Christmas Fairy tales

Posted on 22nd December 2015 by Anne Haas
Christmas is a magical time of year, the ideal occasion to chart the history of fairy tales. Bookseller Anne Haas explores our love of these ancient, traditional stories.

Is there a better time of year to pull out a huge book of fairytales? Over Christmas the television is scattered with endless folk and fairy tale adaptations, series, films and animations, while the theatre hosts pantomimes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and so on.

However, it is not just at Christmas that these traditional tales are adapted and woven into our every day. It is incredible just how much influence folk and fairy tales have on our modern culture. There are thousands of stories, novels and films based on these tales that were created hundreds of years ago, passed down through oral transmission, passed between families, villages and eventually across continents.

Some tales are more familiar than others, for example Snow White, which was first published in Kinder-und Hausmarchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812-15 (familiar today as Grimm's Fairy Tales)

In 1937, it was Disney’s first colour, full length feature animation and, since then, there have been numerous film adaptation such as Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Neil Gaiman has written his own version of the story titled: Snow, Glass Apples (available in Smoke and Mirrors).

Gaiman is one of the many contemporary authors to have taken this genre and made it their own, bringing stories into modern day, pulling at the stereotypes of past gender roles and recreating the original ‘darkness’ Jacob and Wilehlm Grimm put into the tales when their versions were first printed.

Jack Zipes has recently been part of the publishing of the ‘original’ Grimms tales, without censoring the material explaining: "Though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition. Versions were changed to avoid offence to middle class societies in which they were published and to be censored for the purpose of being children’s stories … although they were never written, or specifically told to be intended only for children." 

Marina Warner, author of Once Upon A Time a study of fairy tales, also explains how censored adaptations became part of childhood education by conveying morals and standards of behaviours, however, I think today we recognise how these tales entertain all ages and reflect the history of society and culture.

Personally, I love folk and fairy tales. I love their fantastical elements as well as those that relate to ‘the common person.’ The original Brother’s Grimm, Charles Perrault...

...and Hans Christian Anderson always leave a bitter taste, but I like that, and I think sometimes we crave the fictional things that we do not want to see in reality. I like the way they show how both our representation of morals and what we accept in a text has changed. We question the tales' violence and sexuality only because many of us presume these tales were written for children, and yet, in comparison to many of the novels and stories that are written today, these tales may be seen as quite  ‘tame’. I think it is a question of timing and audience.

My most recent purchase has been a beautiful hardback book of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated by Sanna Annukka. It uses an original version of Anderson’s work, however, it is always hard to tell how many times it has changed since the original writing. The book is spell binding, it is beautiful, full of frosty colours and the storygives me a huge sense of nostalgia. That is another thing I like about fairy tales, they pull me back to an age of innocence where anything was possible.



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