Thursday, March 1, 2012

Are Fairy Tales Out of Fashion? By Libby Copeland

Another discussion concerning kids and fairy tales. First of all, this article is much better researched and even-handed and you'll probably find yourself agreeing with most if not all of it. I did. Click through to read it all, but I will blockquote a portion of it.

From: Are Fairy Tales Out of Fashion?: I hate reading them to my young daughter—the classic versions are too violent, the Disney stories have bad values. By Libby Copeland at

There’s a tendency to jump to the conclusion that because modern parents are squeamish about violence in fiction we must be wussy and overprotective. But is it also wussy that we don’t spank anymore, or tell our children that they’re wicked? We don’t look at violence in the same way as we used to; it is not a threat for bad behavior, nor is it God’s punishment for sin. I’m sometimes troubled by reading even the most modernized versions of fairy tales to my daughter, who is 2½. It’s not that Walt Disney didn’t do his best to excise the violence from these creaky folk tales; fairy tale scholar Jack David Zipes has called him “that twentieth-century sanitation man.” But the lessons these cleansed tales impart are not ones I wish to teach, even if they are canonical to Western culture. Little Red Riding Hood is to blame merely for being curious and veering off her path to pick flowers. Beauty leads to happily-ever-afters. We have a Cinderella book, a gift from a friend, and when I read it to my daughter, I try to soften the wickedness of the evil stepsisters and stepmother. I omit the worst things they say— “a simple washer girl like you is no fit for royal company!”—and I make it so Cinderella doesn’t cry. Still, there’s no way around the basic premise that passivity and tears are rewarded. (I’m convinced Cinderella syndrome is why not enough of us ask for raises; we’re waiting for our bosses to notice how great we are. And I’m not the only one who believes Disney princesses aren’t the best role models for little girls.)

If altering fairy tales seems like politically correct white-washing, I would counter that it is the tradition of these folk tales to be changed by the era they’re in. We’re the fools if we treat them like gospel. As Zipes points out, Frenchman Charles Perrault altered the tale of Cinderella when he recorded it in the 1600s, making the protagonist submissive and industrious. In earlier oral versions, which “emanated from a matriarchal tradition,” Cinderella is more the mistress of her own fate. One Italian version has her killing her stepmother.


  1. No, fairy tales should not be treated as gospel. But it's biased to say that things like spanking is out of fashion, and that we need to remodel stories to go with the morals of our times.

    Sometimes, the things that best need to be said are not always popular at the here and now. A lot of times, the things that don't make sense in context ARE popular, and people are more than willing to manipulate things to make it seem like it's right.

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  3. I don't agree with this. Give kids some credit, they're not stupid.
    I was never indoctrinated by Disney film heroines, and don't subscribe to the idea they teach bad morality either (well, maybe Snow White, but look at her original story!).
    Nor do dark versions of fairy tales. Kids need to learn there are consequences for their actions and parents shouldn't sugarcoat everything to fit a specific culture. Yes, our culture shapes children, but so as not to have kids who succumb utterly to culturally superiority, it's important to expose them to other thoughts too.

    I hate to be rude, she could be lovely person, but the author of this piece just comes across as squeamish and insipid.
    This thought process instantly calls to mind people who would remove the WTC from works before 9/11 for fear of offending someone.

  4. I appreciated this piece. My son is three and I, too, am hesitant to read certain stories to him. He hasn't seen Disney yet and I find myself hitting the pause button on that until he's older and we can discuss things better. I'm a big believer in freedom of speech, free libraries, etc. When it comes to my child, though, I don't want him to be exposed to too much too soon.

  5. good points, great share
    But to me it leads to a simple point that the author alludes to. Fairy tales are not out of fashion as much as they need to be treated properly. It is time for adults to reclaim the reading of fariy tales to each other as per their original intent and for children, modern tales need to be created to go inline with modern children.

    1. Well said. A great example of such modern tales is "My Father's Dragon" (Ruth Stiles Gannett): magical, moral (not moralizing), and perfect for young children.
      I, for one (male, in my 40s), like reading the uncut versions of fairy tales, and it helps to remember that they were told for people at my time of life. Many of them are bracing, keen-edged, don't blink at evil (the kind I see in the news), and seem to say something meaningful. I'd love to see fairy tales reclaimed for adults.

  6. Veronica SchanoesMarch 3, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    You know, I agree with the general premise that there's nothing wrong with changing fairy tales. I do it all the time. When I tell "Snow White and Rose Red" to kids, I change it so it's not so anti-semitic. But I disagree that the changes that need to to be made are for the violence to be cut out. Not all fairy tales are moralizing (she could always tell her child the version of LRRH that ends with the girl tricking the wolf and running home, having saved herself). I loved violence when I was a kid, and the worst violence in fairy tales almost always happens to the villains. Imagined violence to threatening villains is not the same as really hitting actual children, and the implication that it is is just disingenuous.

    It doesn't sound as if she's editing out violence, anyway. It sounds as if she's editing out meanness--the fact that the stepsisters are mean to Cinderella and that it makes Cinderella cry. That's her prerogative, but as soon as her kid starts school or daycare, she's going to notice that people can be awfully mean, and it might be nice for her to have stories to turn to for solace.

    So it's like this: I agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with changing stories. I completely disagree with the changes that this author is arguing need to be made.

  7. Why not read the stories as written, then talk to the children about the parts that are difficult?