An Examination of the Fairy Tale in Literature

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They have been with us since were old enough to be read to or told a story. When we were young they brought us entertainment and often instilled within us the foundations of what would later become the structures of our morals and character. They are fairy tales and though it may be implied that we are meant to grow out of them, many people find it comforting to return to them throughout their lives. Many of the great authors of our time and the past have found fairy tales to be a great source of material. Their views on fairy tales can be contradicting, however, with many of them expressing a disillusionment with the typical “fairy tale” ending and at the same time latching to these stories for the comfort they found in their childhood. A few authors have even taken to writing their own, modern fairy tales. Anne Sexton’s Transformations, the novels of Gregory Maguire, and the short stories of Neil Gaiman all express the modern writer’s disillusionment with happy endings and vilification of characters of circumstance while also showing the need for more adult-oriented fairy tales, and Sexton’s Transformations also shows an interesting take on feminism in fairy tales. These are just a few ways that the fairy tale’s influence is felt in modern literature, but they are the ones that will be explored in this article. Many writers through the ages have embraced the fairy tale ending of “happily ever after.” They have taken it and ran with it to sell their stories and gain widespread popularity and notariety. However, there are the select few that feel this ending is too perfect or too easy. These non-conformists choose to take a road less traveled and twist the happy ending to their liking, and very often “their liking” entails an ironically tragic re-telling of the fairy tales we have come to know and love. Anne Sexton demonstrated this extremely well in her book of poems called Transformations that re-write the Grimm’s Fairy Tales to be more tragic and show a sympathy with many of the villains in the original tales. Two of our contemporary authors also do this very well. Gregory Maguire has made a career of taking classic tales and telling them without the slant towards one side they generally get, and Neil Gaiman is a prominent fantasy writer who is best known for weaving his own fairy tales but can also perform the task of re-telling old tales without their bias. One classic tale that all three of these writers have tackled in turn is the story of Snow White. They have done so in three different mediums: Sexton’s poem “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Maguire’s novel “Mirror, Mirror,” and Gaiman’s short story, “Snow, Glass, Apples.” In Sexton’s poem, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the reader may not initially see the sympathy for the Queen. The poem seems to just be a re-telling of the old tale and nothing more than just a poetic form for the story. However, if one looks deeper at the Queen’s predicament then they will surely see the manner in which Sexton evokes sympathy from the reader. The Queen has been the beauty of the land for years and now has to deal with a young, headstrong girl taking her place. Any woman in the world should be able to sympathize with the Queen and her actions. The best way that Sexton is able to show us empathy for the Queen is in her description of Snow White and her actions. Sexton gives us two instances of the Queen attempting to murder Snow White in the Dwarfs’ cottage. The first comes when the Queen disguises herself as a peddler and goes to the cottage. Ever after being warned not to open the door while the Dwarfs were away, Snow White allows herself to be sold a bit of lacing and then allows the Queen to tie it around her waist. Naturally, the Queen ties is so tight that Snow White can’t breathe and promptly faints. The Dwarfs show up in time to save Snow White and warn her again not to open the door while they are away. Here, in the Queen’s second attempt...
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