This article recently appeared on The Millions, The Problem with Fairy Tales by Kirsty Logan. Here's an excerpt:
There are two ways to retell an old story: just tell the same story again, or try to subvert it. The problem with fairy tales is that they are more than just old stories. They’re mythic cultural knowledge: they have been removed from their sociological roots to float in a timeless limbo, seeping into all of us since childhood. In order to subvert something, we must be able to analyze it. But writers cannot simply step outside the mythic framework of cultural knowledge. If they cannot upend the entire myth, can they subvert it at all?
Three contemporary retellings approach the fairy tale of Snow White in interesting ways: Neil Gaiman’s story “Snow Glass Apples” from his collection Smoke and Mirrors, Emma Donoghue’s story “The Tale of the Apple” from her collection Kissing the Witch, and Francesca Lia Block’s story “Snow” from her collection The Rose and the Beast. They all twist the old story, but do they subvert it?
The rest of the article discusses the works mentioned above and their usage of Snow White. I confess I don't care if they are "subversive" versions of the tale or not as the article explores them, but the analysis is interesting unto itself whatever the thesis. In other words, whether or not you care if the retellings are subversive versions of the tale, the article is interesting and lucid. It would make a fine resource for a student paper, for example.
My favorite part of the article is the final paragraph which briefly addresses the usage of "fairy tale" today as a synonym for a "perfect fantasy."
A prevalent idea today is that “fairy tale” translates as “perfect.” A Google search for “fairytale wedding” produces 130,000 results. We relate fairy tales to romance, perfection, childhood innocence and magic. It may not be easy for writers to give up romantic ideas of fairy tales as magical stories for children and admit the unsavory side of the myth. Perhaps we simply can’t bear to see Snow White without her prince. It may not be easy to step outside the mythic framework, but if writers are to subvert the myth they must first come to terms with it.
I think most writers and readers for young adults and adults fully embrace the unsavory sides of fairy tales, by the way. It's the rest of the population who depends on the pop culture perception to make their definitions.
I don't care if fairy tales are "subverted" or not, implying that we shouldn't explore them unless they are since they don't always fall into our politically correct perceptions these days. I approach them as elements of our cultural being and how we treat and handle them continues to represent our modern sensibilities, some of which have changed drastically and others which haven't so much whether we admit it to ourselves or not.
Isn't that enough fly-by-night philosophy for today from me? :) It's a good article so please click through and read it.
Finally, if you are interested in reading more Snow White interpretations, see Modern Interpretations of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on SurLaLune.