Supernatural and Fairy Tales

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for shows about fighting fantastical/demonic creatures. “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Lost Girl,” “Torchwood,” and “Doctor Who” are all on my top ten list, as is Eric Kripke’s creation, “Supernatural.”  Not only do these programs give me the dark fantasy/sci-fi fix I’m always on the lookout for, but they often allude to fairy tales, whether subtly or blatantly.  The latter is true of “Supernatural” season 3, episode 5 “Bedtime Stories.”

In this fairy tale themed episode, demon hunters Sam and Dean Winchester are shocked to find a town plagued by incidents reminiscent of the Grimm classics.  The familiar stories of  Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs, and Hansel and Gretel are all mirrored in violent incidents cropping up all over town.  At first, Dean does not see the connection between the ancient stories and the violence, but Sam knows better; he explains to his brother that fairy tales were not always the bright, happy stories for which Disney has become famous.  Although many in our culture have no knowledge of the original tales, Sam is aware of their formerly sinister nature.

In an important way, fairy tales are a great metaphor for the world in which the Winchesters live; although knowledge of the evil creatures they fight has long been lost to the general public, they are aware of the world’s darker nature.  They know that their world is not the scientific, sunny place it might seem at first glance.  While others see the happily-ever-after Disney version of the world, they see it for what it truly is; ancient, violent, and full of things that go bump in the night, just like the original versions of many fairy tales.  They know that a happy ending is not guaranteed.

Although this episode most directly addresses fairy tales,  folklore (the root of many fairy tales) and urban legends (their more modern cousins) can be found in nearly every one.  Lovers of fairy tales and dark fantasy alike are sure to find “Supernatural” to their liking.

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Blog Preview: Upcoming Post Ideas

I’ve been brainstorming about my upcoming posts and decided to post a list of them, as a sort of preview.
1. Fairy Tales in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  I’ve compiled a list of “Buffy“/”Angel” fairy tale references and will post them along with some analysis.

2.  Fairy Tales in “Harry Potter”

J. K. Rowling shows us, in her Harry Potter books, that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  In fact, she found them so important that she created a whole book of wizarding fairy tales (“The Tales of Beadle the Bard“).  After all, each culture has its own, unique legends and fairy tales.  I will take a look at what these mean in the world of Harry Potter.

3. The Path: A Contemplative Fairy Tale Video Game

I will review “The Path,” a contemplative video game based on the popular fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

4. No More Disney Princesses:  Is This Good or Bad?

Disney has decided to stop producing its famously retold versions of classic fairy tales.  I will analyze the situation, discussing its positive and negative effects on the fairy tale medium.

5. Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books

Although these books are out of print, I am lucky enough to have a bunch of them.  I will describe these books and their origins, comparing them to some of their original sources, and updating their sparse Wikipedia story synopses.

6. What are Fairy Tales, Anyway?

In this post, I will explain why “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are not fairy tales.  I will also explain why the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame D’Aulnoy are “half fairy tales.”

7. Fairy Tales in Popular Music

Fairy tales, as part of our shared cultural knowledge, are more ingrained in pop-culture than we often realize.  Using song lyrics and clips, I will show how fairy tales have made their way onto all of our mp3 players.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

Many of us are familiar with director Guillermo del Toro‘s haunting 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”  This beautiful film was deeply inspired by fairy tales.  This post will take a closer look at del Toro’s inspiration.

9. King Arthur and Robin Hood as Fairy Tales

In this post, I will show how stories based on actual historical figures can and have evolved into fairy tales.

10. Sondheim: Fairy Tales and Urban Legends

Stephen Sondheim has based several of his hit Broadway musicals on fairy tales and their close cousins, urban legends.  In this post, I will detail the ways in which Sondheim was clearly inspired by these stories, as well as what he did to further and expand them.

My plan is to create all of these posts on my blog, but I can not promise that they will all appear.  If there’s anything on this list that you’re particularly excited to see, feel free to let me know.

Breadcrumbs. Gingerbread. Flesh.

This is a writing exercise I did, for a class.  We spent ten minutes listing what a character of our choice saw, heard, and stood upon.  I chose Gretel of Hansel and Gretel.

Breadcrumbs.  Gingerbread.  Flesh.

I saw the bread crumbs my brother dropped behind us.
I heard the crows cawing as they carried these away.
I stood in the forest, mud soaking into my shoes.

I saw less animals in that part of the woods.
I heard the voice of my father and couldn’t believe he would let this happen to us.
I stood in awe of the giant gingerbread house that loomed before me.

I saw candy of every kind imaginable and didn’t know where to begin.
I heard the ominous creak of the door.
I stood inside the house and saw everything change.

I saw the witch’s true face.
I heard her plans for Hansel.
I stood near his cage.

I saw him getting fatter–getting ready for the stew pot.
I heard the beginnings of a plan in my dreams.
I stood near the oven and waited for the witch.

I saw her bring my brother into the kitchen for her meal.
I heard his cries, likes sounds of a wounded animal.
I stood behind her as she sprinkled pepper on Hansel’s head.

I saw my hands reach out and push her in.
I heard her screams and felt almost guilty.
I stood watching as she burned.

I saw her flesh blacken and peel.
I heard my brother calling for me, ready to escape this place.
I stood in shock of what we had done.

I saw the world change.
I heard our story being retold through the ages.
I stood still in time and was a child forever, always with bread crumbs, and gingerbread, and baking flesh.

Hipster Little Mermaid

Fairy tales are so embedded in our shared cultural knowledge that when someone uses them to make a joke, everyone gets it.  This is part of what keeps them alive in our society.

A good example of this is the hipster Little Mermaid, a web phenomenon which uses a photoshopped image of the character from the Disney film to make jokes about hipsters.

Hipster Ariel
Although hipster Ariel makes reference to specifically the Disney versions of these well-known stories, it’s an interesting study of fairy tales as something to which everyone in our society can relate.  Even though we cannot see her fins in this photo, we know that this is a picture of a mermaid.  Likewise, the phrases make reference to lines from the movie that many are familiar with.  Even though the Disney films do not depict the original versions of these tales, these movies have been an important part of their continued evolution.  Our ability to reference them in jokes is proof of that.

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