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Maria Tatar


P R I N C E T O N , N E W J E RS E Y

ra V*f Vr r-4n W r-tra iT” ^ ̂ *-»’

Copyright © 1992 by Princeton University Press
Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street,

Princeton, New Jersey 08540
In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, Oxford

All Rights Reserved

Library of Co ngress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Tatar, Maria M., 1945-
Off with their heads! : fairy tales and the culture of childhood /

by Maria Tatar,
p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-691-06943-3

1. Fairy tales—History and criticism. 2. Fo lklore and children.
3. Children’s stories—Psychological aspects. I. Title.

GR550.T38 1992
398′.45—dc20 91-26470

This book has been composed in Adobe Berkley Book

Princeton University Press books are printed on acid-free papier and meet
guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on

Production Guidelines for Book Long evity
of the Council on Library Resources

Printed in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 1 0 8 6 4 2


228 C H A P T E R X

dren, or at least making children feel less inferior to adults. In cultures
that consistently play adult authority and privilege against childish im­
potence and inadequacy, these stories have a liberating power that
should not be underestimated. They may lack the subversive dimension
we associate with stories about diminutive giant-killers and foxy inno­
cents, but they still appeal to that part of us that resists the notion of
bowing to authority.

That ill will a nd evil are so often personified as adult female figures
in fairy tales, even in cultures where paternal authority proves weightier
than its female counterpart, raises some serious questions that threaten
to invalidate the notion of the therapeutic gains we so eagerly look for
in the stories we read to children. However satisfying the tales may
seem from a ch ild’s point of view, however much they may reflect the
psychological realities of developmental paths leading from depend­
ence to autonomy, they still perpetuate strangely inappropriate notions
about what it means to live happily ever after. “Hansel and Gretel,” as
noted, implies that happiness comes in the form of an enduring love
triangle consisting of a father and his two children (who have defeated
an evil female). Other collections show us the same constellation of
figures. In Afanasev’s celebrated Russian fairy tale, Vasilisa the B eautiful
marries the tsar, but her story does not end until her father finds his
way into his daughter’s house. The hero of the Venetian “Cloven Youth”
finds himself liv ing “in harmony” with his wife and her father. Perrault
lets Tom Thumb return “to his father” and purchase sinecures for him
and his brothers.30 The joy produced by the union of a brother, sister,
and father in “The Juniper Tree” after the death of the step/mother is
not unique to this one tale type. For this reason, it is important to bear
in mind that versions of this tale and others are sacred only as cultural
documents mapping the most heavily traveled developmental routes of
another era. They may also capture the larger contours of patterns pre­
dominant in our own age, but that does not mean that we have to keep
reading the same stories to our children today. The omnipresent, pow­
erful mother and the distant, separate father are still the most common
coordinates in the world of childrearing, but enough has changed and
is changing for us to produce new cultural stories to read to our own

Reinvention through Intervention

Every fairy tale worth recording at all is the remnant of a tradition

possessing true historical value—historical, at least, in so far as it

has naturally arisen out of the mind of a people under special

circumstances It s ustains afterwards natural changes from the

sincere action of the fear or fancy of successive generations;

it takes new colour from their manner of life, and

new form from their changing moral tempers.

John Ruskin, “Fairy Stories”

We just try to make a good picture.

And then the professors come along and tell u s what we do.

Walt Disney on Snow White amd the Seven Dwarfs

NO FAIRY-TALE te xt is sacred. Every printed version is just an­other variation on a theme—the rewriting of a cultural story in a certain time and place for a specific audience. For now, that
audience consists largely of children and the adults who read and tell
stories to them. Yet, al though children’s books and films have become
the “new matrix” for generating fairy tales, we still give very little
thought to the effect those stories might have on our children, accept­
ing more or less what the market has to offer by way of reinterpreta-
tion.1 This failure to question or to take the measure of what we pass on
to children is particularly surprising if we consider that fairy tales do
not merely encode social arrangements from the past, but also partici­
pate in their creation for the present and future. As Stephen Greenblatt

230 E P I L O G U E

has observed, “the work of art is not the passive surface on which . . .
historical experience leaves its stamp but one of the creative ag ents in
the fashioning and re-fashioning of this experience.”2 As we t ell these
stories, we simultaneously evoke the cultural experience of the past and
reproduce it in a way that will shape and structure the experience of the
children to whom we speak.

Our cultural stories are the products of unceasing negotiations be­
tween the creative consciousness of individuals and the collective so-
ciocultural constructs available to them. These negotiations may be
smooth or they may be troubled, but they always leave a mar k on each
version of a tale. Making a new fiction means refashioning—in ways
that may be conciliatory or conspiratorial, but also in ways that may be
contestatory or subversive—the cultural legacy that constitutes us as
individuals. Carolyn G. Heilbrun writes eloquently about the challenge
of producing fictions:

One cannot make up stories: one can only retell in new ways the
stories one has already heard. Let us agree on this: that we live o ur
lives thr ough texts. These may b e read, or chanted, or ex perienced
electronically, o r come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers,
telling us of wh at conventions demand. Whatever their form or me­
dium, these stories are what have formed us all, they are what we
must use to make our new fictions. .. . Out of old tales, we must
make new lives.3

We create new tales not only by retelling familiar stories, but also by
reinterpreting them. Just as each age reinvents Shakespeare, construct­
ing new meanings out of the very words read by other generations, each
age creates its own folklore through rereadings as well as retellings. The
prominence of certain stories is in itself symptomatic of c ultural pro­
duction—of the way in which culture constitutes itself by c onstituting
us. Freud’s interpretation of the Oedipus story is, for example, so firmly
inscribed on our consciousness as a model of male development that its
plot begins to take on the role of a self-fulfilling prophesy, reproducing
the family dynamics that it relentlessly broadcasts. The absence of alter­
native male models or of female developmental models has led Carol
Gilligan to turn her attention to a very different “old tale”—Apuleiuss
“Cupid and Psyche”—with the hope of resurrecting it, through a bold
reinterpretive gesture, as a story of f emale resistance.4

R E I N V E N T I O N T H R O U G H I N T E R V E N T I O N 231

Of the many fairy tales circulating the world over, it is not easy to
pick out the ones to retell or reinterpret for o ur children. Which are
better to start out with—the earlier, often brutal, versions that have
been said to capture the “universal truths” of human experience, or the
modern refashionings that speak to the specificity of our own time and
place and seem more consonant with our cultural expectations? Given
a choice, say, between the Grimms’ “Snow White” and the dozens of
modem, available versions of the story (including Walt Disney’s film),
which would be the “right” one for a child?

That question has no correct response, but trying to answer it reason­
ably well means making the effort to reflect on various versions of a
particular story—their manner as well as their matter, the degree to
which they empower or coerce, entertain or frighten, disrupt cultural
codes or reinscribe them. It also means looking closely at the story’s
most stable episodes, those moments in the plot that have been most
resistant to creative variation. And finally, it means identifying the par­
ticular points in a tale marked by discursive practices that are unique to
one culture or another.

In thinking about the dominant fairy-tale images in our own country,
the name “Disney” immediately comes to mind, for the films and books
produced by the Disney Studio have more than a large comer of the
American market. Let us begin by looking at “Snow White”—first at its
German version (on which the Disney film is based) and then at its
American cinematic incarnation. In this way, we can begin to get some
sense of priorities on sociocultural agendas, however limited the sam­
ple. This in turn can help us to determine whether the specific values,
ideals, desires, and sublimations transmitted by one version of a tale
constitute those we wish to convey to our children.

The Grimms’ first recorded version of “Snow White” is very different
from what we find in standard American editions of the Nursery and
Household Tales. In that version, which appeared in 1812 an4 which
was heavily revised for the standard final edition of 1857, it is Snow
White’s biological mother, not her stepmother, who orders a huntsman
to kill the girl and bring back her lungs and liver as proof of the deed.
(That she boils the innards in salt and eats them is a detail the Grimms
retained even after they transformed the wicked queen into a step­
mother.) Even when a stepmother stands in for the mother, it ha s not
been difficult for most readers and critics to recognize that “Snow

232 E P I L O Q U E

White” is a story about mother-daughter conflict. Yet this did not pre­
vent modern storytellers from magnifying and intensifying maternal
evil in the tale. By th e time Walt Disney got his hands on the story, for
example, the good, biological mother, who dies in childbirth, had been
eradicated—the only maternal figure is the stepmother in her double
incarnation as proud, cold, and evil queen and as ugly, dangerous, and
wicked witch.5 Disney himself, who referred to the transformation of
the queen into a witch as a “Jekyll a nd Hyde thing,” seemed unaware
that there is no Jekyll component to this figure’s personality, only two
Hydes. We are no longer dealing with the splitting of the mother image
into a good mother who dies in childbirth and an evil mother who
persecutes her child—what we have here is a complete absorption of
maternal figures into the realm of evil.6

Disney’s demonization of a parent-figure might appear to be a
healthy tonic to the ideological bias against children that we have seen
in Bruno Bettelheim’s reading of fairy tales. For Bettelheim, “Snow
White” is not about a mother’s murderous envy of her daughter, but
about a child’s wish to destroy a p arent:

Competition between a parent an d his child makes life unbearable for
parent and child. Under such conditions the child wants to free h im­
self and be rid of t he parent, who forces him either to compete or to
buckle under. The wish to be rid of the parent arouses great guilt,
justified th ough it may be when the situation is viewed objectively. So
in a reversal which eliminates the guilt feeling, this wish, too, is pro­
jected onto the parent. Thus, in fairy tales there are parents who try
to rid themselves of their child, as happens in “Snow White.”7

But what makes Disney’s “Snow White” difficult to applaud as an exam­
ple of a liberating fairy tale is precisely the way in which it works too
hard to efface any trace of maternal goodwill and to construct an image
of feminine evil overpowering in its cinematic depth. And it was the
Grimms who cleared the way f or emphasizing maternal evil by mag­
nifying female villainy in successive versions of the stories they had

Since social arrangements in both the Grimms’ day and in our own
have positioned mothers as the dominant figure in the childrearing pro­
cess, it may seem logical to locate adult villainy in female characters—
be they mothers, stepmothers, or witches. Yet the “abandoning im­
pulse” emanates from both male and female parents, and children are

R E I N V E N T I O N T H R O U G H I H T E RV E H T I O H 233

just as likely to feel emotionally abandoned by a father as by a mother.
Some versions of “Snow White”—a Turkish tale, for example—give us
a male protagonist abandoned by his father. Another tells of a princess
who sits at her window sewing, leams of an enchanted prince “with
skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood and hair as golden as the
sun,” and, with the help of three old women, frees the sleeping prince
from the spell cast on him.8 These tales along with other similarly “devi­
ant” variants give the lie to the possibility that women have been slotted
into the role of fairy-tale villains because of their greater involvement in
the childrearing process. What seems more likely is that the men who
recorded these oral t ales—and for the most part the great collectors of
the nineteenth century were male—showed, whenever they had a
choice, a distinct preference for stories with female villains over tales
with male giants and ogres.9

Yet if the fairy-tale canon vilifies mothers by turning them into
characters who torment and persecute children, does it not also glorify
girls by placing them in the role of heroine? Our best known fairy-tale
characters are, after all, Snow White, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and
Sleeping Beauty. If we tak e a closer look at the figure of Snow White to
see how one representative female heroine is constructed by different
cultures, the lack of v ariation in representing this particular character
is striking. All printed versions seem to concur on her singular physi­
cal attractiveness (a necessary condition of the “beauty contest” with
the wicked queen) and also on her genius for housework (Disney
even turned her into a Cinderella-figure for his film’s introductory

Beginning with the Grimms, it is through a combination of labor and
good looks that Snow White earns a prince for herself. Here is how the
Grimms, as noted earlier, describe the housekeeping contract extended
to Snow White by t he dwarfs:

“If you’ll keep house for us, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and
knit, and if you’ll keep eve rything neat and orderly, you can stay with
us, and we’ll provide you with everything you need.”10

But the dwarfs in the Grimms’ tale are hardly in need of a housekeeper,
for they appear to be models of neatness. Everything in their cottage is
“indescribably dainty and neat”; the table has a white cloth with tiny
plates, cups, knives, forks, and spoons, and the beds are covered with
sheets “as white as snow.” Compare this description of the dwarfs’ cot-


tage, with the following one taken from a book based on Disney’s ver­
sion of “Snow White”:

Skipping across a little bridge to the house, Snow White peeked in
through one window pane. There seemed to be no one at home, but
the sink was piled high with cups and saucers and plates which
looked as though they had never been washed. Dirty little shirts and
wrinkled little trousers hung over chairs, and everything was blan­
keted with dust.

“Maybe the children who live here have no mother,” said Snow
White, “and need someone to take care of them. Let’s clean their
house and surprise them.”

So in she went, followed by h er forest friends. Snow White found
an old broom in the corner and swept the floor, while the little ani­
mals all did their best to help.

Then Snow White washed all the crumpled little clothes, and set a
kettle of d elicious soup to bubbling on the hearth.11

In one post-Disney American variant of the story after another, Snow
White makes it her mission to clean up after the the dwarfs (“seven
dirty little boys”) and is represented as serving an apprenticeship in
home economics (“Snow White, for her part, was becoming an excel­
lent housekeeper and cook”).12 The Disney version itself transforms
household drudgery into frolicking good fun—less work than play
since it requires no real effort, is carried out with the help of w onder­
fully dextrous woodland creatures, and achieves such a dazzling result.
Disney made a point of placing the housekeeping sequence before the
encounter with the dwarfs and of presenting the dwarfs as “naturally
messy,” just as Snow White is “by nature” tidy. When she comes upon
the cottage, her first instinct is to clean up the house and surprise them
and then “maybe they’ll let me stay.”13

Reviews of the film underscore the way in which the housecleaning
sequence—”with squirrels using their tails as dusters, the swallows scal­
loping pies with their feet, the fawns licking the plates clean, the chip­
munks twirling cobwebs about their tales and pulling free,”14 as one
enthusiastic reporter for the New York Times described it—seems to
have captured the imagination of viewers. That sequence is repeatedly
singled out as marking the film’s highpoint, in large part because of its
creative elan. It is telling that this particular moment in the film became
the target of special inventive energy and wit, especially since humor is

R E I N V E N T I O N T H R O U G H IN T E R V E N T I O N 235

so emphatically absent from other moments in the film. Recorded ver­
sions of the tale reveal that there was plenty of r oom for whimsy, even
in the final scene of “Snow White.” In many early versions of the story,
for example, Snow White is not revived by a kiss from the prince—
Walt Disney borrowed that particular motif fr om “Sleeping Beauty.” In­
stead, the clumsy prince drops the coffin, and the jolt to the sleeping
princess dislodges the piece of apple in her throat. Similarly, the
Grimms’ first published version takes us to the prince’s castle, where a
servant, who has to carry the coffin around all day, becomes so irritated
with the sleeping princess that he declares: “We have to slave away all
day long for the sake of this dead girl,” then thumps her on the back so
hard that the piece of a pple stuck in her throat comes flying out.15

The success of Disne y’s f ilm led one reporter to promote the idea of
a new business for A merica: “industrialized fantasy.”16 “Industrialized
fantasy sounds like something extremely complex,” the reporter noted,
“yet it is quite simple. Walt Disney’s picture-play ‘Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs’ is an excellent example. Here is something manufactured
out of practically nothing except some paint pots and a few tons of
imagination. In this country imagination is supposed to be a commod­
ity produced in unlimited quantities. If it can be turned out as an article
of commerce which the public will readily buy, t hen prosperity should
be—well, just around the corner, anyway.” The public readily, almost
too readily, bought Disney’s article of c ommerce, along with the tons of
imagination in it. As it was sold and repackaged, through its songs,
through plastic figures of Snow White and the dwarfs, and through
books based on the film, it came to have a powerful effect on parents
and children, impressing on everyone the image of a girl who makes her
dreams come true through her flirtatious good looks and her effortless
ability to keep a house clean. Because the story was appropriated by
what some have called the culture industry rather than “industrialized
fantasy,” it could also be harnessed into the service of producing cul­
tural sentences, powerful prescriptive messages that took on the charac­
ter of “universal truths” about human behavior.

Foucault has taught us the extent to which socialization produces
“docile bodies” that subject themselves to self-discipline and productive
labors. By in ternalizing a d isciplinary regime in each subject, socializa­
tion staves off th e need for coercive action or repressive measures. In
this sense, the encoding of children’s literature—of what is read in a
person’s “formative years”—with certain sociocultural norms plays a

236 E P I L O Q U E

particularly vital role. As Western culture began prohibiting corporal
punishment and eliminating disciplinary practices pertaining to the
body, it made a decisive move in the direction of engendering child-
rearing policies that enlisted the consciousness of its subjects in the
project of p roductive discipline. As Ma rgaret R. Miles has pointed out
in another context, however, it is important to register the ways in
which our own society has not, by any stretch of the imagination, elim­
inated coercion as a disciplinary practice.17 Newspapers give us painful
daily reminders of the degree to which children continue to be sub­
jected to abusive physical treatment even as they are, by self-definition,
the principal targets of socialization.

To accept Foucault’s account is also to concede that the entire project
of childrearing, including the telling of tales, is invested in a micro-
physics of power and is therefore never really in the best interests of the
child. Any attempt to pass on stories becomes a disciplinary tactic
aimed at control. Cultural theory will never allow us to escape this
charge, but we c an at least—on a pragmatic level—make the effort to
identify what is transmitted in the stories we tell children and to de­
velop a clearer awareness of how those stories can be retold or reinter­
preted to produce texts that may yet be coercive, but at least will pro­
vide more pleasure.

As I observed earlier, Bruno Bettelheim has cautioned parents not to
talk with children about what they read but to let them work out their
feelings about a story “on their own.”18 This warning against parental
intervention may well appear to attenuate the socializing energy of a
story, but it can also strengthen the power of certain signals that we
may not want our children to receive. We have seen how American
rewritings of “Snow White” glaringly polarize the notion of the feminine
to produce a murderously jealous and forbiddingly cold woman along
with a girl of ideal beauty and domestic genius. Here it would not seem
amiss to talk about the story, to engage in a joint interpretive effort that
acknowledges the child’s power to read the events, and, finally, to col­
laborate once again with the child in creating a new story based on the
old. Working through a story by amending, excising, and transforming
it creates opportunities for a new understanding of the constraints im­
posed on us by our culture, yet it also provides a dress rehearsal for
resisting those constraints in real life.

Despite the stabilizing power of print, fairy tales can still be told and
retold so that they challenge and resist, rather than simply reproduce,

R E I N V E N T I O N T HR O U G H I N T E R V E N T I O N 237

the constructs of a culture. Through playful disruptions, it is possible
to begin transforming canonical texts into tales that empower and en­
tertain children at the same time that they interrogate and take the
measure of their own participation in a project to socialize the child.
Some models exist in print, others flourish in oral form, in private ex­
changes between parent and child.

Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, once ob­
served that the key to his success as an author of children’s books was
his ability “to conspire with children against adults.”19 Now it may well
be that adults who turn themselves into co-conspirators with the child
are in fact engaging in a fraudulent scheme to win the kind of affection­
ate loyalty that produces a docile child, but, in practical terms, it re­
mains true that children react with glee when adults engage in the kind
of behavior they try so hard to alter in children. The popular “Fairy Tale
Theater” version of “Snow White,” produced by Shelley Duvall, uses
humor and imagination to defuse the formidable power of the wicked
stepmother. That figure’s narcissistic vanity is taken to such extremes
that she becomes the buffoon of the story through her many expansive
speeches celebrating her own beauty. Thus a figure who might, in other
contexts, inspire terror becomes the laughingstock of the story.20 Shift­
ing the narrative centers of power becomes an effective means for di­
minishing the threat of adult evil and strengthening children’s confi­
dence in their ability to conquer that threat.

Defamiliarization can also go far toward breaking the magic spell that
traditional tales weave around their listeners. This may take the form of
a shift in perspective—retelling a story from the point of view of one of
its villains—or it may take the form of an abrupt reversal in a traditional
plot—showing a character resisting a proposal that is usually accepted.
The “Upside Down Tales” told by Russell Shorto give us, for example,
both the traditional tale and another version, “the untold story.” Shorto
presents the child with the Grimms’ “Cinderella,” then “sets the record
straight” with a version of the story told from the stepsisters’ point of
view.21 The effectiveness of abrupt plot reversals as devices for inducing
reflection on cultural stories that have become ossified in printed form
becomes evident from a reading of Rosemarie Kunzler’s version of
Rumpelstiltskin, which shows the indignant reaction of the miller’s
daughter to Rumpelstiltskin’s proposal to exchange his spinning skills
for her child.22 Jane Yolen’s Sleeping Ugly also neatly illustrates the way
in which playful reversals can produce provocatively thoughtful, rather

238 E P I L O G U E

than predictable, stories.23 like Bertolt Brecht, who wanted to break the
magic spell of folk wisdom as captured in proverbs (“Man proposes;
God disposes” became for him “Man proposes that God disposes”),
some authors of fairy tales have used humor and imagination to thwart
our expectations and to contest the paths taken by these stories. Their
stories point the way to a folklore that is reinvented by each new gener­
ation of storytellers and reinvested with a powerfully creative social



1. Charles Schulz, “Peanuts,” United Features Syndicate, Inc. I am grateful to
Doris Young for calling the strip to my attention. See her “Evaluation of Children’s
Responses to Literature,” in A Critical Approach to Children’s Literature, ed. Sara
Innis Fenwick (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 100-109.

2. Mark Twain’s observation about morals appears in the prefatory notice to The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ed. John Seeyle (London: Penguin, 1985). The
Duchess makes her pronouncements in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s A dventures in Wonder­
land & Through the Looking-Glass (Toronto: Bantam, 1981), p. 67.

3. Alison Lurie sees subversiveness as the trait that makes children’s literature
worth studying. She identifies and analyzes texts that celebrate “daydreaming, dis­
obedience, answering back, running away from home, and concealing one’s private
thoughts and feelings from unsympathetic grown-ups.” See Don’t Tell the Grown­
ups: Subversive Children’s L iterature (Boston: Little, B rown, 1990), p. x.

4. Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Commu­
nities (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980), p. 14. Fish’s views on the way in
which texts are constituted does much to diminish the distance between traditional
tales (which are created by the interplay between teller and audience) and literary
texts. Nina Mikkelsen describes one child’s manner of reading and rewriting:
“Sometimes she reads; sometimes she misreads; sometimes she extracts the essence;
sometimes she proclaims the book’s existence; sometimes she is building bridges
connecting images; at other times she is developing new structures…. And as she
grows and changes, the books are changing with her.” See “Sendak, Snow White,
and the Child as Literary Critic,” Language Arts 62 (1985): 362-73.

5. On the way in which the novel tells, “with regret,” how its heroes are de­
stroyed “by the forces of social regulation and standardization,” see D. A. Miller, The
Novel and the Police (B erkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1988), p.
19. Miller also emphasizes that though the novel condemns policing procedures, it
reinvents them in “the very practice of novelistic representation.”

6. New York Times, 24 November 1990, p. 26.
7. On the appreciative, though not wholly uncritical, reception of the book, see

the reviews by John Updike, New York Times Book Re view, 23 May 1976; Harold
Bloom, “Driving out Demons,” New York Review of Books, 15 July 1976; Richard
Todd, “In Praise of Fairy Tales,” Atlantic, June 1976; Alison Lurie, “The Haunted
Wood,” Harper’s, June 1976; Leslie A. Fiedler, “Fairy Tales—Without Apologies,”
Saturday Review, 15 May 1976; and Clare Boothe Luce, “Frogs and Freudians,” Na­
tional Review, 20 August 1976.

8. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of
Fairy Tales (New York: Knopf, 1976; New York: Random House, Vintage Books,

268 M O T E S TO C H A P T E R X

10. Carl-Heinz Mallet, for example, finds that the tale stages the biblical scene
of temptation, with the mother as Eve and the boy as Adam. His interpretation does
not, however, account for numerous deviant textual details. See his Kopf ab! Gewalt
im Mdrchen, pp. 214-15.

11. That a connection exists between the apple offered to the boy and the one
peeled by the biological mother at the start of the tale is not wholly improbable.
Both apples are linked to an act of mutilation: the mother cuts her finger while
peeling an apple; the son is decapitated while reaching for an apple. They function
as the object of (limited) desire that sets in motion a train of events leading to death.
And their colors (red/white is the conventional association with the fruit) harmo­
nize with the “red as blood / white as snow” motif (itself strongly linked with the
notion of mortality).

12. “Jacob Grimm: Sechs Marchen,” in Briefe der Bruder Grimm an Savigny, ed.
Ingeborg Schnack and Wilhelm Schoof (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1953), p. 430.

13. Lutz Rohrich points out that dismemberment has a dual function in fairy
tales: it stands as a murderous act of violence, but also forms part of a ritual for
rejuvenating the weak, ill, or aged. See “Die Grausamkeit im deutschen Marchen,”
pp. 176-224.

14. Cited by John A. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea (San Francisco: Harper
& Row, 1984), p. 49. The association between Eve and death is a common one. St.
Jerome writes, for example, that “Death came through Eve, but life has come
through Mary” (cited by Julia Kristeva, “Stabat mater,” in The Female Body in West­
ern Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman [Cambridge: Har­
vard Univ. Press, 1985], p. 103).

15. On the opening paragraph, see Belgrader, Das Mdrchen von dem Machandel-
boom, p. 330. Of the 495 tale variants examined by Belgrader, only the version in
the Nursery and Household Tales describes the child’s birth in such detail. Reinhold
Steig attributes this detail to the “self-conscious artistic intentions” of its author. See
his “Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Marchen und Sagen der Bruder Grimm,” Archiv
fur das Studium der neueren Sprachen 107 (1901): 277-301.

16. “The Juniper Tree” made its literary debut in Achim von Amim’s Journal for
Hermits (Zeitungfur Einsiedler) some four years before its appearance between the
covers of the Nursery and Household T ales. Amim, who had always been generous
with the literary property of his friends, gave copies of the tale to the Grimms, who
published it in their collection, and to Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen, who
passed it on to Johann Georg Busching, who in turn published it in 1812 in his
own collection of tales (“Von dem Mahandel Bohm,” in Volkssagen, Mdrchen und
Legenden [Leipzig: Reclam, 1812], pp. 245-58). On the varied fortunes of Runge’s
tale, see especially Steig, “Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Marchen,” pp. 277-

17. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements
and the Human Malaise (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 106-14.

18. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, vol. 21 in the Standard Edition, pp.

19. Aame/Thompson, The Types of the Folktale, pp. 249-50.
20. On this point, see Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy T ales, pp. 179—


M O T E S TO EP I L O G U E 269

21. Eugen Weber, “Fairies and Hard Facts: The Reality of Folktales,” Journal of
the History of Ideas 42 (1981): 93-113. For a compelling analysis of the traumatic
effect on a child of a mother’s death in childbirth, see Carol A. Mossmann, “Target­
ing the Unspeakable: Stendhal and Figures of Pregnancy,” Nineteenth-Century
French Studies 16 (1988): 257-69.

22. It is important to note here that many versions of “The Juniper Tree” cast a
girl in the role of victim—the boy consequently becomes her savior. Belgrader finds
that the roles are almost equally distributed between males and females (p. 320),
but my own statistical sample reveals a preponderance of male heroes. Belgrader
does not cite a single version in which the murderous parent is a father, though
Jacques Geninasca asserts the existence of such a variant (without citing it). See his
“Conte Populaire et identite du cannibalisme,” in Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse 6
(1972): 220.

23. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution
(New York: Norton, 1976), p. 166. Louis Adrian Montrose observes, in the context
of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that “in order to be freed and enfranchised from the
prison of the womb, the male child must kill his mother: ‘She, being mortal, of that
boy did die.'” See his “‘Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Power in
Elizabethan Culture,” in Representing the English Renai ssance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1988), pp. 31-64.

24. In nearly every version of the bird’s song, the boy is slain by his mother and
not his stepmother. This suggests that the splitting of the mother into a good bio­
logical mother and a sinister stepmother came only as a later development in the
tale’s evolution. Songs are generally held to preserve the original diction and motifs
of a folktale more faithfully than the texts in which they are anchored.

25. On this point, see Bruce Lincoln, Myth, Cosmos, and Society: Indo-European
Themes of Creation and Destruction (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986).

26. Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering, p. 97.
27. Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering, p. 82.
28. Rank, Myth of t he Birth of the Hero, p. 84.
29. The translation is my own, since many translators—unaware of the folk­

tale—dilute the strength of the original German. See for example, Walter Amdt’s
version: “My mother, the whore / Who smothered me, / My father, the knave / Who
made broth of me! …” (Faust: A Tragedy, trans. Walter Amdt, ed. Cyrus Hamlin
[New York: Norton, 1976], p. 112).

30. “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” in Afanasev, Russian Fairy Tales, p. 447; “The Cloven
Youth,” in Italian Folktales, comp. Calvino, p. 102; “Tom Thumb,” in Perrault’s
Complete Fairy Tales, p. 41.


1. The phrase “new matrix” is from Betsy Heame, who finds among scholars “a
reluctance, almost an embarrassment, in associating fairy tales with children’s liter­
ature.” See her Beauty and the Beast, p. 149.

2. Greenblatt, introduction to Representing the English Renaissance, p. viii.
3. Carolyn G. Heilbrun, “What was Penelope Unweaving?” in her Hamlet’s

Mother and Other Women (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1990), p. 109.

270 M O T E S T O EP I L O Q U E

4. Carol Gilligan, “Oedipus – Psyche: Two Stories about Love,” paper presented
at MLA Convention, December 1989. I w as not at that presentation, but heard a
modified form of the paper at a seminar at Harvard University.

5. Rudy Behlmer has pointed out that “there was never any material written or
drawn and photographed for the film showing Snow White’s real mother, who dies
in childbirth, although references or drawings of this and other embellishments
were made up for authorized book versions and comic strips.” See his “They Called
It ‘Disney’s Folly’: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937),” in America’s Favorite
Movies: Behind the Scenes (New York: Ungar, 1982), pp. 40-60.

6. The configuration of female characters in “Snow White” closely parallels that
of the most recent large-scale Disney production for children, “The Little Mermaid.”
There, the good mother is totally effaced from the screen as a cinematic presence to
make room for a ghoulishly repulsive sea-witch who becomes steadily demonized
in her efforts to acquire the heroine’s soul. Here too the heroine relies on her father
and on father-substitutes (the good-natured, if somewhat doltish, Sebastian) to pro­
tect her from the perils posed by female figures. Disney’s observation was made
during a story conference on 10 March 1937.

7. Bettelheim, The Uses oj Enchantment, p. 204.
8. “The Sleeping Prince,” a Spanish tale, appears in English translation in CI ever

Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales, retold by Alison Lurie, illus. Margot Tomes
(New York: Thomas Y. Cr owell, 1980), pp. 74-83.

9. Alison Lurie makes the point that the editors of the great nineteenth-century
fairy tale collections also favored stories like “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping
Beauty,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” over tales with “strong, brave, clever, and
resourceful” heroines. See her Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales, pp. xi-

10. The C omplete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, pp. 196-204.
11. 55 Favorite Stories Adapted from Disney Films (Golden Book, Western Pub­

lishing, 1960).
12. The phrase about the dwarfs is from Snow White, illus. Rex Irvine and Judie

Clarke, Superscope. The description of Snow White comes from Storytime Treasury,
McCali, 1969.

13. These are the thoughts that Walt Disney put in Snow Whiter mind in a
story conference of October 1935.

14. New York Times, 14 January 1938, p. 21.
15. Bruder Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmdrchen, rpt. of the first edition (Gdttingen:


M1. Miles, Carnal Knowing, p. 190.
18. Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, pp. 17-19.
19. New York Times, 24 November 1990, p. 26.
20. While this version of “Snow White” inspired gales of laughter in the ten

children that I observed watching it and seemed to have successfully attenuated
the threat from the stepmother, it seemed also to go wrong in certain respects. At
the very same time that vanity is parodied through the figure of the stepmother, the
importance of physical appearances is repeatedly emphasized through the revulsion

M O T E S T O E P IL O Q U E 271

exhibited by each character who encounters the queen as old hag and through the
instant adoration directed at the lovely Snow White. The hate-at-first-sight and
love-at-first-sight reactions send a clear message about the degree to which looks
count and override any surface indictment of vanity. Story conferences for Disney’s
film reveal that the wicked queen was originally to be presented as “verging on the
ridiculous” (22 October 1934) and as a “sort of vain—batty-—self-satisfied, comedy
type” (30 October 1934).

21. Cinderella, as told by Russell Shorto, illus. T. Lewis (New York: Birch Lane,
1990). See also, in the same series, Jack and the Beanstalk, as told by Tim Paulson,
illus. Mark Corcoran (New York: Birch Lane, 1990).

22. The story is reprinted in Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell. For further thoughts
on rewriting fairy tales, see Zipes’s Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, pp. 170-94.

23. Jane Yolen, Sleeping Ugly, illus. Diane Stanley (New York: Coward, McCann

24. Feminists have tried to resurrect some forgotten tales as reading matter for
children. See especially Womenfolk and Fairy Tales, ed. Rosemary Minard, illus.
Suzanna Klein (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975); Tatterhood and Other Tales, ed.
Ethel Johnston Phelps, illus. Pamela Baldwin Ford (Old Westbury, N.Y.: F eminist
Press, 1978); and The Maid of the North: Feminist Folktales from around the World, ed.
Ethel Johnston Phelps, illus. Lloyd Bloom (New York: Henry Holt, 1981). For crea­
tive rewritings, see especially Jay Williams, The Practical Princess, illus. Friso Hen-
stra (New York: Parents’ Magazine Press, 1969), and Harriet Herman, The Forest
Princess, illus. Carole Petersen Dwinell (Berkeley: Over the Rainbow Press, 1974).

Write a essay about Gender stereotype in adaptation of fairy tales
Watch the movie : once upon a time

You need to analysis Gender stereotype in this movie.

Context: For this essay, going to explore how fairy tales change and
what cultural transformations fairy tales undergo in their adaptation,
seeking an answer to the question, why do we adapt fairy tales?


o You must use 4-6 scholarly articles to support your argument. o
Must use these two sources write about gender stereotype o Source

airy_Tales. o Source 2:

o You need to have at least four scholarly sources, but you may also
use popular sources depending on the specific needs and direction of
your argument (you might consider finding a film review or blog post or
book review about your adaptation, for instance)

o You need use Tatar’s article. I will post.

1. Collect at least 10 quotes/passages/paraphrases from your academic sources and

2. Briefly (in 1-2 sentences) annotating the quote/passage/paraphrase: how do you see this
quote/idea/image working to further the argument you plan to make?

ou should have at least 2 quotes or paraphrases from each source you plan to use,

Length: 7-10 pages, double spaced

Format: Follow basic MLA format for citations. Include a Works Cited
Page, also MLA format. Use 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch
margins, no extra spaces between paragraphs. Your periods must also be
in 12-point font. Margin/punctuation trickery will not be tolerated.

Demand : choose sources that work together in your essay.

synthesize your sources in a meaningful way

balance close reading of your adaptation and/or fairy tale with a broader
argument about your adaptation 

make clear how your adaptations support your argument

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