Friday, September 26, 2008

"Rapunzel! Why aren't you at the fair?"

The book went on to spin the tale of a charmed girl named Rapunzel, who spent her days in the tower sewing dresses with a friend. She loved when the witch came to visit and teach songs, including one that made Rapunzel's hair grow longer. But tension arrived: One day, Rapunzel looked out the window and saw a fair in the village nearby. She wanted to go, but the witch was off tending to her garden and couldn't let her out. Fortunately, a prince riding by in his carriage called up to her, "Rapunzel! Why aren't you at the fair?"

This was not the fairy tale I vaguely recalled from my childhood - the one with the mother who gives up her child, the vindictive witch, the powerless girl trapped high above the ground. This new version was sanitary and safe in a way that modern parents will easily recognize. In an age when some families ban the word "killed" or come up with creative euphemisms to mask the death of goldfish, it's not hard to see why a toy company would reduce Rapunzel's story to its prettiest parts. Real life, presumably, packs enough trauma for children to think about later.
Joanna Weiss talks about the evolution of fairy tales from dark and frightening to whitewash, sanitized "feel good" tales.

Saint Superman, whence I found the link originally (are y'all reading him because he's really great, by the way), talks about what Tom and I often wonder ... has everyone forgotten what it was like to be a kid and experience deliciously scary stories?
When I was ten, I lived in Pan’s Labyrinth, a place filled to the brim with demons and witches, monsters and swords. I hoped my house was haunted, and I prayed for some supernatural thing to happen to me. I wandered in the woods between housing properties at night and at day, looking for some monster, king, or sage, or looking in the dark sky for some flash of alien light. It wasn’t something fearful; I’d read Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and I knew that monsters could be fooled, even if they were not to be trifled with or ignored. It was people that scared me.
I know just what he means. I think, too, that people forget another valuable aspect to the dark side of fairy tales. Not only do children not process them as adults do, but the stories provide valuable lessons for children in dealing with problems later in life. When they are being picked on in the school yard, the last one chosen for baseball, or pointed out as a bad example to the whole class, these stories provide a cultural background that life often is not fair, bad things happen to good people, and that the little guy can win if they keep on trying. Do they think of these things consciously? Nope. But those stories are lurking in the back of their minds nonetheless with valuable lessons for life.

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