Patterns of Fairy Tales
September 27, 2011
Once upon a time...Four magical words that are synonymous with adventure, romance, and of course, living happily ever after. Girls are sold the dream of a fairy tale at a young age, from constantly being told they're princesses when they're little, to growing up expecting pure magic in those big important moments in life: a fairy tale romance, a fairy tale wedding. The title of Taylor Swift's hit song 'Today Was A Fairytale' sums up a magical date. And yet, we have to ask ourselves...how did we get here to this place where fairy tales are considered a worthy objective?
The thing about fairy tales and the public's perception of them is that people tend to forget you only get to the "Living Happily Ever After" part after you go through the drama during the story itself. Then, there's the little fact that the fairy tales in question are much darker in origin than the cheery Disneyfied versions we all watched when we were young.
Rapunzel, for example, did get to marry a prince. That, however, only happened after she was abandoned in a desert, where she gave birth to twins. The father in question, the prince, escapes from the witch by jumping into the thorns below tower. He's blinded from the thorns and subsequently wanders off into the wilderness. Because this is a fantasy, he just happens to wander blindly into the desert where Rapunzel's currently languishing. She weeps over his sightless eyes, and her tears magically cure his blindness.
Snow White, a victim of her own mother's desire to have a pretty child, gets a prince as well. But first she has to deal with the fact that her step-mother hates her for the beauty her mother wished upon her. Her step-mother sends Snow White out into the forest with the huntsman who just happens to have orders to bring back her heart. Disney got that part right, but left out the bit where the queen also wants her liver and lungs brought back for dinner. The huntsman takes pity on Snow White and leaves her there in the forest. Sure, she gets to make friends with the dwarves, but THEN, and this is the icing on the creepy cake, she gets poisoned by her step-mother before getting macked on by a wandering prince with a thing for girls in comas. Not the healthiest start to a relationship.
The transformation of the little mermaid is one of my personal favorites. In the original tale, after she's made the deal with the sea witch for her human legs, every single step the little mermaid takes is as though she's walking on knives. Then, the prince ends up falling in love with somebody else anyway. The little mermaid is destined to die and become sea foam upon the ocean, but on the night of the the prince's wedding, her sisters bring her a knife from the sea witch. If she kills the prince, she'll be allowed to return to the sea. The little mermaid doesn't get the prince in the end because she loves him enough to want him to be happy. She can't kill him, so she gives herself up to the fate of becoming sea foam with the coming of the next dawn. In the end, she gets turned into some kind of air sprite - because she's earned it with her own selflessness. Even that ending is Hans Christen Andersen's own happy ending. Originally, he ended the tale with her simply becoming sea foam.
The point of the fairy tale is the journey that takes place. Adventure happens. Romance happens. And sometimes, dire, horrible or even just plain crappy things happen. Sometimes you make it out okay. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes, you have to rewrite your story to get the happy ending.
All of this to say, when one encounters popular songs such as "Today Was a Fairytale" by Ms. Swift, you have to wonder where the magic is being channeled these days. I'd like to see what Taylor Swift would make of walking on knives or giving birth to twins in a desert, or even wandering through the woods for a couple of days. Then maybe, I could be pleased that she got a chance to wear a dress and the boy picked her up at six, and it wouldn't have mattered that she thought she looked a mess. Although if you were involved in any of these exhausting fairy tale pastimes, would you even really care if you didn't have the time to try to look nice for a boy who's just wearing a t-shirt? I think not.
Don't get me wrong. I love fairy tales. I love the originals with their dark deeds and not-so-happy endings and I love the Disney versions despite all the changes. There's nothing wrong with wanting a happy ending. What truly matters in the end, is simply the story.