Review: “The Fairies Return Or, New Tales for Old,” Compiled by Peter Davies

First of all, I must ask the forgiveness of all my readers.  I have a confession to make.  I’ve been a little selfish with this book, and that’s why the review has been a bit of a long time coming.  Allow me to explain.

I received a review copy of “The Fairies Return” last month.  The book, which is (in its current edition) published by Princeton University Press, is a collection of retold fairy tales.  What sets it apart from most retellings, however, is that these stories were written and collected in 1934 in England.  Although we tend to think of fairy tale retellings as a recent phenomenon, this is a false assumption.  For as long as the oral tradition of fairy tales has existed, the stories have been changing and growing.  It only makes sense that present day writers aren’t the first to twist these stories around and view them through new, often modernized lenses.  However, it’s still rare to come upon a collection of older retellings like this one.

The uniqueness of the collection will make you want to savor it, just as I did.  With slow satisfaction, you will find yourself reading and reflecting upon each tale. This book must be devoured as might a particularly delicious meal, with the care and pace each succulent story deserves.  You will feel drawn to inspect each story closely, not only because of the tales’ fanciful nature, but also because of their fascinating historical placement and significance.  Although I regret that my slow savoring has delayed your knowledge of this wonderful little find, I am certain that any readers of this text will surely understand.

Each story–even a retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”–comes across as unquestionably British.  The various writers are talented in their abilities to transform these familiar tales into stories of a very different sort.  However, even when the topics are closer to parliament and the stock market than magic, the skeletons of the original fairy tales are easily recognizable.

Although the stories themselves are diverse and offer many different tones and topics for closer inspection, perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is its ability to give readers a look at what fairy tale enthusiasts were up to almost 100 years ago.   The references and settings offer clear signs of the times in which the tales were retold, making this book a fascinating piece of history as well as a must-have for any fan of fairy tale retellings.

If your interest is piqued, then you’re in luck.  There’s a giveaway going until Oct. 26, in which entrants are eligible to win a free copy of “The Fairies Return.”  Five winners will be selected to receive this one-of-a-kind book.

For more information on “The Fairies Return,” check out this description from Princeton University Press.

Aside

A Beastly Review

Some of you may remember a post I made a few months back wherein I discussed several upcoming fairy tale films, and made predictions about them.   Having now seen these movies, I suppose I should share my findings in review form.  Today, I’ll be tackling the first of these: “Beastly.”  Instead of a full blown article, however, I decided to slim it down to the basics for a quick read.  I present you with the best and worst three things about this “Beauty and the Beast” inspired teen flick.  Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Top Three:

  1. Just as I initially predicted, Neil Patrick Harris was as hilarious as always. He’s a fantastic actor who can shine in any role.
  2. The dialogue was actually pretty snappy.  It was no “Brick,” but the writers clearly put some effort into the film’s quirky language.
  3. It was interesting to see the witch character (Mary-Kate Olsen) get more involved.  In most versions of the story, she casts her spell and clears out (if she’s even mentioned at all).  Here, she seems to have a legitimate interest in how the story ends.

The Bottom Three:

  1. The plot was insanely predictable and not just because it was a retelling of a familiar story.  A little more creativity would’ve gone a long way.
  2. It was way too easy for Kyle (a.k.a the beast, played by Alex Pettyfer) to convince his love interest’s druggie dad (Roc LaFortune) to make his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) come live with him as a captive.  I know the man was on drugs and owed money to some sketchy dudes, but it seems wildly unlikely that any father of a teenage girl would think it was in his daughter’s best interest to send her to live with a creepy, hooded stranger.  It was honestly unrealistic enough to be distracting.
  3. Although I understand that the writers wanted Kyle to look like a jerk, his speech in the opening section of the film just seems over the top.  Sure, tons of popular high school jocks are tools, but the student body’s enthusiasm for his shallow sentiments seems kind of impossible.  I don’t know about you, but even in high school I would’ve associated cheering for this guy with a loss of personal integrity.  The clip below contains his speech; could you have stomached this in high school?

Even though it wasn’t the most original retelling I’ve ever seen, it was well worth the $1 I spent renting it from Red Box.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking evening, “Beastly” won’t fit the bill.  If, however, you’re in the mood for a cute, slightly fanciful film with some witty banter, this could be your happily ever after.

The Muffin Tree

Here’s an example of someone using the patterns they learned from fairy tales to create something new: “The Muffin Tree.”  This silly video, which was created by independent animator Amy Winfrey, aligns itself with fairy tales right away when it opens with the iconic fairy tale phrase “once upon a time.”

The story then draws on further fairy tale norms; the main character discovers something magical, but does not respond in the way she should.  She is greedy and takes advantage of the tree, eating too many muffins and becoming fat.  Then, she makes matters worse by being ungrateful and complaining that the tree does not meet her needs.  The girl, however, should have remembered to be careful what she wished for; her wish was granted with a new kind of muffin that was delicious but poisonous.

This story, which is a morality tale, models itself after a common type of fairy tale.  Although not all fairy tales have morals, many of them do.  For instance, “Little Red Riding Hood” encourages children to listen to their parents and “Snow White” discourages vanity by associating it with the villainous Queen.  Fairy tale characters who are lazy, ungrateful, or otherwise wicked often end up as dead as the little girl in “The Muffin Tree.”

“The Muffin Tree” is especially similar to a Swahili story called “The Story of a Gazelle,” which can be found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.” In this story, a foolish man is rescued from poverty by a magical gazelle.  The gazelle makes him rich and gives him everything he desires.  Once he gains wealth, respect, and power, however, he becomes ungrateful and neglects the gazelle.  The creature becomes ill, but the foolish man pays him no heed.  Soon, the magical gazelle dies and, with him, takes all the gifts he gave to the foolish man, leaving his former master impoverished and homeless once more.

Even though new fairy tales cannot truly be created, stories like “The Muffin Tree” show us that fairy tale patterns can still be used effectively.

Disney Princesses No More?

The L. A. Times reported in Nov. 2010 that Disney will no longer be producing their famous retold fairy tale films, as many of today’s children find them uncool, and the films have little appeal for boys.  Although this statement was later retracted, Disney’s potential discontinuance of their fairy tale movies could have a large impact on fairy tales themselves.  There would be potential for results both negative and positive.  I’ve broken these into pros and cons for easy reading.

Pros: Although it is perfectly natural for fairy tales to evolve over time, many of the fairy tales Disney has tackled over the years may have been changed a little too much, and many of the most interesting details have been lost.  All of the gore has been edited out of these stories for today’s children.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think if Ariel survives and marries the prince, then she isn’t actually “the Little Mermaid,” and a version of “Rapunzel” where no one gets blinded hardly seems likes Rapunzel at all.  Generations of children have missed out on hearing these stories in their entirety, and the end of Disney fairy tales might mean a return to the originals, either through reading or through another film company willing to more honestly tackle the classics.  Not only that, but the Disneyfication of stories like “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Peter Pan” has led to many people falsely classifying them as fairy tales when, in fact, they are not.  Perhaps, if these beloved stories were less closely associated with actual fairy tales like “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” this confusion could be avoided.

Cons: Disney princess films have done a lot to further the fairy tale genre in our modern society.  Certainly, these tales are a part of shared cultural knowledge leading to constant remakes, but how much of that can be attributed to our exposure to them in their Disney versions?  These movies have been part of childhoods across the globe since the 1937 release of Disney’s “Snow White.”  Certainly, many of these stories had lasted for hundreds of years before Walt Disney ever got his hands on them, but these movies certainly impacted the genre and did their part to extend its already lengthy shelf-life.  I hope that these stories are ingrained enough in our society to be passed down to children long after Disney stops producing fairy tale movies, but it’s possible that Disney has done more to further them than we might imagine.

Buffy/Angel Producers Create Fairy Tale Show

As someone with a love for both fairy tales and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I was thrilled to find out that David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, who produced “Buffy” and its spin-off, “Angel,” are now working on a fairy tale themed show for NBC.  I first heard news of this development on the Sur La Lune fairy tale blog, which led me to this article by Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd.  Supposedly, the show (“Grimm”) will be a crime drama featuring Grimm’s fairy tale inspired characters, and it looks like it will be pretty dark.  As far as I can tell, it sounds like a combination between “Angel” and Bill Willingham’s amazing comic series, “Fables,” in which the characters from fairy tales are actually real, and now reside in New York City.

I can’t pretend the project comes as a complete surprise, though.  “Buffy” and “Angel” always did have more than the average number of fairy tale references.  The photo below is a great example of this; in season 4, episode 4 (“Fear Itself”), Buffy dresses up as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween.

Sarah Michelle Gellar dresses up as Little Red in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

 

Either way, NBC’s “Grimm” definitely sounds like something to get excited about.

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