A Letter to My Future Self: A New Perspective on Fairy Tales
"Unconsciously, the little girls who read the tales...create a standard for themselves: to be gentle and fair, to not want anything, and to not resist against others..."
October 12, 2020
Dear My Future Self,
No matter if you have your own kids or not, I hope you will read this letter, because there is some information I want you to keep in mind seeing those children grow up. With or without your own kids, I know there will still be children around you, like your nieces and nephews.
In my senior year, I chose to take this class whose full name is “Classic Fairy Tales: History and Cultural Legacy of Fairy Tales.” To be honest, when I chose it, I only saw the phrase “classic fairy tales.” I expected some violent older versions of the fairy tales I saw on the Disney Channel, but I did not know what I would learn in the class was so much more than just that. During our first discussion, I almost quit the class because we were challenging Disney and how it beautifies everything. I felt very uncomfortable, because though I know Disney sure makes things bubblier, I felt like my childhood memories were being rejected. It felt as if I was betraying my younger self. However, Ms. Cook-Dubin, my teacher, who also loves Disney, encouraged me to stay in the class. You and I should be grateful, because if she did not insist, we would have regrets because of how much we would have missed out on.
For example, how in Disney’s version of Cinderella, a prince marries a poor girl, who was treated poorly by her stepmother and two stepsisters, then they live happily ever after. If I did not read the Brothers Grimm’s version, how could I have known that to fit into the shoes, the two stepsisters cut off their toes and heel? How could I have known that in order to punish the stepsisters, the doves, which hold Disney’s Cinderella’s veil in the wedding, would peck the stepsisters’ eyes out? I had to ask myself if this was the same type of fairy tale I thought was meant for little kids to read. In Snow White, I have never once asked myself the real reason behind the number seven for the dwarfs, the meaning behind the queen’s desire to kill Snow White. I didn’t know Snow White’s real age of 13, or why there had to be dwarfs, or why the fruit has to be an apple, or why there is a random prince staring at a glass tomb with a woman inside, wanting to take her back to the castle.
I think it’s important for kids to know both versions, because that helps them learn how to view the world below the surface of beautified things. Yet, the classic tales are too violent and cruel as a bedtime story for a five-year-old kid. Please read them an altered version of Disney’s tales. For example, you can switch the prince and princess roles. And, when they are old enough, tell them, show them, and discuss with them the stereotypes and the stories of the classic tales.
Also, should they be called fairy tales, or instead, wonder tales? Like Maria Tatar said, not all the tales have fairies in them, but in all of them, there exists some wonder and magic.
As society was dominated by males, we can see the social expectations for girls embedded in the tales. At the start of most of the tales we have read in class is the description of a fair, gentle, and pretty girl. Some were named, while others were just simply a beautiful girl. With a name, we can separate ourselves from the character. With no names, it is easier for those who read it to see the characters as themselves. Unconsciously, the little girls who read the tales or are taught about the tales create a standard for themselves: to be gentle and fair, to not want anything, to not resist against others but instead love them even though they treat you badly, etc. In the tales, there is a separation of female figures from each other. They hate each other and fight to marry a good man, which is their ultimate goal. In the end, the two main figures, the prince and the princess, are locked up in the castle with no one else but themselves. Time seems to freeze that happily-ever-after moment without worries about their lives, food, and kids.
Even though the words “fairy tales” and “logic” seem unrelated, fairy tales have their own logic. In the poem “Fairy-tale Logic” by A.E. Stallings, the author said, “Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks,” but:
You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The will to do whatever must be done.
In one way or another, belief itself is magical. In fairy tales, magic is the wonder. In reality, the belief that nothing is impossible, and you can do what you need to do, is magic.
The whole journey we took to go back into the past reading these fairy tales opened my perspective on how to view things from different windows. There are always many sides to one story, and it is important to know they exist and to take all of them into consideration. The topics of sexuality, gender roles, violence, and purity should be discussed. Make sure the kids know the stories and the lessons, the true lessons, not the random morals that Charles Perrault wrote.
Khanh (Kate) Nguyen ’20