothers who, in fact, existed. But elsewhere, too, critical voices were raised amongst the educationists against the tales, through [sic] only slowly did their ideas have an effect."
"At first with the movement towards aesthetic education, which coincided with the new romanticism of the 90's it was agreed that everything rooted in national folklore and character should be held to be more or less sacrosanct." pp. 59-60.
"The child's culture is a fairly recent invention, as we know in considerable detail from the work done on it, particularly its literature, in recent decades. . . . But there are reasons to assert the primacy of literature, one of them being that through the fairy tale, which is the primal form of children's literature, we gain clearest access to the time when the second culture did not exist in material form, that oral once-upon-a-time when the forest held wonders enough, and there appears to have been, to the delight of this century's structuralists, only one essence--the great narrative invitation of the fairy tale's otherworld, whose finite items were worked out (sometimes with systematic evasions, as Tatar argues here with respect to the Brothers Grimm; see also Ellis, 1983) over the civilized world in bountiful permutations." p. x.George Cruikshank, in his The Cruikshank Fairy-Book, wrote an open letter to the public about his convictions concerning the revising of fairy stories as follows:
"In one, The Inquirer, a gentleman, whom I have not the pleasure of knowing, seems to think it a great absurdity that the story of "Jack and the Bean-Stalk" should be laid in the time of Alfred the Great. Now this may be very absurd, but I beg you to inform the writer of that article that the absurdity did not originate with me. I simply copied it from an old edition of the story.[FOOTNOTE: I have four editions of Cinderella, now before me, all differing most materially from each other; and I may as well here observe that I did not expect it would be necessary to alter a single line of this story; but upon looking through the several books, I found some vulgarity, mixed up with so much that was useless and unfit for children, that I was obliged (much against my wish) to rewrite the whole story; in doing which I have introduced a few Temperance Truths with a fervent hope that some good may result therefrom.]" p. 204.In light of the above, it is important to read Cruikshank's re-telling of "Cinderella" in which he includes a very lengthy passage on the terrible dangers of drinking and continues the text referring to Cinderella.
"My dear little lady," exclaimed the King, good-humouredly, "your arguments have convinced me: there shall be no more fountains of wine in my dominions." And he immediately gave orders that all the wine, beer, and spirits in the place should be collected together and piled upon the top of a rocky mound in the vicinity of the palace, and made a great bonfire of on the night of the wedding;--which was accordingly done, and a splendid blaze it made!" p. 199.In contrast Charles Dickens, in "Frauds on the Fairies," writes:
"In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be respected. Our English red tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles, but every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun."In 1854, at the height of the fairy tale controversy in England, William Caldwell Roscoe wrote:
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"We have lately observed, with pain, the intrusion of a Whole Hog of unwieldy dimensions into the fairy flower garden. The rooting of the animal among the roses would in itself have awakened in us nothing but indignation; our pain arises from his being violently driven by a man of genius, our own beloved friend, George Cruikshank. That incomparable artists is, of all men, the last who should lay his exquisite hand on fairy text. In his own art he understands it so perfectly, and illustrates it so beautifully, so humorously, so wisely, that he should never lay down his etching needle to 'edit the Ogre, to whom with that little instrument he can render such extraordinary justice, But, to 'editing' Ogres, and Hop-o'-my-thumbs, and their families, our dear moralist has in a rash moment taken, as a means of propagating the doctrine of Total Abstinence, Prohibition of the sale of spirituous liquors, Free Trade, and Popular Education. For the introduction of these topics, he has altered the text of a fairy story; and against his right to do any such thing we protest with all our might and main."
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"Now, it makes not the least difference to our objection whether we agree or disagree with our worthy friend, Mr. Cruikshank, in the opinions he interpolates upon an old fairy story. Whether good or bad in themselves, they are, in that relation, like the famous definition of a weed; a thing growing up in a wrong place. He has no greater moral justification in altering the harmless little books than we should have in altering his best etchings." pp. 111-112.
"Where is this to end? We see no reason in the present limits. If it is wise to instruct children from five to twelve years of age in the political and social movements of the day, and to do it through the medium of nursery-tales, at least let it be done thoroughly. Let a political meaning pervade the story. Let a child be made to perceive that the famous dog of 'Mother Hubbard," in his eccentric changes of mood, aptly typifies the political career of Mr. Disraeli; and let the author venture on prophecy so far as to make the official cupboard bare at the end as well as at the beginning of life. Let the 'Babes in the Wood' be the Protectionist party, and the late Sir Robert Peel the cruel uncle. Mr. Roebuck, we have no doubt, would cover them with leaves, though not in quite so pious a spirit as the real robin. Let us have 'Bob the Corn-Law Repealer' instead of 'Jack the Giant Killer,' and let Mr. Bright eat the hasty-pudding." P.123.Marcia Lane, in Picturing the Rose provides a standpoint for the study of word meanings.
"The decoding of story language is part science, part art. In the first aspect, we can use the standard tools. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and thesauruses, particularly The Oxford English Dictionary, which gives antiquated as well as current meanings of words, are excellent primary resources for tellers. It is remarkable how many would-be storytellers don't even consider the possibility of multiple word meanings. Another obvious (though sometimes unavailable) source of information in the case of stories from languages other than your own, is an alternate translation. In the case of the Grimms' fairy tales, there are numerous translations to choose from. Of course, not every translation is "honest." That is, translators, like tellers, frequently edit or rearrange the stories. Or, quite innocently, a translator can simply miss a meaning or mistake a connotation. The best we can hope for, barring a friendly neighborhood linguist, is to do the most complete possible investigation of library collections." p. 8.In their analysis of the making of the Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Richard Holliss and Brian Sibley explore the background work that led to the finalization of the film. The text below focuses on the seven dwarfs (often a criticized element in the Disney production) and the use of established artists (often unrecognized) to design this project.
"The first outline for the Snow White project, probably drafted by Walt himself, was dated August 9, 1934. What is particularly interesting about this early record of Walt's approach to the Snow White story is that he had decided from the outset that each of the seven dwarfs should have a distinctively individual screen personality. In the version told by the brothers Grimm, and in most subsequent retellings, there was no attempt to give character to the dwarfs. One exception was the English artist John Hassall who, in 1921, illustrated an edition of the story in which the dwarfs are identified by names embroidered on their breeches. Taking his inspiration from the scene in the story where the dwarfs return to their cottage and find someone has been sitting at their table and has taken some of their food and drink, Hassall called the dwarfs Stool, Plate, Bread, Spoon, Fork, Knife and Wine. In Walt's 1934 outline for the film, we find this discussion of the dwarfs, which includes five of the seven names used in the completed film." p.7Frances Clark Sayers, (1897-1989) was not afraid to take on Walt Disney for his commercial use of children's stories and became the subject of controversy on this topic. In writing about Sayers, Kay Vandergrift questions whether this was an elitist standpoint held by Sayers in opposition to this form of popular culture. Sayers wrote:
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"At the same time, preliminary sketches were being made by, among others, two European illustrators-Gustaf Tenggren, whose delicate water-colour designs influenced the story's rustic Germanic setting, and Albert Hurter, who created the bizarre fixtures and fittings in the dwarfs' cottage-while writer Joe Grant helped to shape the appearance and personalities of the dwarfs themselves. . . . Hurter and Tenggren not only brought to Snow White their own highly individual skills, they gave the film a decorative style reminiscent of the best traditions in European illustration epitomized by such artists as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and W. Heath Robinson. Early renditions of the dwarfs depicted them very much as sons of the earth: elderly, hunched and wizened figures; Snow White (contrary to the original text which describes her as having "hair black as ebony") was drawn as a blond." pp.9-10.
"Muchness acclaims Mr. Disney. It is a matter which should disturb us greatly, this debasement of the taste of the young. I dream of a time when libraries and reading men and women will fight Muchness and the mass brainwashing to which we are subjected in out time. I hope to walk into a children's room one day where good editions of Pinocchio are on exhibition beneath a sign which asks: "Have you really read Pinocchio, or only Disney's version?" p. 697.It is useful to read the words of Trina Schart Hyman on her illustrating of Snow White in "Cut It Down, and You Will Find Something at the Roots."
"I knew how the queen was slipping into madness, and how she hated Snow White's youth. This woman wasn't evil-she was simply a complex personality whose only power was her beauty. She didn't think about the girl as a person. She hated only what Snow White symbolized, which was youth and the power and beauty of youth. And Snow White was just an innocent kid who felt threatened and ran away from home."Jack Zipes, in Don't Bet on the Prince, writes of Jane Yolen's work
"The dwarfs were more complicated and more fun to speculate about. In the story, they're not given any particular characters, so I felt happily free to create these seven little men from six people I knew well-and I threw myself in, too, for good measure. I don't use models for my illustrations in the time-honored way. That is, I don't set live people in a pose and draw from them. I don't use photographs, either. All I usually need to know about drawing a human figure is in my head for a long, long time. Now, at last, they could come out through my hand."
"I put my eleven-year-old daughter (albeit rather idealized and prettified) in the title role. For the Queen, I used my longtime friend and ex-companion of seven years.. . .The dwarfs include my next-door neighbor, my father, my ex-husband, and Konrad Lorenz (whom I didn't know personally, but always wanted to). The prince is Jane Yolen's husband. He's a prince of a fellow, to be sure, but more importantly his looks convey maturity, character, and strength as well as tenderness-all qualities that I wanted for Snow White's future husband. I figured the poor kid deserved as much stability and security as she could get, considering all she'd been through." pp. 296-297.
"Crucial in all of Yolen's many fairy tales is a reaffirmation of female cultural life. This can be seen clearly in her revision of Cinderella entitled The Moon Ribbon. When the continuity and development of female culture is disrupted, Yolen points to the tragic aspects in such tales as The Girl Who Cried Flowers and Brother Hart. For the most part, Yolen emphasizes the caring and nurturing of women as constitutive of moral integrity. Though she rarely assumes an outright, radical feminist position in her tales, her sensitive rearrangement of traditional stories does lead to a contradiction of the patriarchal view of the world." p. 19In her article, "Feminism and Fairy Tales," Karen Rowe writes:
"To examine selected popular folktales from the perspective of modern feminism is to revisualize those paradigms which shape our romantic expectations and to illuminate psychic ambiguities which often confound contemporary women. Portrayals of adolescent waiting and dreaming, patterns of double enchantment, and romanticizations of marriage contribute to the potency of fairy tales. Yet, such alluring fantasies gloss the heroine's inability to act self-assertively, total reliance on external rescues, willing bondage to father and prince, and her restriction to hearth and nursery. Although many readers discount obvious fantasy elements, they may still fall prey to more subtle paradigms through identification with the heroine. Thus, subconsciously women may transfer from fairy tales into real life cultural norms which exalt passivity, dependency, and self-sacrifice as a female's cardinal virtues. In short, fairy tales perpetuate the patriarchal status quo by making female subordination seem a romantically desirable, indeed an inescapable fate." p. 207.Ruth MacDonald suggests in "The Tale Retold: Feminist Fairy Tales," three solutions to the lack of folk tales acceptable to feminists.
"One may present the tales, unaltered, with their traditional endings, and the devil take the consequences of the possible damage to a young girl's career expectations; one may rewrite the tales, deemphasizing physical beauty and marriage, but thereby violating the objectivity of the folklore collector by imposing one's own language and bias on the narrative; or one may write new tales, using folklore motifs with less conventional endings." p. 18.Nina Auerbach, in Forbidden Journeys. writes:
"Proscribed for its paganism by successive religious authorities, the orally transmitted fairy tale lingered in the popular imagination just as fays and gnomes had themselves presumably survived in the less populated regions of the British Isles. In literature written for children, however, such fantastic narratives had been forced to vie, for an entire century, with the moral fables preferred by even such eminent women educators as Maria Edgeworth, whose fine stories for children display her wariness of a demonic imagination. Even though French precieuses such as d'Aulnoy, L'Heritier, de Villeneuve and, eventually, a writer like Beaumont (whose 1756 Magasin des Enfans was actually printed in London) had penned fairy tales of their own, the earlier oral tradition of the contes de vieilles, or old wives' tales, continued to be regarded as crude and subliterary. Not until the Romantic fascination with primitivism, childhood, and peasant folklore redirected collectors like the Grimms to female informants such as Dorothea Viehmann, did the genre's rich mythical veins again become accessible, and its female origins become fully apparent to a dominant literary culture." p.12.
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Created January 6, 1997 and is continuously revised