Fairy Tales and Contemporary Retellings

Disney princesses, happy endings, heavy-handed morals, and wealthy Victorian children reading the Grimm brothers at bedtime: these are just some of the things you think of when you hear the words “fairy tale,” right? What if I told you that fairy tales were told for hundreds of years all over the world before they were ever written down, that they have no single author, that they have mutated or been purposely altered over generations, and that, according to novelist John Updike, “They were the television and pornography of their day, the life-lightening trash of preliterate?” In this course we will examine the history and moral complexity of fairy tales by reading a number of well-known classics as well as their contemporary retellings, and we will guide our inquiries with a number of open-ended questions. Have fairy tales helped to shape Western social norms, or have they merely reflected the unspoken rules by which we tend to abide (or both?) What agendas do different authors bring to their fairy tale retellings, and how do different readers receive these texts? What aspects of fairy tales seem to have commonly accepted interpretations, and how have these symbols achieved their universality? Over the course of the semester, we will hone our reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, while also becoming experts in the emerging field of Fairy Tale Studies.