Fairy tales are part of every Western child’s upbringing, and have been for decades. The method of telling and the stories them selves may have changed from the purely oral tradition to that of the written word with the introduction of the printing press and more importantly the Chap Book in the eighteenth century (Montgomery, 2009 p. 13). But the basic core of the tales remain hundreds of years on to instruct and delight children to this day.These days children are surrounded by fairy tales in the form of the books read to them at home or nursery/school, television and film adaptations, cartoons and even advertisements, as well as Christmas pantomimes. Each version they see will have differences, some more subtle than others, but the basic story will be the same.
Jack Zipes, (2009) believes that the nature of the fairy tale has been taken and used by Western society to help ‘communicate about social and psychic phenomena’ (p. 38).From its early and humble beginnings in oral tradition among peasants to its gathering appeal over the years until it finally became something so entrenched in society that companies such as Disney were taking tales and producing them for the masses. As society changed over the decades so too did the method of transferral of these tales, who they were told by and to and how. Zipes explains that fairy tales, much the same as other genres written these days for children were not originally written intended for the younger audience, (p. 6) although they were unlikely to have been excluded. The term ‘meme’ first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene, has been adopted by Zipes, who says that a fairy tale could be described as an informational pattern that can be stored, copied to another brain, stored and replicated, (Heather Montgomery, 2009, p. 47).
Montgomery continues, Zipes feeling is that fairy tales are a tool designed to ‘turn children into the sort of adults their societies need and value’.These days we are all aware of a fairy tale when we hear one, as discussed by Montgomery, (2009, p. 47), the format is often the same, similar beginning and ending, familiar characters and plots throughout, normally set in an unspecified land far, far away and always with a moral under tone of good verses evil, ‘the adventures of banished heroes and heroines, youngest sons and daughters, impoverished and abused characters and people who have been cursed’, (Zipes, 2009, p. 7) I agree that due to the viral like nature of story telling through the ages these fairy tales have gown and developed with the children of the time, and it is now apparent that virtually any child in the Western world would recognise a fairy story if they came across one. This is most apparent when dealing with the stories re told by giants like Disney or Lady Bird, the staple meme transfer of any Western childhood in recent years.
Although the story may have changed with telling, each version is going to be slightly different, and certainly one century to the next this difference is very apparent, even when the basic characters and framework of the story remains. When looking at the history of Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH), we can examine the text written by Charles Perrault in 1967, (Montgomery, 2009 p55-57) as a starting point as it is thought to be one of the earliest written forms of the tale.This particular version of LRRH ends with a ‘moral’ which is clearly pointed out to the reader. Comparing Perrault’s version with Grimm’s ‘Little Red Cap’ (p.
58-60), the first big difference to be noted is that although it too carries a similar moralistic ending it is not highlighted in such an obvious way. The main characters remain in both, the little girl, Perrault refers to her as ‘the prettiest that had ever been seen’ (p. 55) whereas Grimm calls her ‘a sweet little maiden’ that all could not fail to love, (p. 8), both have her dressed in red. There is the Mother, Grandmother and the Wolf, however, in Grimms tale there is also the addition of a Huntsman, a character which also appears in the British Council Storybook Version (DVD1, 4), although in this version he is called ‘The Woodcutter’.
Woodcutters are briefly mentioned in Perraults tale, (p. 56) but there is no intervention by them, they merely stop the wolf attacking straight away.This video version of the tale is a much later piece than either of the two written stories and yet much of the content is the same, based more heavily on Grimms tale than Perraults. The ending has softened over time if you take these three versions in isolation. The oldest, leaving both the grandmother and the child eaten by the wolf due to Little Red Riding Hoods naivety, there is a definite sexual undertone to the piece which it is important to remember was written for adults with a message concerning the dangers of sex (Montgomery, (2009, p. 1). With the only slightly later Grimm tale the sexual tone has gone and has been replaced with one concerning that of disobedience instead, in this version again both grandmother and child are eaten by the cunning wolf, however they are cut free by the Huntsman and survive the ordeal and in doing so kill the wolf. The story goes on from here to show how the child learns from the experience to outwit the next wolf that comes along and both grandmother and child are left safe and sound.
In the video version the horror of the story is cushioned further with the eating merely of the grandmother, who is spat out by the wolf after the huntsman ‘hits him over the head’, even the wolf doesn’t die in this version he runs away and Little Red Riding Hood never sees him again. As society has moved on, so has it’s children and so its literature and fairy tales moves with it. At this stage film makers like The British Council don’t want to scare children with their adaptation, they want it to be a fun and light hearted piece with a simple message, they use ‘rhythmic language and well-known phrases’ (Montgomery, (2009, p65).They are able to put the same message across as many others, but with no one getting hurt, although when the children reflect on versions like this one they seem slightly perplexed by the fact characters eaten by the wolf come out afterwards absolutely fine! (EA300 DVD) The surprised reaction of Yasmin at 3:34 would fit with Bruno Bettelheims 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment in opposition to the USA’s ‘puritan censorship of fairy tales’ (Zipes, 2009 p. 4) They felt that children could not handle the violence and cruelty of the early generation of tales and religious leaders felt there was no place for witchcraft and magic in moral tales for children. Although it is perhaps not fitting to have very graphic representations of death in a book or cartoon for a very young audience, it seems that leaving it out entirely confuses them as they get a little bit older. Children from generations past would have been privy to a much more unfiltered view of the world, lower classes would have witnessed the slaughter of animals and the death of loved ones much more frequently than the child of today.The child of the past would have been independent at a much younger age, working and helping their family at an age when children now are still very much nurtured and protected, never leaving our sight.
They would need to be aware of the dangers of wild animals, or people and simple stories help to portray those dangers to them. Nowadays the stories still have a place, but the message the adult community want to pass to the children is different, it is one of good behaviour, doing what is right, listening to adults, caring for your elders, things which are important for our community now. Zipes, in Montgomery, 2009 p. 47) As well as the characters which appear throughout all of the previously mentioned versions there is a section of text which is almost identical in each, when the the girl enters her grandmothers house and is met by the wolf there is the all too familiar dialogue of ‘My what big eyes/ears/teeth you have’ and the wolf’s reply before finally fully revealing himself and pouncing on her.
This is even apparent in Angela Carter and Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves which uses the line ‘what big eyes you have / all the better to see you with’ as a nod back to the original fairy tale, even though the character, Rosaleen, (Little Red Riding Hood) is fully aware at this point that the person she is talking too is a predator and has already killed her grandmother. Roald Dahl also uses this recognisable quote, in his poem Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf but he too changes this time using the literary device of the Lampshade Hanging, it starts off the same, ‘What great big eyes you have , Grandma’ (McGough, 2002, p. 8), but then Little Red Riding Hood Goes on to ask about Grandma’s ‘Lovely big furry coat’ to which the Wolf replies: ‘That’s wrong! […] Have you forgotten to tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got? ‘ This technique acknowledges and justifies to the reader their own recognition of the deviation from the traditional tale that Dahl takes. From this point on the story bares little resemblance to any of the other versions previously looked at, in that the child then shoots the wolf and turns his fur into her own coat!Dahl’s poem is one of the most modern, up to date versions of the tale and reverts back to the tales of old with violence and death, but in a comical and tongue in cheek manner, the child is empowered and in control, she is smart and has outwitted the wolf which even her grandmother couldn’t do, showing that in this case the child is smarter than the adults, all this together with the clever use of rhyme, the illustrations and the lampshade hanging device help to cushion the darker side to the tale.When the children on the video are interviewed and asked to re-tell the story, each of them has a slightly different account, but all include the ‘What big eyes you have’ as a key point in the story as well as mentioning the key characters, and only one of them mentions any type of moral aspect or what the story has taught them. The differences highlight above follow a pattern of change in Western culture on the whole rather than just that of the construction of child.We know these tales were not originally written with children in mind, and indeed there were no stories for children until the introduction of the ‘Chap Book’ sold by pedlars in the eighteenths century, (Montgomery, 2009, p13) However it seems that the need of the adults of the time, whatever time that is, to pass on stories of moral and educational value to the children is there from this time on, and therefore may well have been before.
As risks and values change so do the fairy story’s to accommodate new and more appropriate messages.If you are to follow Aries point of view on the matter as discussed by Montgomery, (2009, p 22-23) adults only began to view children differently from themselves in terms of needs and not just stature from around the same time as the chap book introduction. As time has moved on children have moved from working at a young age to more accessible education to compulsory schooling, to almost a fear culture where the child must be protected from all things scary and dangerous, including stories containing such things, Zipes, 2009, p. 34) Fairy story’s have an important roll to play in the lives of our children and will continue to do so for decades to come I have no doubt, but as society changes so will the versions of the tales we know and love. However because we have printed version of the older copies they will never be lost and the core body of the tale will remain as it has done since Perrault’s originally printed copy in 1967. Word Count :2074 BibliographyEA300 DVD 1, no. 4 ‘Visual Representations of Little Red Riding Hood’.
McGough, R. (ed) (2002 ) 100 Best Poems for Children. London, Puffin.
Montgomery, H. (2009) ‘Block 1: Instruction or Delight’ in EA300: Study Guide. Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 7-70. Zipes, J. (2009) ‘Origins: Fairy Tales and Folk Tales’ in Maybin, J. and Watson, N.
J. (eds) Children’s Literature: Approaches and Territories. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 26-39.