“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?”
So goes the most famous line from Snow White.
Recently, with the slew of new Disney live-action, princess films (Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast,), many people have commented on feminist representation in fairy tales. Most notably, Emma Watson’s decision to make Belle not only an inventor, but her decision to not wear a corset, has sparked numerous amounts of articles especially related to her decision to turn down the role of Cinderella in the live action version, a few years back.
Fairy tales are a hot topic for cultural critics as well as some academic scholars because of what they can show about societal relationships. If you read Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” you’ll most likely be uncomfortable as a modern reader due to the exchange of the Beauty character from the hands of her father to the hands of the Beast. The same reaction can be said for reading Charles Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood,“ which has a moral at the end of the tale warning young girls against courtly predators, the real wolves in their lives, but it does do a fair amount of victim blaming, as well.
How do we, then, combat our love for fairy tales with a need for stories with more female agency? For starters, we can read The Lunar Chronicles series, which is a young adult take by author Marissa Meyer that retells the tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White in a futuristic setting with a plethora of diversity.
We can also read Angela Carter’s post-modern fairy tale collection, entitled The Bloody Chamber, in which she reimagines many beloved tales with an erotic and feminist twist. For example, the three stories that close her collection all center around the figure of Little Red Riding Hood. In the first story, “The Werewolf,” Carter reimagines the grandmother as the Big Bad Wolf; in the second, she has Little Red outsmart the Wolf in a way that positively promotes not only feminine sexuality. The Little Red of the second story, “The Company of Wolves,” has a lot more female agency than the one of Charles Perrault’s tale. The third story, “Wolf-Alice,” mixes parts of the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red and elevates their characters to new heights.
Fairy tales, especially recently, do not have to become outdated modes of storytelling, and we shouldn’t shun them just because they promote old world ideas. In fact, we should celebrate them for the lessons they taught, and ultimately, we should reimagine them with new lessons for new generations. Fairy tales are an important part of culture, and as our culture increasingly becomes more positive towards feminine attributes and all types of women, the tales should reflect that.
These two authors are a good place to start if you want to see kick-ass fairy tales that are more heavily female centric than their original counterparts.
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