Fairy Tale Traditions Versus Fairy Tale Transformations
By Derek Newman-Stille
Fairy Tales have been reconstructed in the 20th century as tales of caution and warning against difference. In reframing them as “Children’s Tales”, fairy tales have frequently been turned into tales of hegemonic control, tales that limit options and possibilities in exchange for ideas of “tradition” and “‘morals”.
Yet fairy tales have always been primarily about the RE-telling, about shifting and changing for new audiences and new listeners. They aren’t made to be static tales and the only traditions that they were made to represent were traditions about the importance of storytelling.
Fairy tales are so frequently about transformations – from pauper to princess, from man to beast, from mermaid to girl – because they are tales that ARE transformative. They are tales that constantly shift and change with each telling, taking on new ideas as they are presented to new audiences.
Fairy tales come from oral narratives, and oral narratives are meant to be performed. Any performance shifts with its audience, changing as the audience finds certain things entertaining, offensive, humourous, or tragic, and performers know to shift the way they perform their tales to appeal to new and different groups. Fairy tales embrace these transformations, presenting them as metamorphoses of frogs into princess, but they are really about change and the need for change. It is often those in fairy tales who resist change, who become stuck in their ways, that suffer in their mundanity as a world of magic changes around them.
Tradition and transformation collide in fairy tales as they do in our world, generating new potentials that still take into account the stories that have shaped us.