A Conversation for Fairy Tales

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Post 1

Cheerful Dragon

I know that a lot of the fairy tales were edited 'to protect the innocent', but a few slipped through the net. My favourite version of Snow White was one I read many years ago. Rather than forgiving her wicked stepmother (or mother, if you prefer), Snow White and the Prince condemned her to put on red-hot iron shoes and dance until she died. We did this version in junior school when I was about 10. Guess who played the wicked stepmother!smiley - bigeyes

Other than that, I've always had an abiding love of fairy tales, folke tales and myths and legends. When I was 7, my mother had to actively encourage me to read something else, because our local library had a wonderful collection of them. I currently have a book of the collected tales of the Brothers Grimm, the works of Hans Christian Anderson, and a number of books on the myths, legends and folk tales of a variety of countries.

For anybody who likes the slightly darker side of folk tales, I recommend 'The Storyteller'. This was a TV series created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The original series had 9 European folk tales with an almost unrecognisable John Hurt as The Storyteller. My favourite is 'The Soldier and Death'. Some, if not all, of the series is available on video (in the UK anyway). There was a second series of 4 Greek myths, then the series died because US TV channels wouldn't buy it. When they were promised fairy tales, they expected something cute and 'Disney'.smiley - sadface Give me Henson's vision any day!


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Post 2

wrekage

most fairy tales have been toned down as modern society does not belive in scaring children most of the old fairy (fearie origainal spelliing) tales were desinged to warn or safe guard children


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Post 3

Mr Prophet (General Purpose Genre Guru)

I would personally recommend The Storyteller to anyone who doesn't get lost in the plot intricacies of The A-Team. I rate it as one of the finest television productions ever, and the fact that the US networks dropped it only proves my point: I challenge anyone who has seen Team Knight Rider to dispute this claim. I think it's appalling that - to the best of my knowledge - the Greek Myths series never even got a second showing, while ITV show the Hercules cartoon series and Kevin Sorbo struts roughshod across the trappings of every legend the producers can get their hands on to show how they're all really about being nice to people.

And as a related point, it's often glossed over that Hercules - admittedly under Hera's spiteful influence - murdered his entire family at least once.

Another worthy effort - fairytalewise - is Snow White a Tale of Terror. While not quite 'original', it has a wonderfully dark, sensual atmosphere, a pack of rather coarse and vaguely criminal miners in place of the dwarves (they have names, but we came to think of them by pseudonyms such as Dwarfy, Priesty, Manly and Lechy) and some wonderful - and sometimes disturbing - imagery used to illustrate the stepmother's magic. It's not kids stuff.

As for Disney... well it's probably best I don't get started on that line, as libel is expensive and so are their lawyers. Suffice to say that - without having actually seen the film - I don't for a minute believe that the Little Mermaid would be improved with the addition of dancing lobsters and a happy ending, and it is my uinderstanding that the Disney version has both.

I mean, it has DTV sequels, which is kind of out of the question for the Andersen (son? I can't remember offhand) version.

Oh well; I guess you can't argue with the box office, but I can continue to try.

The Prophet.


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Post 4

Cheerful Dragon

I can, and do, argue with box office. On a Blake's 7 forum on Ropey Effects, I argued that Frequency is a better film than MI-2, yet didn't stay in cinemas as long and consequently didn't have the same box-office take as MI-2. Frequency was better acted, directed and had a better storyline and characterisation. Still, Joe Public wants big stars and flash-bang special effects. Joe Public either wants shooting or educating!

Yes, Disney can be twee and irritating. I think it's got more so over the years. At least the Wicked Queen in Snow White and Maleficent (the wicked fairy) in Sleeping Beauty *looked* evil. And there was the neat touch of the death's head on the poisoned apple in Snow White, and Maleficent turned into a dragon to try to defeat the prince. I've not seen Little Mermaid (don't want to) but the witch-mermaid I've seen in clips of it is a charicature. I would like to see Disney's Hercules, though, if only because they got Gerald Scarfe to help them to change their cartoon style!


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Post 5

Mr Prophet (General Purpose Genre Guru)

Joe Public is an idiot, always has been, always will be. That's why you can't argue with the box office; all you can do is shout at it and hope it makes you feel better.

I haven't seen Frequency, but on the other hand MI:2 doesn't give much competition in the acting, plot and characterisation stakes. I did think it was well directed, but it's all opinion anyway. The best film I saw recently was Sweet and Lowdown, which had no explosions and the only things that got shot at were rats, and that was definitely much better than MI:2.

As for Disney, I haven't seen many Disney films at all, largely because every time someone has tried to convince me to watch one it has only reinforced my hatred for them. A few I've enjoyed, but mostly it's hate-hate-hate (and hate is of course and almost entirely terrible thing).

I didn't think the 'bad' fairy in Sleeping Beauty was supposed to be that actively malevolent. I always assumed the message of the story to be: Don't do anything which might be an insult to any fairy, rather than: Try to avoid the evil ones. I'm not remotely interested in seeing Hercules. The TV series is bad enough, without getting into the broad slapstick territory promised by the trailers for the film.

Moving back towards topic, does anyone else remember 'Storybook International'? They used to show it on ITV, back when there still seemed to be some assumption that some children at least wanted to watch something other than brightly coloured things running around and bumping into each other. It was filmed without dialogue then sold to various countries with an appropriate narration track dubbed over the top. It was perhaps more folktales than fairy tales, but there were a lot of the same themes.

That was good as well - althogh it was no Storyteller. Aside from anything else it was one of the few things on television which showcased stories from such a wide range of cultures. It was that as much as anything which inspired me to read a lot of folk and fairy tales - the ones the library bothered to carry copies of anyway.

Maybe I'm just getting nostalgic in my old age, but didn't TV used to be a lot better?

The Prophet.


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Post 6

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

While I'm *theoretically* still on vacation, I do want to comment briefly. First, thanks to everyone for making this conversation very interesting.

The fairy tales that have miraculously escaped censorship are rare gems to be treasured indeed. I feel it is a shame that we have "protected" our children out of so much of their cultural heritage.

I also agree that The Storyteller is an excellent series, and it does come highly recommended. I should point out that the series was never properly advertised. Its cancellation was the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy by an American conglomerate motivated by an ungrounded fear of anything new or different.

And I agree again that Disney's policy of slapping happy endings and animated sidekicks on fairy tales is annoying to purists at the very least. At most, one could accuse Disney of engaging in higher levels of censorship than anything known in the past. And for what? Profit. This is especially sad since fairy tales were originally meant to represent the needs and hearts of the most poor and common among us.


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Post 7

Mippy Mouse

Disney has definatly got less scary over the years. If you compare the Lost in the Woods scene in Snow White with the Sea Witch's Cave scene in The Little Mermaid, there's no contest. When my dad took his little sister to see Snow White she tried to hide under the seat! My mum says she remembers being scared by the Woods scene and the Witch too. Having said that the Woods scene and wolf fight in Beauty and the Beast are quite scary too though even they are not in the same league.
I quite agree that sticking a happy ending onto The Litle Mermaid was not a good idea because although the mermaid dies she has learnt that about love and so becomes a sea sprit and remains forever in the sea foam.

I hope this makes sense but its late and I've been on line too long. smiley - online2long


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Post 8

Cheerful Dragon

I suppose that Andersen's ending to 'The Little Mermaid' could be regarded as 'happy', if a bit religious for modern tastes. The mermaid knows that the only way she can become a mermaid again is to kill the prince. She doesn't, and she is given a chance to do good things on Earth and eventually go to Heaven.

Richard gave me the Collector's Edition DVD of Disney's Snow White for Christmas. It has a collection of scenes that never made it to the final film. Most of these Disney was right to leave out as they add nothing to the film - some make it sickeningly twee. But there's one that was removed from the 'making the poisoned apple' part of the film and I can't understand why it was removed. It just shows skulls rising in the steam from the cauldron. Maybe it was thought to be to scary. Ho hum.

I was reading one of Tolkien's books recently. It's a collection of short stories and poems, and contains a talk that Tolkien gave on the subject of Fairy Tales. In it, Tolkien says that Fairy Tales are *not* for children. It's just that over the years, especially in late-Victorian times and after, they have been turned into children's stories. The originals were created as explanations of how things happened, or moral tales, or whatever. But they were Folk Tales in the sense that they were created by and for the ordinary people. When they were created and told, nobody was worried about 'scaring the children', or anybody else for that matter. If the children were scared, the message was getting across. Plus scary stories are more entertaining.


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Post 9

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

It's useful to remember that taboos against violence have waxed and waned over the years and from country to country. During the Middle Ages, for instance, extreme violence was considered perfectly appropriate in fiction -- especially when it was used to make a point.

I imagine many fairy tales have become more or less violent over the years depending on the tastes of the culture at the time. In my opinion, Disney movies are unusual for being more puritanical than the culture necessarily calls for.

As for the little mermaid, I much prefer the original ending. I read the story at age 8, just a few months before I saw the ocean for the first time. I believe it gave me a different perspective on what the experience.

The Disney ending may be satisfying, but it doesn't carry over the same lingering effect on the imagination. I guess I feel that children need fewer unrealistic happy endings and more excuses to think strange and interesting thoughts. smiley - winkeye


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Post 10

WiLL

Disney wouldn't touch an epic like _Beowulf_ with a ten-foot pole.

The true art of storytelling cannot be found in the mainstream entertainment industry.
People (the masses) go to movies to be passively entertained. The great lineage of oral tradition is lost to this audience. If the audience is asked to think too much, then the movie is considered "stupid" or "preachy".
Real fairy tales are considered to be both by these mainstream, explosion-happy sheep.

If anyone out there has the chance to listen to a real oral storyteller, do it. Even if its a guest speaker at the local elementary school, the dying art of oral tradition (at least in the Western US) is going fast.


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Post 11

Mr Prophet (General Purpose Genre Guru)

That's not strictly true, since Disney made The Thirteenth Warrior, based on Michael Chrichton's Eaters of the Dead, which was itself an adaptation of Beowulf (a double link which I think could be deemed a cinematic ten-foot pole).

The Thirteenth Warrior is not a great film, but it is better than the Christopher Lambert 'rat vindaloo' (a term I made up for something so smothered in silly stunts, gratuitously exposed cheese- and/or beefcake and pumping techno sondtrack that it's almost possible not to notice how rubbish it really is) version of Beowulf.

Good storytelers are few and far between. Many of them seem to teach science these days, I think because a lot of the same skills are needed.


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Post 12

WiLL

Mmm...
I'll accept that.

Science and math teachers DO tend to make the best storytellers...


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Post 13

LeslieTheStoryteller

The Storyteller was one of the best series ever shown on American television and it's a shame that it was pulled off the air.

As to violence & darkness in fairy tales -- as a professional storyteller, it's been my experience that children of about 11 or so are ready and eager to explore (and learn from) darkness through the safety of a fairy tale, no matter what their parents think.

And as for Disney -- I was recently hired to perform stories at night on the steps of an ancient house. I prepared a creepy ghost story, and the organizer shot it down. She said, "I advertise my event as 'Disney-style,' and if you do that story, I will hear complaints." I needed the money, so I did tamer stories. But interestingly, all night children surrounded me and begged for the forbidden shivers.


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