The Denver Art Museum really is a treasure. There’s a cool exhibit there called Stampede that’s all about animals in art, and there’s a fairy tale section, because animals feature heavily in many fairy tales. This is my favorite piece…
It’s one of the pieces I stopped and stared at the first time I saw it, and continue to linger near whenever I’m there. I think about things like beauty myths and agency and how so often, women in fairy tales have to be saved by men. Beauty matters, and is code for goodness. Ugliness is mean or villainous. Hair is often symbolic. Women are usually rescued by men, or self-sacrifice to save men.
Yet despite all of this, I still love fairy tales. Originals, retellings, updates ~ I just love them. Something about fantastical elements and knowing that hardships are eventually overcome and the bad guys get what’s coming to them is an enormously attractive distraction to Being An Adult In The U.S. In 2018.
But if you really dive into the world of fairy tales, if you get beyond Disney and stories that you read to young children, you’ll find that a lot of these tales are brutal and gory and ruthless. They get toned down for children, made more palatable and less scary, but if you go down the proverbial rabbit hole, the tales of old are not cutesy and not always satisfying.
The older versions teach you that life is weird and unpredictable and sometimes unfair. There’s abuse and violence and fear. But there’s also courage and perseverance and quick thinking. Maybe you don’t get a happy ever after, but you can survive. Maybe the bad guy doesn’t get punished, but you can escape.
I’m an absolute fanatic for a good ‘Beauty & the Beast’-type story. I no longer enjoy watching animated singing teapots, and I’m not a big fan of keeping young girls captive, but a story that turns Stockholm syndrome into a romance – in which both people compromise and learn to understand each other, and in which the beast is willing to self-sacrifice to allow his love her freedom – is weirdly alluring.
Bluebeard’s wife is another tale I love; Angela Carter does an interesting retelling of it. I like disobedient women. I like the fright factor; the absolute fear and despair, and the fact that her curiosity isn’t punished, but rewarded.
Behind all the fortitude that these stories often emphasize, there are little glimpses of defiance. Perhaps that’s what keeps drawing me, and so many others, back to them.