Super Fairy Tales

“Fairy tales are for little girls.”

So says my thirteen-year-old brother, scorn filling his eyes. He and his little sister are locked in another battle over which movie to watch, and Beauty and the Beast has just been taken off the table. In retaliation, my little sister has banned all Marvel movies. This battle over Sunday night movies is a constant problem, the two kids primeval forces, bound to eternally oppose one another. This in part stems from the fact that my little brother, a young teen, is incredibly watchful over what is and isn’t manly. He plays football, lifts weights, plays Overwatch, and does anything else the boys do in Tennessee. Thirteen-year-olds may have a skewed view of masculinity, but their incredible gender sensitivity highlights an implicit gender bias in our culture. While fairy tales are not necessarily just for little kids, given the new edgier takes on fairy tales like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, fairy tales certainly seem to lean towards female audiences. I asked him if there were any fairy tales he liked, and while he could mention a few, (I think one was Aladdin) almost every story came from the Disney’s princess line of movies. Yet in a recent study by Joana Jorgensen, a majority of fairy tales were told from a male perspective. So how is it that fairy tales are now for women? And what happened to the boy stories?

Writing on this same topic, Maria Tatar, a Harvard professor of Germanic Languages and Literature and head of Folklore Studies, wrote of this feminization in America:

“Boy heroes clearly had a hard time surviving the nineteenth-century migration of fairy tales from the communal hearth into the nursery, when oral storytelling traditions, under the pressures of urbanization and industrialization, lost their cross-generational appeal. Once mothers, nannies, and domestics were in charge of telling stories at bedtime; it seems they favored tales with female heroines.”

Meaning, boy’s heroes went out of fashion here after women became the primary story tellers. After the immigration wave of the 1800s however, a new art form and a new genre appeared to fill the shoes of the absent boy hero: The Superhero.

Superheroes in TV

While much can (and probably should) be written on this topic, I’d like to discuss superheroes as fairy tales in light of the modern resurgence in interest in superheroes. There are more superhero shows currently airing than have ever aired simultaneously, with nine current live-action series and several animated series. Interestingly enough, this coincides perfectly with the recent resurgence in interest in fairy tales (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2017), Once Upon a Time, Supernatural, etc.). I’ll confine my sample to a few at the beginning of this surge, (Static Shock, Teen Titans, Young Justice) and two of the most current live shows (Flash, Gotham).

Commissioner Gordon from Gotham holding a Crystal Ball

Commissioner Gordon from Gotham holding a Crystal Ball

Fairy Tale Characters in Superhero Stories.

Many of the characters in these shows have direct corollaries from fairy tale stories. Gotham features seductresses and queens of the night like Fish Moody. Some characters are from children’s stories, like Solomon Grundy , a character from 1600s nursery rhymes. Static Shock features Ebon, the show’s main villain who looks awfully close to the boogey man. Many characters are clearly inspired by fairy tales and folktales; Young Justice has its fair share of magicians (like Zantanna), underwater people (for instance Aqualad), and even features Robin Hood, sorry, the Green Arrow, a green-clad archer superhero.

Static Shock vs. Ebon

Static Shock vs. Ebon

Many of these characters, even the ones not easily identifiable in fairy tales, share origin stories similar to fairy tale or fairy tale-like stories. A common theme for many heroes in fairy tales is to have missing parents. The Flash, Bruce Wayne, Robin, the Huntress (Young Justice), the Green Arrow, and Speedy (Arrow) all have dead parents. In addition, Flash’s origin involves him holding mysterious chemicals, opening the skylights during a thunder storm, pulling a chain, and being struck by lightning, a scene highly reminiscent of Frankenstein’s coming to life. While not necessarily a fairy tale, Frankenstein has become an often used children’s scary story, and his scene coming to life is also terribly similar to Cyborg (Teen Titans), who is half-robot, half-man, sewn together by his dad, an angry scientist.

Don't worry Barry's a nice guy though! Not like Dr. Frankenstein at all. Man, that guy was a jerk.

Barry Allen gaining the powers of the Flash, looking eerily similar to Frankenstein while doing so.

Worlds of Wonder and New York

The worlds of fairy tales and superheroes are incredibly similar too. New York and Jack’s beanstalk might seem miles apart, but before any of the wonder, Jack was just a normal peasant boy, starving like most peasants have. Heroes in both stories see incredible, bizarre things happen without blinking an eye. Fairy tales were usually set in the worlds they inhabited. Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights starts his adventures in Baghdad, and the Grimm’s fairy tales are set in rural German towns. Static Shock is set in Midwest USA. Static often hits the malls and is only mildly annoyed  when a super-villain attacks, or some magic thing flies down from the skies. All of these stories and their origins serve to bring the magical or supernatural to us, to close the gap between worlds.

Most importantly  of all though, these stories are all about real problems.

Fantastic Heroes for Far-Reaching Problems

Marina Warner, a prominent folklorist, wrote that fairy tales “speak of poverty, scarcity, hunger, anxiety, lust, greed, envy, cruelty, and of all the grinding consequences in the domestic scene and the larger picture.” Cyborg deals with the painful realization that after his accident he will never be considered normal. In Young Justice, the heroes struggle with their identities. Superboy has two dads, one of which is a super-villain Lex Luthor, and the other, Superman, doesn’t want him at all. Ms. Martian bases her identity off a sitcom, hiding her appearance to hide her own race, a monstrous minority on Mars, and she fears she will never be accepted .

Often the heroes of superhero stories are normal people, getting by with their wits till they get magic solutions or powers to solve their problems, much like Puss in Boots or Aladdin. Like the brave little tailor, Superheroes fight impossible odds, or, like Cinderella, they dream of a better life or power till magic gives it to them one day. Cat from Gotham is a prime example of the trickster hero. She is often immoral and cunning, but she has every reason to, and she gets a sympathetic treatment even though she is often bad.

The Valiant Little Tailor is my favorite fairy tale you guys, I can tell you this because no one knows I secretly write in the alt text sometimes -Gigi

The Brave Little Tailor facing off against a giant with nothing but his wits and a few odds and ends.

These heroes deal with the problems of the day. For instance, in the second season finale of Static Shock, Static musts deal with a school shooting, and suffers intensely from survivor’s guilt. The parallel I would draw is that of the story Bluebeard, the story of a serial killer who would marry women then eat them on his honey moon. It is believed that this story has its origin in a man named Gilles de Rais, a war hero who fought alongside Joan of Arc and eventually retired to his own castle in France. However, children started to go missing. Eventually he was brought to justice and in his castle were found the bodies of 50 horribly tortured children. He confessed that he had killed more still, upwards of 100. Fairy tales are built for the world they inhabit.

I haven’t enough time or space to continue geeking out and analyzing the connections, but I think a lot more could be said about a connection between superheroes and fairytales, or more broadly, superheroes and folklore. I realize a lot of my examples are closer to legends, but overall, I think that the point holds—these heroes have connected to the American people in a way that at the least, shares commonalities with the roles and motifs of the thousands of orally communicated wonder tales from ancient days. These stories are a uniquely American genre, and just as much as it may have been connected to stories of yesterday, even more so do these stories influence today and tomorrow.

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“Fairy Tale Weddings”: The Examination of a Misnomer

Week three of Applied English guest posts comes to you from Emma Anderson. This was written for Dr. Rudy’s 394r class from Winter semester, and similar posts will be continuing throughout the summer. Hope you enjoy!


Sunlight glistening through the ivied trellis. Flowers in full bloom. Birds chirping their sweet songs. A three-foot-tall pastry dressed in elaborate icing. A procession of satin, lace, and tulle along a pathway freshly strewn with petals. A long, graceful gown with a grandly sweeping train. A beautiful bride smiles up at her handsome prince.

“…and they all lived happily ever after.”

This invented scene generically depicts what is often referred to as a “fairy tale wedding.” The cultural term implies an elaborate scene in which the binding marital vows are uttered in an atmosphere of love, beauty, and (expensive) perfection.

Have you ever considered that calling this scene a “fairy tale wedding” is actually quite a misnomer?

If we take a closer look at the true nature of classic fairy tales, we find that many of them did not end with the so-called “fairy tale wedding.” In fact, these endings are the exception more often than they are the rule.

The original fairy tales as recorded by the Grimm brothers and other authors did not all end in a happy wedding. In some, like “The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” and “Faithful John,” the romance and marriages in the stories are peripheral to the central plot or theme. In many, including “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretel,” love and marriage are not directly addressed in any way. In still others, such as “The Fisherman and His Wife” and “Bluebeard,” matrimony is seen in a negative light, with plot points ranging from spousal disagreements to arranged marriages with serial killers.

As we can see, fairy tales do not always deal with the triumph of romantic love. Actually, relatively few of them do. However, as the FTTV teleography shows, the most popular and well-known fairy tales by far are “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” and the like. Meanwhile, the nonromantic tales have faded into obscurity, very rarely appearing in television. Have you even heard of “The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was?” Exactly. Even if you have, you likely have not seen a popular adaptation of it. Thus, the fairy tales of pop culture, and television in particular, heavily favor the minority of stories which end in love and a romantic royal wedding.

One factor that made romance prominent in fairy tales was rise of the Disney franchise. From its initial adaptations of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, these films softened the original tales of chopped-off toes (Cinderella) and cannibalistic stepmothers (Sleeping Beauty) to make them kid-friendly, while also bringing out the lighter, more romantic sides of each tale. These fairy tale adaptations perpetuated the association between both “fairy tale” and “romance” and “fairy tale” and “happily ever after.”

As these love stories became more mainstream, there arose more and more attempts to emulate them in reality. Since the stories culminate in beautiful weddings, symbolizing the end of the search for true love, people began to seek for real life examples of the same kind.

To show the increase in cultural hunger for these “fairy tale weddings,” a quick search on FTTV’s teleography yields results containing multiple sitcoms and reality TV shows, including two episodes from the hit show Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The episodes are titled “Kim’s Fairy Tale Wedding,” and they follow the multi-million dollar celebration of Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Kris Humphries. The titles of the episodes themselves show that the public now links these perfect, opulent weddings to fairy tales, even though they rarely take place in actual fairy tales.

A different example that comes up on the teleography is The Bachelorette, the wildly popular reality show in which male contestants compete for the hand of one woman over several episodes, supposedly culminating in a happily-ever-after proposal and wedding. Another guilty-pleasure reality show, Say Yes to the Dress, does not directly relate to fairy tales and does not come up on the teleography, but the popularity of the idea of finding the perfect wedding dress shows how much the public craves to be a part of these “fairy tale weddings” through the medium of television.

However, even in all of these gorgeous TV weddings, one crucial aspect is missing that is present in nearly all fairy tales: royalty. Part of the magic and appeal of fairy tale romance is that at least one person in the couple is a prince or princess, king or queen. Society is riveted to this fanciful concept of royalty, and thus royal weddings are even more idealized than anything on The Kardashians or The Bachelorette.

This widespread love of opulent royal weddings can be seen historically, such as in the 19th-century wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Many modern-day American and English traditions surrounding elaborately celebrated nuptials can actually be traced back to this specific wedding. For example, Queen Victoria started the trend for white wedding dresses after this photograph went the 19th-century equivalent of viral.

In the 20th century, the idyllic wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana garnered international attention, looking every bit the royal fairy tale couple of the public’s imagination.

And now, let’s look at the most recent televised fairy tale wedding, the wedding which nearly 23 million people viewed live on television in the United States alone, the wedding to which all other weddings seem to pale in comparison: the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. To make things even more interesting, let’s compare this real-life televised wedding with the most popular fairy tale depicted on television, Cinderella. Here is an image from the final wedding scene of the Disney cartoon film:

Now contrast this image with the wedding of Kate Middleton, a non-royal just like Cinderella, as she marries Prince William:

Is it possible that one reason the world was so riveted to Kate Middleton’s wedding was because it so perfectly mirrored the beloved fairy tale wedding of Cinderella?

These real life royal weddings mimic our idyllic notions of the royal weddings featured in the most well-known fairy tales, although as we have seen, the marriages depicted in many original fairy tales were anything but perfection. Since the original fairy tales often had little to do with weddings, using the term “fairy tale” to describe many of these beautiful ceremonies is misleading when one looks at the fairy tale genre as a whole. Clearly, the idea of the “fairy tale wedding” has been divorced from the true origins of fairy tales, as a result of the influence of Disney films, modern royal weddings, and reality television.

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What Are You So Afraid Of? A Rapunzel Analysis.

This is the second in our guest post series for the summer from Dr. Rudy’s 394R class, this time written by Heidi Grether. We hope you enjoy!

We’re all familiar with the story of Rapunzel, right? A girl, a tower, and a whole heck of a lot of hair. But the shocking part of this tale isn’t necessarily the fact that she is named after lettuce or miraculously avoids headaches, but that it is so vastly underrepresented in television. Compared to Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, it comes in dead last in terms of number and frequency of television episode occurrences over the last 70 years or so as shown below:

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 9.06.41 PM

Data from


Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 9.08.21 PM

Data from


This caught my eye. As an avid Rapunzel fan, I was curious as to why Rapunzel showed up so infrequently. And then I wondered: does it even have any contemporary issues and parallels to today’s culture worth exploring? My answer: oh, most definitely

There are a few film versions of Rapunzel that my college-age peers are probably familiar with. The first of which is Mattel’s Barbie as Rapunzel (2002), then Disney’s Tangled (2010), and finally Disney’s Into the Woods (2014). These adaptations all contain many similarities including a prevalent emotion: fear.

Let’s focus in on the fear fostered by Mother Gothel in Tangled and the fear created by Rapunzel herself in the Once Upon a Time (OUAT) television episode titled “The Tower.”

In Disney’s Tangled, Mother Gothel sings a song delineating all the dangers of the outside world. Her pleas for Rapunzel to stay starts with external threats: “ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals and snakes, the plague!” Are these real dangers in the world outside of Rapunzel’s tower? Yes. Yes they are. However, Mother Gothel moves from these external factors to attacking Rapunzel directly. In the last verse of the song, she sings:

Mother knows best
Take it from your mumsy
On your own, you won’t survive
Sloppy, under-dressed
Immature, clumsy – please!
They’ll eat you up alive
Gullible, naive
Positively grubby
Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm…vague
Plus, I believe
Gettin’ kinda chubby
I’m just saying cause I love you

In this verse, Mother Gothel frames her personal attack on Rapunzel with devotion, but Mother Gothel then uses comments such as “gullible,” “grubby,” and “chubby” to keep Rapunzel bound by her own insecurities and captive to the tower.

Can we just talk about emotional abuse for a second? David Royse writes that “…emotional abuse generally refers to a sustained or repeated pattern of behavior that, more than making the child unhappy, has the potential for effecting the child’s self-esteem, development, view of the world, and sense of belonging.” (Emotional Abuse of Children: Essential Information, pg 8). It would seem to me that locking up a child in a tower with no human interaction for eighteen years and using their weaknesses as a tool to keep them there would have an impact on that child’s self-esteem and view of the world.

Clearly, Mother Gothel’s façade of trying to protect Rapunzel is undermined by her emotional abuse–a main crux of the plot. Sure, part of the conflict comes from Rapunzel trying to find a way to see the floating lights, but the ultimate reward comes when Rapunzel discovers her identity as a princess and stands up to Mother Gothel’s patronization. The movie’s happy ending of fulfilled dreams and reunited families is only possible after Rapunzel overcomes the fear and insecurity insinuated by Mother Gothel . You go, Rapunzel.

The fear in OUAT, however, differs from the fear in the film because, surprise! There’s not a Mother Gothel who kidnaps Rapunzel. Rather, Rapunzel is kept in the tower by her own fear—personified by a woman in a dark cloak who resembles Rapunzel herself.


Rapunzel explains that she was chased into the tower by a “witch” after she ate night root as an attempted cure for the nightmares associated with her brother’s death. In this episode, Prince David tells Rapunzel: “She’s your fear! Only you can defeat her! You have to face it, Rapunzel you must!” and “Your fear was that you could never be a leader like your parents, like your brother. Own it and you can do this.”

Until this point, Rapunzel has crippled herself with fear, seeing as there is no indication that her parents or brother ever did or said anything to make Rapunzel believe that she could never be a leader. Thus, her inability to face her self-created fear has kept her trapped, isolated, and terrified for so long.

Does this remind you of anything? Certainly it mirrors something that so many of us struggle with in our day-to-day life: facing fears that seem too daunting to even acknowledge. This could be the fear of being rejected from a friend group or a job, the fear of heartbreak that comes with the end of a relationship, the fear of becoming a parent, or the fear associated with any number of things. But on a more serious note, could Rapunzel’s isolation and fear be associated with a more pressing contemporary issue?

Of course, scholars have taken note that Rapunzel being locked in (and eventually escaping) a tower can represent coming of age in the context of chastity. And this makes sense in the original tale when the witch discovers that Rapunzel’s clothes have become too tight around her stomach (AKA, there’s a bun in the oven, people. Or two buns if we’re following the story where she gives birth to twins.) However, in both the film and television adaptation explored here, the story doesn’t end in a baby. In fact, in the OUAT episode, there’s not even a romantic interest for Rapunzel, suggesting that the symbolism of the tower is fluid and can represent much more than a guarded woman.

towerIn the case of the OUAT episode, the tower can be interpreted as depression or anxiety which keeps people trapped and isolated from those that love and care for them most. This television episode is resolved only after Rapunzel defeats her fear and escapes the tower, confiding in Prince David the true reason for her brother’s death. Once she owns the fears that have kept her captive, she is reunited with her parents and is no longer isolated from those that love her. Similarly, only when people are able to open up to their emotions are they able to confront mental health concerns in a structured and supported way.

Each character and tale mentioned at the beginning of this post deal with difficult situations that are all too real when adapted for today’s society. Cinderella faces abusive family members and dreams that seem out of reach. Belle struggles with being different from those around her. Snow White must find refuge from those seeking to hurt her. Sleeping Beauty seemingly hovers on the cusp of death. Just as each of these stories have a clear relationship to issues such as family dynamics, illness, or prejudice, the story of Rapunzel applies to modern concerns of mental health and isolation.

Despite this, the story of Rapunzel persists in avoiding the limelight, especially when compared to these other tales. Why is it that Disney did not make a film starring Rapunzel until 40 years after Disney’s Golden Age of Princesses? Why is it that Rapunzel is only featured in one episode of OUAT whereas other characters have a more constant presence? While these questions remain unanswered, it seems to me that we could benefit from a further exploration of Rapunzel’s character by creating multi-faceted adaptations reflecting the more psychological issues of our day.

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Follow the White Rabbit

The following is a guest post written by Erica Smith, who was enrolled in Dr. Rudy’s 394R class Winter Semester. This was a final writing assignment for Applied English Visualizing Wonder: Fairy Tales and Television. We hope you enjoy!



When Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was published in 1865, it was received as a delightfully absurd children’s story. Disney’s 1951 Alice adaptation  features lighthearted, fanciful musical numbers. In “A World of My Own”, Alice’s envisions her ideal mad world, one populated by talking flowers and “cats and rabbits…in fancy little houses.” Her madness is whimsical.

However, with the rise of drug culture in the twentieth century, audiences began to view Alice through a psychedelic lens. College students held acid-enhanced Alice viewing parties. Modern adaptations emphasized the madcap elements of the story. In 1967, the rock band Jefferson Airplane’s song “White Rabbit” responded to and popularized Alice’s relation to drug culture. This song and allusions to it are used to evoke a sense of madness in both Alice retellings and mainstream television.

One pill makes you larger

And one pill makes you small

And the ones that mother gives you

Don’t do anything at all

Go ask Alice

When she’s ten feet tall

The original Alice only contains one clear drug reference: the hookah-smoking caterpillar. She changes sizes by nibbling cake and drinking potions, not popping pills, and her growing is revised by Jefferson Airplane to evoke the feeling of getting high. Later on in the novel, the Caterpillar instructs her to use mushrooms to the same effect. The hallucinogenic properties of mushrooms weren’t known in Carroll’s day, but they were certainly a part of the 1960s psychedelic rock scene.


Once Upon A Time makes direct references to Jefferson Airplane via character names and incorporates the song’s drugged interpretation of Alice into their take on the story. Their Hatter is called Jefferson after the band. He’s also given a daughter, Grace, after Grace Slick, lead singer of Jefferson Airplane.

Grace Slick and her counterpart

Grace Slick and her fictional counterpart

Carroll’s original Alice is less madcap than modern interpretations. Yes, the Cheshire Cat does tell Alice “We’re all mad here,” and the novel is full of illogical scenarios, but the tone is more whimsical than dark. Alice is “curiouser and curiouser” about the workings of Wonderland, but she never questions her sanity, and in the end she wakes to find it was all a dream. The “Mad Hatter” isn’t even given that title  he’s simply Hatter.

Madness is a central theme of Once Upon a Time’s interpretation of Alice. As of season one, episode 17 “Hat Trick,” the residents of Storybrooke have no memory of their fairy tale lives. Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, and Jefferson are exceptions. While Regina and Rumpelstiltskin suffer no ill effects from holding two sets of memories, using their knowledge to their advantage, Jefferson teeters on the brink of madness. Most damaging is his relationship with Grace. In Storybrooke, she is known as “Paige” and has a different set of parents. Once Upon A Time’s commitment to madness continues in their spinoff, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland. The pilot episode opens with Alice escaping from an insane asylum.

Alice (Sophie Lowe) preparing to escape the asylum

Alice (Sophie Lowe) preparing to escape the asylum

Madness and White Rabbit crop up in Disney’s live action Alice remakes. Grace Slick herself came out of retirement to sing White Rabbit for the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland. Pink covered it for the sequel, Alice Through the Looking-Glass (2016). The adult Alice Kingsley questions her sanity throughout the 2010 film, and in the sequel, she’s wrongfully imprisoned in an asylum by a business rival.

Alice (Mia Waskowska) as a hysteria patient in a Victorian asylum

Alice Kingsley (Mia Waskowska) as a hysteria patient in a Victorian asylum

“White Rabbit” has been used to evoke madness and terror in non-Alice media as well. In the head themed Futurama episode “A Head in the Polls,” Nixon’s singing not only serves as a head joke, but evokes an era of drug culture, and highlights the madness of a political system that allows Nixon’s head to run for president.

In the pilot episode of Stranger Things, Eleven, a scared runaway, watches her only friend murdered as Grace Slick sings, “Logic and proportion has fallen sloppy dead.” Like Alice, she’s a young girl caught in a dark, madcap scenario without hope of refuge.

In the intro to the Supernatural episode “Hunted” (Season 2 Episode 10), White Rabbit plays while Scott tells a therapist of a yellow-eyed man who haunts his dreams. It crescendos with the line, “When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go.” Stranger Things crescendos with the “sloppy dead” line to match Benny’s death. Though Scott is also murdered at the end of the song, Supernatural chooses to emphasize influence from mysterious figures. Alice is ordered around by chess pieces, Scott by his dream haunter.

The line “go ask Alice” serves as the title for Beatrice Sparks’ 1971 young adult novel about teen drug addiction. The book, purported to be an anonymous diary, had a nameless protagonist, but she is called Alice in the 1973 TV movie adaptation. Both the book and movie were released a few years after the advent of Jefferson Airplane’s song.

“White Rabbit” has also influenced music used in fairy tale media. As the credits roll for Ella Enchanted (adapted from Gail Carson Levine’s Cinderella retelling of the same name), Kari Kimmel’s song “It’s Not Just Make Believe” describes several fairy tale heroines, including Alice.

I’m Cinderella at the ball

I’m Alice growing ten feet tall

It’s not just make believe

Alice’s growing is certainly not an invention of Jefferson Airplane, but they were the first to specify the height as “ten feet tall.” This is a direct allusion to “White Rabbit.” though here her change in size is used to evoke wonder, not terror.

Jefferson Airplane’s song has even generated a namesake Netflix series, White Rabbit Project, a science investigation show in the tradition of Mythbusters, that goes “down the rabbit hole” to explore topics such as superpowers, jailbreaks, and WWII weaponry.

The original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a whimsical children’s story infused with a playful sort of madness. Disney’s iconic animated Alice followed suit. Though Alice is a lost child in world that runs on different rules than her own, she keeps her head about her. Modern Alice stories and Alice-influenced stories use allusions to the madness of Wonderland (particularly Jefferson Airplane’s drugged take on it) to evoke a sense of confusion, absurdity, and terror of the unknown.

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Unexpected Fairy Tales Donut Discussion



Come learn about and discuss unexpected fairy tales while savoring sweet donuts. Are superhero shows modern American fairy tales? How do advertisers use beloved, recognizable characters to sell us products in the breaks between television segments?  Which darker fairy tales stay out of children’s TV, and where can we find them instead? Come learn about the surprising ways fairy tales manifest themselves in your favorite media.

Where: 1131 HBLL Special Collections Classroom

When: Thursday March 30

Time: 4:00-5:00




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“Transformation of Beauty”: A Recap

Our recent event was a success! Looking at Beauty’s transformation through video clips, presentations, and displays helped those who came to see how much Beauty has changed throughout the years, from helpless and passive, to fierce and independent. With the new movie’s release this month, the timing could not have been more spot on!

Those who came to our event explored Beauty’s transformation over the years through the information, book adaptations, and memorabilia provided by our class. Each version exhibited a different side of the tale as old as time in an interesting way; there are so many literary adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast” such as Beastly, Cruel Beauty, and Of Beast and Beauty.


Did you know there are also many different film/TV adaptations of the tale? Cortlynd prepared a video presentation for our event, demonstrating Beauty’s transformation through various clips. In these clips from a French film, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Merlin, and the new Disney trailer, it is apparent that while aspects of the story have stayed constant over time, plot points have changed and reflect contemporary society. These changes focus on how Beauty marries the Beast, and the level of independence that Beauty has or gains from her experiences.

Besides the displays and video clips, we also looked at Belle’s character more in depth via a presentation by Emma (no, not Emma Watson). In this presentation, we further explored the “Beauty” in “Beauty and the Beast.” Since the original 18th century French versions of the story, “Beauty and the Beast” has been a more feminist and girl-powered fairy tale than most, as Beauty receives power from magic, or saves the Beast, or is simply portrayed as strong, independent, and well-read. That trend has continued through its many adaptations in film, literature, and television. The newest adaptation introduces a more natural and realistic “Beauty” portrayed by Emma Watson. Viewers will be able to see Belle as an inventor and teacher, making her character stronger than ever.


Following these presentations, we played a quiz game to review. Sarah created a quiz that helped engage the audience more: they really got into a competitive spirit through questions like “What is a predecessor of the fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast?’” (Cupid and Psyche), and “Who made a version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that depicted Belle with the ability to use magic?” (Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve). These informative questions helped to tie the presentation and video together. We ended our event with a raffle, and the forty-two people in attendance (twenty percent past our goal!) waited, hoping for their number to be called. While only four winners received tickets to Divine Comedy and Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, everyone seemed to enjoy the event and its activities, which helped end the evening on a high note!

Are you intrigued by what we do and want to learn more or stay up to date on events? Join our Facebook Group and check out our database!


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Transforming the “Beauty” in “Beauty and the Beast”

be our guest (1)

Bonjour! Are you a “Beauty and the Beast” fan? Do the adaptations of Belle’s character intrigue you? Are prized like free movie tickets something you’re after? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you should definitely be our guest this Friday at our event: “Transformation of Beauty: The Evolution of an Icon.”

You’re invited to enjoy this tale as old as time with us as we provide insight on the various versions of Belle’s character and how they fit into contemporary culture. With memorabilia, film clips, and free food, what’s not to love? You’ll also have the chance to win prizes like tickets for Divine Comedy and the new live-action “Beauty and the Beast” film.

So don’t let that last petal fall and miss your chance to attend!

Date: Friday, March 3
Time: 4-5 PM
Location: 3223 Wilkinson Student Center, BYU


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150 Years Down the Rabbit Hole: Our Annual Un-Birthday Tea Party


Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

If you love Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales, tea, cocoa, finger foods, and/or a great time, you will want to go to our Alice in Wonderland Un-Birthday Tea Party! Our annual tea party bash will be held this Friday, January 27, at 3 PM in room B003 of the JFSB. We will all become “curiouser and curiouser” about this classic story as we mix and mingle, discuss our favorite Alice adaptations, watch film clips, and celebrate Lewis Carroll’s birthday and our un-birthdays. You do not want to miss it!

Pinkies up, and don’t forget your teacup!

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Do Blondes Really Have More Agency?: A Cinderella Case Study

The following is a guest post written by Hannah Earl, a freshman in the English Department. This was a final writing assignment for Dr. Rudy’s Late Summer Honors course entitled Agency, Media, and “Tale As Old As Time,” then was workshopped with the FTTV team for publication on the blog. We hope you enjoy!

Lily James as Cinderella in the 2015 adaptation, as her dress is transformed by her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) into the iconic blue one that is beloved by many.

Lily James as Cinderella in the 2015 adaptation, as her dress is transformed by her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) into the iconic blue one.

Blonde hair, blue eyes, a blue dress – these words describe millions of girls all over the world. This description also typically calls to mind the distinct image of Walt Disney’s 1950 Cinderella. It’s an image that inspired countless other versions of the tale in movies, television, and book adaptations of the story. This movie is both an example and a precedent of Cinderella being portrayed as blonde or “fair.”

Crafted from a scene in Disney's Cinderella cartoon, this image depicts Cinderella's beauty, which makes her problems seem much less.

Crafted from a scene in Disney’s Cinderella cartoon, this image depicts Cinderella’s beauty, which makes her problems seem much less worrisome.

Of course, fair-haired little girls identify with Cinderella because she looks like them. Cinderella in Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper,” which served as the literary source material for the 1950 film, is only described as being “beautiful,”  Fairy tales have relied on visual images and icons like the glass slipper and the red apple ever since their existence in oral traditions and illustrated children’s compilations. When fairy tales are adapted into a moving image media like film or television, the visual iconography is expanded. From the description of a beautiful girl and a glass slipper present in the literary tale, our culture’s image of “Cinderella” has been expanded by this enormously influential film to be much more detailed: a beautiful, slim, blonde girl with a dreamy, gentle voice gets a blue ball gown with the glass slippers from her round, bumbling fairy godmother, assisted throughout by her crew of friendly animal friends. Each of these were decisions that Disney Studios made when adapting this tale into visual media, and somewhere along the line they decided that this beautiful girl is a blonde girl.

Cinderella meeting the Prince at the ball in the 1950 version of Cinderella

Cinderella meeting the Prince at the ball in the 1950 version of Cinderella

As a brunette, I was affected by this as a child. I thought I would be prettier if was blonde or that I’d have more choices with blonde hair since I would get more attention. Cinderella, other movies, and television shows reinforced this in my mind. Society tells children that blonde girls are prettier and more active, with more freedom because of “beauty.”

A pie chart depicting how Cinderella is perceived by some people. Significantly less data-driven than the graphs usually found on this blog, but it makes its point.

A pie chart depicting how Cinderella is perceived by some people. Significantly less data-driven than the graphs usually found on this blog, but it makes its point. (click to expand)

However, traditional Cinderella retellings actually don’t give the title character as many choices as I’d thought. When I reexamined the 1950 cartoon and the 2015 film, I discovered that Cinderella is actually a character who is more acted upon than one who acts. Others, like the mice and her fairy godmother, do things for her, which provides her with the opportunity to meet her true love. Cinderella is given things, like the dress and the carriage, instead of going to get them for herself. This portrays her as a passive character—a stereotypical blonde.

Cinderella from Disney's 2015 film

Cinderella from Disney’s 2015 film

Partially due to the prevalence of the Disney film, we’ve been trained to associate the visual of blonde hair with passivity, so when an adaptation intends to work against that precedent in the plot by giving Cinderella a more rebellious and active role, they make this point visually with a dark-haired Cinderella. In Ella Enchanted, Ella must try to break her curse of obedience, all the while fighting injustice in her kingdom. In Ever After, Danielle has to take action when her stepmother tries to sell one of the servants to America. The Cinderella in Into the Woods has to deal with her cheating husband. Finally, in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical take on the story (three TV versions in 1957, 1965, and 1997), Cinderella is concerned with increasing the social justice in her kingdom. These four empowered, active Cinderellas stand up for what they believe in and act in opposition with the status quo. These adaptations are different from the Perrault story, but they all involve a Cinderella who frees herself from her circumstances.

The brunette Cinderellas of Ella Enchanted (Anne Hathaway), Ever After (Drew Barrymore), and Into the Woods (Anna Kendrick).

The brunette Cinderellas of Ella Enchanted (Anne Hathaway), Ever After (Drew Barrymore), and Into the Woods (Anna Kendrick).

The effect of intentionally casting brunettes in these alternate Cinderella stories is complimented by the step-mothers and stepsisters often being blonde as contrast. Take as example Ella EnchantedInto the Woods, and the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella TV movie. This aesthetic choice makes the main character visually stand out against her enemies. The Cinderella character in these adaptations has more agency.

Cinderella's stepmother and her stepsisters in the Into the Woods 2014 movie. In a true form of typecasting for this role, Lucy Punch (on the right) was also in the Cinderella-based movie Ella Enchanted as Ella's stepsister Hattie.

Cinderella’s stepmother and her stepsisters in the Into the Woods 2014 movie. In a true form of typecasting for this role, Lucy Punch (on the right) was also in the Cinderella-based movie Ella Enchanted as Ella’s stepsister Hattie.

Films need strong blondes and passive brunettes and everything in between in fairy tale media so that kids can know that there are different types of people with similar physical traits. This will help empower them to be whatever they want to be. We need to diversify how we cast our princesses with their personalities to banish these stereotypes. This will tell children that everyone can get a happily ever after, no matter what they look like.

Three television renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella musical. Julie Andrews in 1957, Lesley Ann Warren in 1965, and Brandy in 1997.

Three television renditions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella musical. Julie Andrews in 1957, Lesley Ann Warren in 1965, and Brandy in 1997.



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Young Meets Old: Contemporary Children’s Television and Traditional Grown-Up Fairy Tale Characters

child vs adult

Television for children has characters that are children, right? It seems like an obvious assumption. The most clear way to communicate to a viewer that a show is for children, besides using puppets or animation, is to have the characters on the screen be the same age as the target audience. How does this relate to fairy tales?

Fairy tales have a tendency to be loosely structured and contain few details by way of location, age, or other characteristics. The most prevalent fairy tale plots can be summed up in three sentences, with the rest of the details left for adapters to fill in for themselves. This is why fairy tales have maintained their cultural relevance, and it also complicates the relationship between television, children as target audience, and fairy tales.

For my fairy tale mashup episode project, I attempted to follow the same pattern I did with the gender research, and hope that something equally as interesting came out of it. I categorized the tales between child protagonists and adults/adolescents protagonists. The tales resisted this. How old is Little Red Riding Hood is if few versions of the story specify?

Kay Stone, a storyteller and folklorist, came to my rescue in her book Someday Your Witch Will Come, in which she claims that it is at the onset of puberty “that Rapunzel is locked in a tower, Snow White is sent out to be murdered, and Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep.” I used this as the division between the tales I marked as ‘child’ and the tales with love narratives that I marked as ‘adolescent/adult.’

This graph resulted. It’s not as interesting as the gender patterns graph, and unlike the patterns that are evident in the pink and blue gender graph, the data resisted patterns or trends.

(click on graph to expand)

(click on graph to expand)


Do episodes pick one category or do they more often mix?
There are 14 episodes that use only adult characters or only child character tales. There are 15 episodes that take tales from both categories and mix them up.
Noticeably even and resisting a hypothesis either way.

So, what about those that use both adolescent tales and child characters? Is one group consistently more dominant? It would be expected that there would be more child tales in children’s television but…
5 where the children outnumber the adult/adolescents,
4 where the adults/adolescents outnumber the children
6 where they are even.

These visualizations can be helpful in many cases, and I always strive to make them helpful as possible, but sometimes they end up illustrating the utter lack of patterns in the data and show it resisting conclusions no matter what kind of graph or axis I use.

But just because the data resists the creation of patterns doesn’t mean that there is nothing to learn from the way children’s television uses children and adults in fairy tales.

Since these fairy tale mashup episodes are most often single episodes that break from the norm of the show, the episodes use strategies that removes the tale from the normal narrative, either a storybook or a dream sequence.

Barney’s Once Upon a Time presents the King, the Miller’s Daughter (and her babe-in-arms), Barney as the Messenger, and Rumpelstiltskin, all portrayed by established characters in the show.

For example, in Barney’s Once Upon a Time, the children are instructed to use their imaginations while a storyteller is telling them the story of Rumpelstiltskin (ATU 500), which then visually transitions into the child actors playing the roles of the King, the Miller’s Daughter, and Rumpelstiltskin. This level of separation allows the tale with clearly adult characters to connect to the established child actors and audience members of Barney & Friends.

Another factor is the load of mashing up several fairy tales in the short form of the children’s TV show means that there is only a few minutes devoted to each tale motif.  In the Arthur episode “Just Desserts” the Snow White (ATU 709) section of the episode is contained in one ‘dwarf’ introducing his six companions and the dwarves carrying DW/Snow White away to clean and cook for them. The explicit reference to Snow White makes the presence of the fairy tale clear, and there’s no time or plot reason to take the Snow White motif through the whole plot. Because it is just a tale snippet, there’s no strangeness with a young character (four year old DW) playing Snow White, who is generally at least a teenager.

“I’m not Tommy, I’m Pesky, and these are my brothers: Whiny, Grouchy, Angry, Noisy, Creepy, and Stinky… And you’re our princess, Doe White! You must come with us, princess!”

The reason that fairy tales stick around and are constantly adapted is that they are loose and open about details. Coincidentally, this causes the difficulty with this project, which set out to draw conclusion based on assumptions about categorizing tales according to their details. Children’s television mash-ups, I think more than any other kind of television, really stretch and manipulate fairy tales to their limits. The narrative gymnastics required to mix together different fairy tales, as well as to fit the fairy tales into the established premise of the show, takes creativity and innovation. No two products of this process end up alike, which is why this project was such a frustrating, complicated, and delightful experience.

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