FTTV Visits Digital Humanities Utah

Snowy USU Campus

Two weeks ago, the FTTV team had the opportunity to attend DHU3, the Digital Humanities Utah conference. A quick trip up to Logan (even through the snow storm) was worth it to get to the conference generously hosted by Utah State University on February 23-24. It served as a great chance to meet people working in digital humanities, hear about their projects and ideas, and share about our own project.

“Problems and Possibilities”

Our presentation format as a roundtable enabled all the members of the team: mentors, students, and collaborators, to share a bit about their experience. Ariel Hubbard, our resident graduate student (who skillfully defended her thesis last month! Three cheers for Ariel!), shared about the history of our project, covering the beginning of the MEG and the twin-pillar objectives (education and research). From the digital humanities office, Tory Anderson showcased the database in all its glory, including the brand-new network graph visualization, and discussed the platform and strategy that he uses to keep the database running and to improve it. Dr. Rudy, our wonderful mentor, discussed the challenges and rewards of communicating between the English/Folklore sides of the project and the digital humanities elements to build a cohesive whole.

After Dr. Rudy, it was undergrad time, and Lauren Redding shared her experience with the first research presentation she did with this project in 2016.  Also, how her integration of digital humanities strategies into her research process affects the way she collaborates with Tory and Brian from the Office of Digital Humanities in this phase of the project. From there, Erica Smith shared what fairy tales can lend to digital humanities, mainly the relevance of connecting with current hot topics like the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Megan Markle. (Keep posted on this exciting topic, Erica is continuing research for a full-length presentation about the royal family, television, and fairy tales in April.)

To finish, Cortlynd Olsen discussed the project’s public engagement strategy of hosting events on campus. She shared our strategy of planning events like “Transformation of Beauty,” “Setting the Stage: Into the Woods,” and the annual Unbirthday Tea Party by engaging with movie releases, live productions, and favorite themes.

Tory, Lauren, Dr Rudy, Ariel, Erica, and Cortlynd, all proud of a successful presentation!

After we covered our material, we had an interesting discussion with attendees about next steps in improving relevancy and engagement of the front end of the project, and data-modeling and visualizations behind the scenes in the computer parts of it. We had some wonderful input from digital humanities-focused attendees, and the folklore department from USU. We are so grateful for the input that we received and we are energized for the future of the project! Aside from our presentation, we all learned so many unexpected and applicable things from the other panels and activities of the conference. Collaborative sessions and roundtables with scholars from other universities in Utah covered such a wide range of topics, which is still just a small slice of everything digital humanities can do and cover. (Feel free to browse #dhu3 and #dhutah on Twitter to see some of the great ideas and topics of the conference) We are more ready than ever to improve our project and to dive into our preparations for Western States Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting this April!

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Unbirthday Tea Party: “We’re All Mad Here” Event Recap

Our 4th annual Unbirthday Tea Party brought in a wide variety of Alice fans and fairy tale fans alike. Everyone knows that our research team is mad about fairy tales, and we wanted to share that passion by discussing the portrayal of madness in Alice in Wonderland adaptations across time.

As the audience enjoyed tea and cookies, Erica and Lauren tag-teamed their way through a discussion of the original novel and early film adaptations, then followed up with an overview of 60s drug culture (including the parties where college students would drop acid  during double features of Disney’s Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland)  and the effect that it had on the way madness was understood. Instead of being whimsical or silly, madness was connected to drug culture–a connection that is still pervasive.

Our presenters then led us on a scavenger hunt through the FTTV database. We looked for the oldest Alice adaptation in the database, for other characters that have visited wonderland, and for television episodes we have actually watched, along with several other things to help familiarize the audience with the database and all it offers.

We wrapped up with a discussion of TV adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, the way modern adaptations tend to see madness as a sign of mental health issues, and loose adaptations of Alice as well as other ways we still feel the influence of Alice and her mad adventures today.

We had a ton of fun at this event, and look forward to our future events with you!

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UnBirthday Tea Party: “We’re All Mad Here”

Join us at 3pm on Friday, January 26th, for our Annual UnBirthday Tea Party! We are in our fourth consecutive year of UnBirthday Parties, and it’s one of our favorite events! Bring your own tea cup (or mug) to the FLAC in B003 JFSB to learn and chat about all things Alice related. We’ll supply the tea and cookies (no promises as to whether they make you grow or shrink). In the past, we’ve had presentations about large-scale live-action movie adaptations and what that means for our project with Fairy Tale Television, facts about the various adaptations, this story’s resonance with culture through time, and celebrations of new versions of our database!

This year, team member Erica has planned material playing off her research on madness and Alice. Erica is our resident Once Upon a Time expert, so expect lots of great OUATness, and a lot of unexpected connections with music, pop culture, and current and past television. You have no idea how much Alice in Wonderland we can pack into an hour-long activity.


Come explore, down the magical rabbit hole of the FTTV Database where what you find is often nothing like what you expected, and we’re all mad. Mad for fairy tales!

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Prince Harry to Marry Former Sleeping Beauty

Meghan Markle as Sleeping Beauty

Meghan Markle as Sleeping Beauty

Five years before Prince Harry proposed, Meghan Markle was already a fairy tale princess. The American actress, best known for her role as Rachel Zane on the legal drama Suits, guest starred as Sleeping Beauty in a 2012 episode of the crime drama Castle.

In the episode “Once Upon A Crime,” (season 4, episode 17), Markle’s character kills a man in a hit-and-run while leaving a fairy tale-themed costume party. She then kills two witnesses to her crime, leaving them dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. When sleuth Castle realizes she’s connected to the murders, Markle dons a Sleeping Beauty costume, drugs herself, and pretends to have narrowly escaped a fairy tale serial killer. She’s eventually caught and the episode closes with Castle and his partner, Detective Beckett, discussing the horrific consequences of the murders, as well as the appeal of fairy tales.

“That’s why we need fairy tales,” Beckett says. “In the face of too much reality, to remind us that happy endings are possible.”

In America, princes and princesses are creatures of fairy tale, like witches and unicorns. In Europe, they’re still a part of reality. Royal weddings, especially British ones, are global television sensations. An estimated 23 million US viewers tuned in to Harry’s older brother’s wedding with millions more watching worldwide.

Prince William kisses his bride for the audience

Prince William kisses his bride for the audience

When American actresses like Grace Kelly and Meghan Markle wed princes, the line between motion picture fantasy and royal reality blurs. Grace Kelly set the fairy tale wedding standard for generations to come when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956. When Emma Swan walked down the aisle in the sixth season of Once Upon A Time this year, her dress was a clear shout-out to Princess Grace. Though Grace Kelly was a real, modern princess, and her acting career was not fairy tale related, her royal status is enough to associate her with fantasy in the minds of viewers.

Grace Kelly (left) and Emma Swan (right)

Grace Kelly (left) and Emma Swan (right)

Just as royal weddings inspire TV depictions of fairy tale weddings, the romances of real life royals have inspired entire series. Netflix’s award-winning period drama, The Crown is particularly relevant to Markle, as it’s based on the lives of her future in-laws. The Crown chronicles Queen Elizabeth’s early reign, romance, and family relationships, much of which parallel to the rise of television in the 1950’s. In an incredibly meta fashion, several episodes of the series deal with the strains of living life for the cameras.

Elizabeth, who quarrels often with her husband, is caught on film and hurling sports equipment at him in episode eight. When she realizes hovering journalists have caught the whole thing, she manages to convince them to get rid of the film. Her younger sister Margaret doesn’t escape media scrutiny so easily.

Both Margaret and her uncle, King Edward VIII, fell in love with divorced people, making their romances scandalous by early 20th century standards. Edward had to forsake his throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson. At least he was fortunate enough to meet and marry her in the pre-TV 1930’s. Margaret’s romance with Captain Peter Townsend played out on television in the 1950’s, and nowadays, Markle and Prince Harry had to camp in Botswana to fall in love in peace.  

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend as portrayed by Vanessa Kirby and Ben Miles on The Crown

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend as portrayed by Vanessa Kirby and Ben Miles on The Crown

During Elizabeth’s episode five coronation–the first televised coronation in British history–Margaret is caught on camera brushing a piece of fluff from Townsend’s jacket. Video proof of forbidden love? That’s not something Uncle Edward ever had to deal with. After trying and failing for years to secure Elizabeth’s permission to marry Townsend, Margaret ends the relationship herself, as portrayed in the season finale. In the second season, which drops tomorrow (December 8th), Margaret goes on rebound and will eventually have the first televised royal wedding.


Though The Crown shows that royal romances don’t always end with a happily ever after, viewers still speak of their unions as fairy tale weddings and want to see royal couples as the personification of true love. If Meghan Markle, a divorced, biracial, American actress, can wed into the royal family, true love and happily ever after are more accessible than ever before.

The royal families of Britain and Monaco inspire television shows while also grafting actresses into their family trees. In 2017, the boundaries between fairytale TV and royal reality are coming down. Emma Swan raids Grace Kelly’s closet and Sleeping Beauty is marrying Prince Harry. The Crown made much of Elizabeth II’s historic decision to televise her 1953 coronation, but now audiences expect royal events, including weddings, to be broadcast worldwide. They might not have fairy godmothers or happily ever afters, but that doesn’t stop modern audiences from looking to royals for the real-life embodiment of fairy tale archetypes.

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Setting The Stage: Into the Woods Recap


Libby Lloyd’s Cinderella sans her shoes

Last week, our Fairy Tale Research Team, led by Dr. Jill Rudy, joined forces with the cast of BYU’s production of Into the Woods. Fairy tale fans and theater aficionados alike turned out to compete in fairy tale trivia, play “Match the Emojis to the Tale,” watch fairy tale inspired music videos, and munch cream puffs and bagel bites. Some lucky attendees walked away with free Into the Woods tickets after winning a raffle. With more than fifty in attendance, this was one of the FTTV project’s most successful events to date. After the treats and games, we migrated into a nearby auditorium for musical numbers and fairy tale presentations.

Dramaturg, Production Team, and Cast for Panel Discussion

Dramaturg, Production Team, and Cast for Panel Discussion

Dramaturg Amelia Johnson, known on this blog for her guest posts, kicked off the second portion of the event with a quick intro to fairy tale theory before turning the time over to the rest of the cast for songs.

Rapunzel safe in her tower with the witch and her hair.

Rapunzel safe in her tower with the witch and her hair.

Madison Dennis and Ellora Lattin, playing The Witch and Rapunzel, began with “Our Little World,” a comical mother-daughter number, where a chair stood in for the elaborate tower of the set. The Witch has shielded her stolen daughter from the outside world for her entire life, and Rapunzel is okay with this arrangement — although she does wish her mother weren’t so unsightly.

Cortlynd Olsen presenting fairy tale findings prepared with team member Preston Wittwer

Cortlynd Olsen presenting fairy tale findings prepared with team member Preston Wittwer

 Cortlynd Olsen followed this with a presentation on the cultural context of Into the Woods’ stage debut as well as the inspiration and production history of the 2014 film. These ranged from the expected (Disney’s live action reboot spree) to the surprising (a 2011 speech where then-President Obama inadvertently quoted the musical).


Cinderella, perpetually shoeless

Next, Cinderella (Libby Lloyd) found her glass slippers (or rather, cheetah print heels) stuck in pitch on the steps of the palace. In this number she debates the pros and cons of marrying a prince she’s only known for a few days, and who thinks trapping his would-be wife in sticky pitch is a good way to start a relationship. After Cinderella pried her heels up, Lauren Redding took the stage for a presentation on mash-ups, adaptation concepts, and deconstruction. Deconstruction is particularly pertinent to the overall concept of Into the Woods, where wishes bring their own set of problems and consequences come into play after intermission.


Agony! with Preston Taylor (left, Cinderella’s Prince) and Benjamin Raymant (right, Rapunzel’s Prince)

 Last but not least, Rapunzel and Cinderella’s princes fought to out-whine each other in “Agony.” Life’s rough when your title, good looks, and charm aren’t enough keep the girl of your dreams from ditching you at midnight. But then, loving a maiden who can’t leave her tower is agonizing in its own way. Who has it worse? “Agony” is one of the most popular songs from the musical, a surefire crowd-pleaser, and our audience was no exception. Everyone laughed aloud at the princes’ melodramatic antics, enjoying the informal setting that allowed them to perform without mics or costumes.

After the brothers grudgingly admitted that there’s more than one way to be luckless in love, the entire cast was invited onstage for a panel discussion. Questions ranged from the complexities of fairy tale character archetypes in the context of well-known stage and screen precedent, to the struggles of depicting an an annoying, pompous Prince Charming.

All in all, this event saw a great turnout, provoke thoughtful panel questions, and raised excitement for our theater friends’ upcoming production, which will open November 17 and run until December 9. We hope to do future Setting The Stage events that will be just as delightful!

Special Thanks to the cast that attended the event and contributed to our panel!
Amanda Crawley, Hannah Pyper Dalley, Madison Dennis, Casey Greenwood, Ellora Lattin, Chelsea Mortensen, Benjamin Raymant, Joseph Swain, Preston Taylor, and Channing Weir



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Dramaturgy Guest Post: From Grimm to the Woods

This post was originally published on The 4th Wall, the dramaturgy blog of the BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department. We at FTTV partnered with the cast, director, and dramaturgy team of BYU’s production of Into The Woods to host an exciting event on November 8th that dove into context, meaning, and stage/screen adaptations of fairy tales. Prepare for the production or get a taste of what you missed at the event here.

From Grimm to The Woods

by Amelia Johnson, Dramaturg

The inspiration for Into the Woods came because Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wanted to create a show that blended several stories. They did not originally intend to use fairy tales, but these stories have played an important role in many people’s lives.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Though there have been many storytellers, it was the Brothers Grimm who popularized these stories. Growing up, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were able to get a good education. Because they kept to themselves, the brothers became very close. Jacob and Wilhelm also gained a great love for folk tales. Eventually, they collected and published these stories in Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. The stories were aimed toward children as children’s stories were becoming a more popular form of literature. In later editions of their book, the stories were made even more family friendly as the original tales received some criticism due to some gory details.

The Grimm's Die Kinder-Und Hausmarchen, or Children's and Household Tales

The Grimm’s Die Kinder-Und Hausmarchen, or Children’s and Household Tales

Although there are several variations of the fairy tales that the Brothers Grimm collected, there are common themes: villains, heroes, and personal obstacles that are eventually overcome. The lives of the heroes in the stories are far from perfect, but they work through their challenges and are then able to find happily ever after.


Living in perfect bliss for the rest of one’s life is a little unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean that what the fairy tale characters go through has no value. Into the Woods explores what happens after ever after. Our lives will have challenges and joyous moments at different times. However, as long as we remember that things can get better, and keep moving forward, we, as our favorite fairy tale characters, will always find moments to be happy in our ever after.


Thanks Amelia! Our FTTV team is always interested in mediated fairy tales on the stage, big screen, and small screen. Into the Woods is also a great example of a fairy tale mash-up that uses strategies from our research, using more tales in a mash-up earlier than any in our database. Did Into The Woods impact these trends? These are the kind of questions we love to ask at FTTV! 

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Dramaturgy Guest Post: Welcome Into The Woods

This post was originally published on The 4th Wall, the dramaturgy blog of the BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department. We at FTTV have partnered with the cast, director, and dramaturgy team of BYU’s production of Into The Woods to host an exciting event on November 8th that dives deep into context, meaning, and stage/screen adaptations of fairy tales. Prepare for the event by reading about the musical and the production here and in the weeks to come.

Welcome Into the Woods

by Amelia Johnson, Dramaturg

When I mention Into the Woods, there are those who love it and those who don’t.

For those who aren’t fans of the show, the main comment I hear is that the show does not end like the typical fairy tale. It breaks the idea of happily ever after that we grew up with as children. Though the show certainly does not have a typical fairy tale ending, I feel that this is a great part of where the value of the show lies.


Just like us, the characters in this show are on their own journey. They are working towards the things they want and learning along the way. All choices have consequences and sometimes people make mistakes. Into the Woods recognizes people’s imperfections and reminds us that we live in an imperfect world. Our favorite fairy tale characters face some tough issues, but they still leave us with the hope that we can move forward.

Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the steps in this production’s journey. It is my hope that as you continue reading, you will see how many people are involved in bringing this story to you and, whether or not you are already a fan, will gain a greater love for it.



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Setting the Stage: Into the Woods Preparation Event

ITW flyer oct26The Fairy Tale research group is teaming up with BYU Theatre and the cast of their Into the Woods production for an event that meshes fairy tale studies and performance! Join us for a fun event that mixes cast performances, games and trivia, talk-back discussions with cast members, and presentations on context and fairy tale media.
This event is for anyone intending on attending a performance of Into the Woods during their November 18 – December 9th run who wants to gain a deeper knowledge of the production, or anyone who wants to know more about some of the ideas behind Sondheim’s fairy tale mashup musical.

Wednesday, November 8, 5-6 pm

Education in Zion Auditorium (B192 JFSB)

Treats beforehand at 4:30 in B003 JFSB


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From the Page to the Screen: Why We Study Fairy Tales on Television

Just as Scheherazade spun tales for the king that kept his interest for 1001 nights, so do the shows we watch spin tales that entrance and delight us until we’ve binge-watched our way through an entire series.

From the oldest listed fairy tale based television program in our database, a Disney Animated Short on Cinderella that was released in 1922, to Toyota’s latest C-HR ad, also based on Cinderella, TV audiences have been treated to a wide variety of shows, episodes, and advertisements that take inspiration from fairy tales.

Television has long been considered lower than other art forms like film or theater. Episodes are brief, rarely taking up more than an hour. Production time is also shorter, both because of the brevity of each episode, and because of the typical lack of artistry (while films might shoot a scene from several different angles, TV show cameras are often static). Then there is the wide distribution of television, which makes shows more readily available to audiences, especially when compared to something like Broadway tickets. Most of these aspects of television have shifted and changed, especially over the last decade, but these supposed drawbacks are part of what makes TV the perfect medium for retelling our favorite fairy tales.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm listen as a woman shares a tale.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm listen as a woman shares a tale.

The brevity of an episode of TV reflects back to the typical length of tales when they were collected. They were often just a few pages long with very little detail, unlike the novel-length retellings we see today. Films tend to add to and embellish fairy tales as they retell them, while television often sticks to the more basic, pared-down versions so as to focus on the movement of the plot. If TV shows took as long to establish themselves as films often do, they would be likely to lose their audiences. Instead, they must immediately immerse the viewer in the world of the tale, giving them something familiar with just enough of a twist that it feels fresh and new.

Television is often less formal than film; TV feels more intimate because of the quick and unselfconscious way it is filmed as well as its general availability. Originally, fairy tales were told orally in small groups, the telling of tales was intimate and local, just as TV is today. The only difference here is that storytellers could make changes to the tale depending on the mood and desires of the audience, whereas TV is scripted and therefore loses that ability to adapt to its audience.

Compare Disney's 2015 version of Cinderella, who, despite being a little dirty, has little to worry about, to Once Upon a Time's original Cinderella who had to deal with making the choice to give her child up or raise it by herself.

Compare Disney’s 2015 version of Cinderella, who, despite being a little dirty, has little to worry about, to Once Upon a Time’s original Cinderella who had to deal with making the choice to give her child up or raise it by herself.

Television operates in a world similar to our own, the characters are often less glamorous and feel more realistic compared to those in film. The settings are similar: no matter how fantastical a TV-scape might be, there’s usually something about it that is familiar to the audience, giving the impression that we might actually find ourselves in such a world one day. This realm of non-reality that mirrors reality can also be found in fairy tales where characters move through worlds that are clearly not our own, yet still resonate within us as being part of some not-so-distant past. We know these tales so well that the characters and worlds have become a part of us—TV provides us with a new lens through which to view both the tales and our own world.

As TV grows in popularity and importance in the academic world, so too will its influence on the way we tell fairy tales, and as it evolves, the tales will evolve to match what we value in our society. Using television studies in conjunction with fairy tale studies provides us with new tools and keys to understanding the way our society and our world works. Fairy tales provide us with an understanding of the past and its effects on the present, while the newer invention of television provides us a way to look at where we are going and how we are using the past to define our future.

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OUAT Premiere Screening — Event Recap

Once Upon A Time.


At the end of a six-season run with a well-established finale, on the brink of a new curse to reset season 7, we meet as viewers, as scholars, as audience members and fairy tale enthusiasts, to discuss this show’s past, present, and future.

Is Once Upon A Time a high-profile breakthrough for the widespread audience appeal of fairy tales for all ages, moving them out of the realm of children’s media?
Is it a harebrained concept that uses the loosest definition of “fairy tale,” (if they constrain themselves to any definition at all) that we have ever seen?
Is it functioning as a soap opera with fairy tale elements?
Is it wasting a perfect opportunity to end its run at season six with a heavily implied ‘Happily Ever After’?
Is it resetting with a universe expansion and new set of characters that will breathe new life into the concept while also keeping close to the heart of why audience members fell in love with this show in the first place?
Or is this reset a last-ditch attempt to retain viewers for one more season, even without several beloved main cast members?

These are all questions posed by both our team members and our attendees at our Screening Event for the Once Upon a Time season seven premiere.

The FTTV Team with introductory material before the screening.

The FTTV Team with introductory material before the screening.

After an introduction of the team and the season six conclusion, as well as distribution of snacks (including plenty of M&Ms), we began the screening.

We had a mixture of attendees to this event: those who were watching this premiere as a continuation of season six, viewers who had dropped out of watching OUAT a few seasons ago or otherwise weren’t caught up, and those who had only a passing knowledge of the characters and concept of OUAT.

The opening of the season premier episode, most likely our last glimpse of Jared Gilmore playing the role of Henry Mills.

The opening of the season premier episode, most likely our last glimpse of Jared Gilmore playing the role of Henry Mills. The room is full of anticipation. And chips with dip.

Stopping for commercial breaks, we cycled through discussion questions thoughtfully prepared by Erica as well as reactions, interpretations, and questions posed by those of us watching the premiere for the first time. With a quick concluding presentation on ending and finale conventions on television as well as a plug from Preston about the academic and critical study of television as an artistic form, everyone went on their way, hopefully with increased engagement and interest in the intersection between fairy tales and television.

We had so much fun at this event and are looking forward to future events and projects with our New & Improved Visualizing Wonder Database! If you would like to keep up with us please join our Facebook group and keep checking the blog.


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