Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pop Culture and Fairy Tales

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  Many of us as children grew up watching Disney Classics such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and many others.  Now that we are grown up, we find ourselves drawn to adult remakes of these stories: television dramas like Once Upon a Time and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman.  Like C.S. Lewis (who wrote classic tales himself in the form of the Narnia stories), we find ourselves becoming more open about our love for fantasy.

Many of us have fond memories of gathering with our families on Friday or Saturday nights (when there was no school the next day) for family movie night.  Perhaps some of these times were various family favorites particular to individual families, but it is a valid societal assumption to believe that many of these nights were spent watching Disney fairy tale movies such as the ones listed above.  These movies, which were family friendly and geared towards the developing education of young children, are internationally renown and beloved.  Sometimes young girls may have had slumber parties dedicated to watching all the Disney princess movies and dreaming about one day being carried off on a white horse by their own Prince Charming.  Young boys secretly enjoyed watching these movies (especially the sword fighting scenes and the fights with monsters), but would never admit to watching or liking them in front of their friends.  To do so would have been uncool.

Like our parents before us, we have grown up to realize that life is not a fairy tale.  Very rarely does Prince Charming come to take a damsel in distress away from her life of poverty and trouble.  Sometimes the man labeled as Prince Charming turns out to be more like a troll or Rumpelstiltskin.  As boys grow, they find that impressing girls are far more difficult than it is in the fairy tales of their youth and that they, unlike Prince Charming, do not always get the girl that they desire.  It is for these reasons, perhaps, that pop culture has begun remaking our beloved fairy tales with a young adult audience in mind.

This time around, however, we are not so ashamed to admit that we enjoy watching these shows.  Once Upon A Time is the highest rated drama on Sunday nights, showing the a significant number of Americans are enthralled by the story the show has to tell.  More and more movies are being made that have characters like fairies, wizards, vampires, and other mythical creatures.  The successes of the Twilight Saga and Harry Potter and the adequate cultural reception of the new Narnia movies further prove this present society's fascination with fantasy and fairy tales.

This development has the potential to have a very positive effect on both young adults and young children.  In a world where broken homes and single parenting is prevalent, the more interests parents can share with their children, the better.  What I mean by this is that many children have grown up in homes in which parents refuse to take an interest in what the child likes.  Fairy tales, like sports, provide a small but significant bridge on which both young and old can meet and find common ground.  Of course there needs to be more to create a healthy and lasting relationship between parent and child, but all big, important things start with a seemingly small but sturdy foundation.  While children may not enjoy the "adult" versions of their fairy tales (and they probably should not be even watching them), the shared enjoyment by child and adult can make the family movie nights spent watching Disney fairy tales more possible and enjoyable [for the adult] than before.

On an intellectual level, the incessant rise in popularity of fairy tales provides the opportunity to observe and analyze how our present culture's view and presentation of fantasy compares to the depiction of the same stories in past cultures.  A recent example that comes to mind is the movie Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe; while this Hollywood production did not retell a previous story sang by troubadours and storytellers of the Middle Ages, it did create enough buzz about classic Robin Hood stories that the History Channel was prompted to create a special that compared and contrasted the portrayal of Robin Hood throughout history (a history, by the way, that does include a Disney version of the Robin Hood legend).  While this intellectual reaction to the popularity of fairy tales is far from common (only Literature and English majors in college may even care about it), it is nonetheless another result of the rise of the modern fairy tale.

Like C.S. Lewis, we have discovered that by growing up, we only appreciate childhood more.  And like Lewis, we no longer see fairy tales as stories meant for children, but as portrayals of an alternate reality that provide us with hope of our own happy ending.  By remaking our favorite stories into television dramas geared towards adults, networks have reignited a desire in us to achieve our own goals no matter what obstacles we might encounter.  It has made living happily ever after a plausible and reachable reality.

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