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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

03 March 2008

Telling Tall Tales

This photo was taken in September '06 when Breslyn 'n' I visited the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein near Munich, Germany, so called because the castle in Disneyland is said to be modelled on it.

Breslyn, Caitlyn and I were in the Children’s Section of our local library, not for Caitlyn’s sake, but to get our fix (Getafix?!?)of Asterix comics, when I chanced upon a collection of fairy tales. You know the lot – Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears…

As I immersed myself in their fantasy world of handsome princes and towering castles, evil stepsisters and fairy godmothers, I caught myself thinking, ‘Hold on, I should know better. I’ve read enough Feminist literary criticism to see through the distorted images of women in these stories.’ Of how these “fair maidens” are portrayed as passive, pure beauties, waiting to be rescued by the Alpha Male; of how the older women are depicted as the embodiment of evil (think stepmoms and wicked witches)...

Does this mean that I will not read any of these fairytales to Caitlyn? Hell, no! After all, one of my earliest childhood memories is of my dad reading ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to my brother Jason and myself. We knew it so well, we caught him when he tried to skip a few lines… And I turned out fine. No warped ideas of playing the damsel in distress waiting to be given the kiss of life by a knight in shining armour (amour!). So I will read fairy tales to Caitlyn; but she will also be surrounded by strong female role models and will know better.

I believe that fairy tales, like many other forms of popular culture, serve their purpose - an escape from reality so that we can be entertained; what Coleridge called a temporary “suspension of disbelief”. Isn’t that exactly what we do every time we watch a Hollywood blockbuster, play a game on the PlayStation, read a racy Mills & Boon, or even take a vacation? The thought of living in a world devoid of enchantment and wonder just to be politically correct is too depressing to me.

Below are snippets of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ from Anne Sexton’s Transformations. She puts a spin on many classic Brothers Grimm stories, making you look at them in a whole new light:

No matter what life you lead
The virgin is a lovely number:
Cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
Arms and legs made of Limoges,
Lips like Vin du Rhone,
Rolling her china-blue eyes
Open and shut.

Once there was a lovely virgin
Called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
A beauty in her own right,
Though eaten, of course, by age,
Would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.

The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred –
Something like the daily forecast-
A mirror that proclaimed
The one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
‘Looking glass upon the wall,
Who is the fairest of us all?’
And the mirror would reply,
‘You are the fairest of us all.’
Pride pumped in her like poison.

We go one to hear about the mirror declaring Snow White to be the fairest, the wicked Queen ordering her to be killed, her escape and subsequent life in the forest with the seven dwarves, the Queen’s attempts to finish her off herself, and then:

Snow White, the dumb bunny,
Opened the door
And she bit into a poison apple.

…Later, the prince comes to her rescue and she becomes his bride.

Meanwhile, Snow White held court,
Rolling her china-blue eyes open and shut
And sometimes referring to her mirror
As women do.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alison,

    As you can see I am a great fan of your writings and have read every word on your blog. I am in total agreement with you on your views about fairy tales & feminism. Loved the literary quotes & excerpts from the twists on the fairy tales.



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