Take a Trip to the Faerie Tale Theatre
April 30, 2014
Recently, there has been an interesting revival in the fairy tale. For many years, these stories have been placed securely in the “just for kids” realm. People seemed to have completely forgotten that the tales were originally designed for older children and adults. They have also forgotten how dark the pre-Disney stories were. Our view of the fairy tale was completely transformed by Walt, and no self-respecting adult would venture near them unless they had a kid attached to their hip. This has changed. There has once again been a renaissance in the fairy tale, and their dark roots have come back to the forefront.
Take a look at the number of takes on fairy tales currently on television. Once Upon a Time has transplanted and turned upside down these well-known stories, and it has brought the familiar fantasy characters into the real world. In doing so, they have put a much more human and contemporary face on the likes of the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin. The show, Grimm, has also taken a very bleak look at many of the famous beings that have inhabited the stories we’ve been reading to our children. The movies as well. Snow White, in many cases, has morphed into a warrior woman, and Alice has also gone from the girl who was swept along by circumstances to a proactive player in the wonderland that surrounds her. All this is great, but there is one thing I have been wondering. Are the classic takes on these stories gone for good?
In a lot of the above examples, the stories, which used to take place in medieval or Victorian like settings, are now happening in modern day cities. (Once Upon a Time actually splits the action between the old world and the new.) And even the ones still set in the past are being done with a much more modern sensibility. Gone are the days of the damsel in distress, it appears. But what if you are interested in seeing these tales the way that they were traditionally told? Well, there is an excellent series that captured the original spirit of a lot of these stories. Have you ever been to the Faerie Tale Theatre?
Faerie Tale Theatre was a delightful series that aired on Showtime during the 1980s and was created by Shelley Duvall. She brought together some of the top acting talent in the world, including stars like Anjelica Huston and Vincent Price, to create onscreen adaptations of some of the most famous tales. But her renditions were much closer to the originals. For example, FTT’s absolutely beautiful version of The Little Mermaid kept the bittersweet ending that many have forgotten due to the success of the much happier Disney film version. As the tale was first told, the mermaid does, in fact, not get the handsome man. Instead, he chooses someone else, and she must decide between murdering him in order to return to her life in the sea and sacrificing herself. Definitely a different ending to the one that most kids know these days.
Of course, FTT did change certain aspects of the stories to more accurately reflect the versions people are more familiar with. For example, the original Cinderella was actually quite bloody. Her stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet in order to make sure they would fit in the slipper. And true love’s kiss didn’t actually wake up Snow White. The apple in her throat was dislodged, and she woke up as she was being transported to her final resting place. However, these stories have been shifting and changing for centuries and what the very first version was actually like, we may never know.
One of my favorite stories from Faerie Tale Theatre is one that a lot of people are unfamiliar with. It is called The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers. Never heard of it? Neither had I until I saw FTT back in the eighties. It tells the story of a young man who has never had the experience of fear, so he leaves home to try to find a way to scare himself. He comes across a kingdom with a haunted castle and volunteers to take the challenge of spending three nights in the place without fleeing. He is there because he is desperately hoping that maybe he will finally feel fright, and he is not overly interested in the prize of the Princess’ hand in marriage. However, he survives all three nights without so much as a tiny shake and wins the challenge. Of course, once he contemplates the idea of actually marrying the Princess, he finally gets his wish and those shivers come in droves.
Faerie Tale Theatre is a great reminder of the more traditional way of telling these stories. It is beautifully filmed, and the actors are all top notch. Of course, the effects are rather simple and unsophisticated, but you have to remember this was before CGI. Revisiting this series, which I loved when I was a kid, has been a lot of fun. It is also excellent family viewing and a great choice for those who feel that the way that the fairy tale is currently being told on television is just too dark. So take a trip to the Faerie Tale Theatre and get reacquainted with the classic versions of these timeless tales.