Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

The Nonsense of Fairy Tales

on May 13, 2012

I blame Walt Disney. He was the one who insisted on making nearly every fairy tale into a feature film. Of course, I adore most of the stories Walt himself was involved with but I don’t think I ever identified with the mice that helped Cinderella. Yet, it was very entertaining and pulled me in. But even Disney carries things too far. I find the very existence of Tangled annoying – mostly because Rapunzel was one of my favorite stories as a child. Not sure I should share this, but my grandmother’s reaction to the original Fantasia was, “Whose nut’s cracked?” (Grandma specialized in dry humor.)

One of my favorite authors, Bruce Coville, has re-written at least seven Shakespeare plays for kids. In general, I’m not a big fan of re-writing Shakespeare. Most of the genius of the Bard lies in the language and the arrangement of the words. But Bruce acknowledges his work as merely an introduction and encourages kids to seek out the actual plays. I can accept this approach, though I still prefer the real thing. Maybe he draws in some kids who wouldn’t love Shakespeare without this introduction. (http://www.brucecoville.com)

Jane Yolen has re-written and expanded several fairy tales. She lists eighteen on her website. (http://janeyolen.com) Her approach is to find the historical story hidden within the oral tradition of tales such as Snow White. I can see this as being useful for the curious child. Why do these tales exist and is there more meaning to them?

Now we have the highly successful Wicked by Gregory Maguire, the re-telling of The Wizard of Oz, which is in a different category. Wicked is most definitely for adults, but probably the adults who grew up with Oz. Actually, it seems like most re-tellings these days are for adults.

In my opinion, most re-tellings should be presented for what they are – completely different from the original story and borrowed only for story content. After all, “they” say there are really only so many stories to be told. The differences lie in voice, setting, etc. I love West Side Story in spite of critics who refer to it in terms of Romeo and Juliet. Of course, my love has a lot to do with the genius of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. And Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno and …

Are re-tellings worthwhile? Yes. There’s no reason to hold them to a different standard than any other story. Each one has to be good on its own. Sounds like a good project to me.

But first, I want to put in my two cents’ worth about writing about the dark side.

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