Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The Fairy Tale Inspired Show You Should Be Watching

Sarah Thompson brings us the guest post this week from the Winter 2017 Applied English class. Enjoy!


The CW’s critical darling, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, was recently renewed for a third season despite being the least viewed network television show two years in a row. The program follows a tradition of fairy tale-esque musical programs, like Once Upon A Tune and Galavant. But what makes the show so loved by critics and the few who watch it religiously (as opposed to Galavant, whose early cancellation was not surprising to either viewers or critics)? Well, this avid fan is pretty sure it’s because the show pulls apart previously established trends in the romantic comedy genre in the most hilarious way possible. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend uses fairy tale elements to demonstrate exactly how different the characters of the show, and real life people, actually are from fairy tales.


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The combination of these two writers reveals the nature of the show as a combination of modern romantic comedy and fairy tale elements.

Rachel Bloom gained popularity through Youtube videos like “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song” and “I Was a Mermaid and Now I’m a Pop Star” the latter of which is described by Rachel Bloom in the video description as “what would happen if The Little Mermaid got discovered by a record producer for her singing voice and became a complete [jerk].” In contrast, Aline Brosh McKenna worked on big budget romantic comedies like The Devil Wears Prada in her early career. The marriage of Aline Brosh McKenna’s romantic comedy experience with Rachel Bloom’s history of updating the fairy tale has led to many songs which address fairy tales specifically and hilariously.


To avoid confusion, let’s go over some of the main players:


rebecca Rebecca, the main character, is a young lawyer who turns down the opportunity to be a junior partner at her firm in New York to pursue a relationship with her high school summer camp ex-boyfriend.

west covina

Rebecca moves to West Covina, a small city in the eastern San Gabriel Valley. She sees this place as magical and therefore the setting is easily related to the magical kingdoms in many fairy tales.


Josh is the object of Rebecca’s affection. He dated Rebecca when they were both 16 at a summer camp until Josh dumped her. He loves West Covina and hip hop dancing.


Valencia is Josh’s current long-term girlfriend. The main antagonist of the show, she represents everything Rebecca wishes to be.


Paula is a paralegal in West Covina and Rebecca’s first friend in town. She supports Rebecca’s romantic shenanigans while also dealing with her own career goals and marriage troubles.


Greg is a snarky bartender and the “healthy romantic alternative” to Josh. In traditional romantic comedy style, he’s the guy that Rebecca probably should be pursuing.


The music in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend adapts not only the fairy tales each fairy tale-esque song is based on, but also previous Disney adaptations. “Maybe This Dream” stars Paula as she wistfully contemplates her dream of going to law school. (Warning, some sexual references are made in the following video):

Paula’s outfit looks very similar to the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and the allusion is clearly intentional. However, instead of showing how similar Paula is to a princess, the song does the exact opposite. Paula implies her past dreams have “poop[ed] on her face.” She makes shocking comparisons between her dreams and reality in a song that otherwise looks, sounds, and feels like a fairy tale. This makes it only more obvious how much Paula does not quite fit into the fairy tale setting. Office printers and copiers are seen throughout her magical forest; her life experiences are not that of a princess.

“The Villain in my Own Story” also addresses how the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not like princesses and takes the idea even further. Rebecca sings this song in response to learning how she is hurting Valencia in pursuing Josh (warning, this video contains minor language):

This musical number brings together a lot of fairy tale elements; Rebecca looks like the witch from Disney’s Snow White while making references to Hansel and Gretel when stating her plans to eat the captured princess. The last verse of the song contains an interesting allusion to Disney’s Aladdin when Rebecca says: “I told myself that I was Jasmine, But I realize now I’m Jafar.”

The message of this musical number repeats the one shared in “Maybe This Dream.” The women in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not true princesses. Rebecca isn’t even a true villain in this musical number; she says herself that she “gives annually to UNICEF.” Josh is not completely like a prince either. All of the characters are instead real-world mixes of fairy tale elements. It’s when the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (or anyone for that matter) imagine themselves as the hero without fault that they run into problems.

Rebecca’s tendency to destructively imagine herself as a princess, specifically Jasmine, is repeated in the song “One Indescribable Instant.” This is perhaps the piece that best shows the combination of both original fairy tales and Disney film adaptations as influences. Lea Salonga (the voice of many Disney princesses) sings a song from Rebecca’s favorite childhood movie Slumbered an obvious reference to Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty or even Enchanted (warning, spoilers ahead):

The scene takes place at a wedding that character Greg snidely remarks is “the epitome of Southern California pastiche; a chain hotel with vaguely French decor and Italian food . . . being served Tapas style while [a] Filipino girl is marrying a Jewish guy, all with a lightly Arabian Nights style. What was this Pinterest board called? Juxtaposition?”

The song itself is also a pastiche, borrowing elements from different films. Rebecca is seen as a Jasmine when making out with Josh on a flying carpet. She lets the fairy tale nature of the wedding catapult her into pursuing Josh once again, leaving behind boyfriend Greg, even though it is the wrong choice. Here, Rebecca uses fairy tales to justify her objectively bad choices (cheating on her boyfriend with a man who doesn’t truly love her).


The fairy tales in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend demonstrate that the characters of the show are not simply archetypes, like the princess or the witch, but a combination of these archetypes. It’s when Rebecca imagines herself as a princess who can do no wrong that she hurts others. The show uses expectations we all have in a post-Disney world to show that disregarding reality in the pursuit of the fairy tale is, well, crazy. And it does this while being charming and hilarious and so, so great. And that is why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that you should definitely be watching.

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The ‘Why’ of Fairy Tales and Animation

Nearly half of the data points in our FTTV database come from animated shows or specials, including the oldest entries in our database, the 1922 animated shortCinderella” (video) and “Three Little Pigs” from 1933 (video).

This led me to a question. What is it about fairy tales that lends them so well to animation? Furthermore, what is it about animation that makes it such a great medium for telling fairy tale stories?

As Paul Wells states in Animation: Genre and Authorship, fairy tales lend themselves naturally to animation for two main reasons: their open vocabulary and the long tradition of illustrations in fairy tales books.

A still from Looney Toon’s Episode “Cinderella Meets Fella,” using a technique (the difference in size between the characters) that would have been much harder to convey in live-action.

Wells’ first reason that animation is a great medium for fairy tales is that animation’s “open vocabulary” helps accommodate the “more surreal narrative dynamics and thematic complexities of many fairy tales” (83). In other words, an animated world doesn’t have to be confined by the realities or rules of our world.

When something is animated, all of the events, both the supernatural and the realistic, happen on completely even ground. A character transforming from a animal to a person (or vice versa) is completely seamless, simply the transition between an artist (or a computer, I suppose) drawing an animal hand, a few intermediate steps, then a human hand. This can only be done uninterrupted by using animation, even the largely “live action” movies of this decade rely on animation for their fantasy sequences to show things that don’t happen in reality and can’t be portrayed by actors or practical effects.

Animation pulls us into a world of simple shapes and bright colors that is clearly not our own and therefore must have its own rules. In this world where bunnies can talk and where there’s time before gravity kicks in to look at the audience and say ‘oh no,’ it just follows that there may well be a bean that grows a hundred-foot beanstalk or a colony of giants in the sky. second reason that connects animation and fairy tales is the long tradition of illustration in fairy tale books. Fairy tale books have been illustrated since the Grimm’s Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children and Household Tales) and Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, which first packaged literary tales as something for the consumption of children. When fairy tales were oral performances, they belonged to anyone who could hear the story being told. Illustrations were important in the literary texts because they give the children who can’t read yet a way to engage with the story while being read to. When fairy tales transitioned into something for children, they also got linked with illustrations.

An illustration from Andrew Lang’s Crimson Fairy Book

This “migration of fairy tales from the communal hearth into the nursery” happened in the 19th century and is the source of the general notion that fairy tales are ‘for kids’ (a notion we, a bunch of adults running a fairy tale blog, clearly do not agree with).

animation and or children pie chart
In conclusion, the prevalence of animated children’s shows in our database is result of the intersection of natural connection between fairy tales and animation and a natural connection between fairy tales and child audiences. Fairy tales may even play a role in explaining why animation is nearly always assumed to be for child audiences.

Join us next week for an excellent post on the romcom tropes and fairy tale themes in the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend!

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Once Upon a Time and the Fairy Tale Stereotype

Once more, here is a guest post from Dr Rudy’s 394r Applied English class, this time from Cortlyn Mckay.


Prince Charming wakes Snow White with a kiss in the first minute of OUAT's pilot episode.

Prince Charming wakes Snow White with a kiss in the first minute of OUAT’s pilot episode.

In contrast to many fairy tale adaptations being made today, the TV show Once Upon a Time begins with the happily ever after: the pilot episode opens with Prince Charming kissing Snow White, awakening her from her sleeping curse. The couple is then married, an event that usually ends the fairy tale rather than beginning it, breaking a stereotype that originated with Disney and has been perpetuated ever since. Disney’s massive media presence has allowed them to corner the fairy tale market, forever altering the genre.

From left to right, Disney's Beauty and the Beast 1991, Beautician and the Beast, Simsala Grimm, Beastly, Once Upon a Time, and Disney's Beauty and the Beast 2017

Disney’s influence is clearly visible here; Belle’s appearance has changed little since the original Disney film was released in 1991.

Given Disney’s massive success, many other media companies have followed their lead, giving fairy tales a rosy glow that differs from the dark, gruesome tales of the past. The 1996 show Cinderella Monogatari doesn’t show the wicked stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit in the slipper. Happily Ever After: Tales for Every Child‘s 1995 version of Sleeping Beauty departs from earlier versions by cutting out both the rape of Sleeping Beauty in Basile’s narrative, and the prince’s mother’s attempts to cook and eat her son’s children found in Perrault’s version. These are just a few examples, but they illustrate the point that fairy tales have been sanitized almost beyond recognition. Although Once Upon a Time (referred to from this point on as OUAT for the sake of brevity) also leaves out these particular narratives, the show refuses to shy away from other difficult story lines. OUAT breaks the traditions formed by Disney, not only by working in a world without happy endings, but also in its portrayal of women as powerful agents, and giving characters of both genders stronger arcs.

OUAT updates the tales by giving us an accurate picture of the world we live in. It deals with issues surrounding kids in the foster system and kids who were put up for adoption, like Emma and Henry. Both of these characters deal with their abandonment in different ways; Henry uses fairy tales to escape the world he lives in, and Emma pushes both her feelings and other people away in order to protect herself from getting hurt. Other characters must deal with similar challenges.

Snow White and Prince Charming’s wedding should be a happy time for them, but immediately following their vows they are told that the Evil Queen has a plan to destroy their happiness. Nine months later when Snow gives birth to Emma, their child is immediately taken away from them, yes it is out of necessity, but the curse that takes away their memories follows soon after, meaning that they barely even get a chance to grieve the loss of their child. Instead they have to make up for their own pain, as well as Emma’s abandonment issues, twenty-eight years later.

Snow grieves for the loss of Emma after sending her through the wardrobe.

Snow grieves for the loss of Emma after sending her through the wardrobe.

Both Emma and Cinderella have to deal with unplanned pregnancies and the decision of whether or not to keep their children. Both women come to different conclusions, but their struggles, and the struggles all the characters face, are true to life. The trials they face mimic our own, and the different ways each character responds let us know that it’s okay that we all make different choices and act in different ways.

Many people have taken to the internet to express their outrage over gender stereotypes perpetuated in fairy tale films and television, and even fairy tale scholars like Marina Warner have discussed the harm of fairy tales portraying women as weak, non-actors in their own lives. Passivity in women has been a common trait throughout the history of fairy tales, but then again, many of the original tales included powerful women (not just the “monster-women” of Gilbert and Gubar’s feminist studies.) Villeneuve’s original tale of Beauty and the Beast portrays Belle as a surprisingly feminist woman, and it is she who rescues the Beast with her own magic, rather than waiting around for the curse to be broken as she does in later versions.

OUAT brings us back to those powerful women before other, more recent fairy tale adaptations. The first female character we are introduced to is Snow White; in typical fairy tale fashion, she is kissed awake by Prince Charming, and then marries him. Both scenes might have fairy tale haters in an uproar, but just moments after marrying Prince Charming, Snow pulls the sword from his belt and threatens the Evil Queen, demonstrating both her confidence and the power she holds in her relationship. She is not just a wife, she is a warrior.

Snow threatens the Evil Queen in the first episode.

Snow threatens the Evil Queen in the first episode.

Snow is not the only powerful female character in the series, when we first meet Emma Swan she’s chasing down a guy who broke his bail. She proceeds to knock him out by smashing his face into the steering wheel of his car. Upon entering Storybrooke, Emma quickly makes herself invaluable to the other residents as the sheriff and the “savior.” The Evil Queen, or Regina, is another powerful female character who goes against the grain. She might be initially characterized as a “monster-woman,” but the show quickly disabuses us of that idea as Regina opens up to us, helping us to understand why she is evil. A few of the women, like Sleeping Beauty, can be considered the typical damsels in distress. They clearly need someone to save them from their situations, but there is nothing wrong with this; not all women can be strong and capable in every circumstance, there are some things you just can’t do on your own. Here, once again, OUAT imitates reality in its portrayal of both capable and struggling women.

Aurora watches as Philip and Mulan fight the wraith.

Aurora watches as Philip and Mulan fight the wraith.

Along with these strong women come more believable character arcs. Instead of static characters who do little and change even less, we see characters who grow as they face challenges. Regina changes from being the Evil Queen who only seeks revenge, to a woman who seeks her own happy ending, and ends up fighting with the good guys instead of against them. Captain Hook follows a similar course, attempting to put his days of wrongdoing behind him in order to be a better man for Emma. Even good characters have to change over the course of time; Cinderella faces the consequences of dealing in dark magic, and Belle learns that a beast doesn’t always become a prince just because you love him.

While its premises may not be entirely original, OUAT has simultaneously brought us back to the original tales and revitalized them for a modern audience. OUAT shows, as did authors of the past, that fairy tales are not just for children, but that they can imitate real life in a way that is powerful and poignant. OUAT has brought back the idea that fairy tales embody the way we think and act, providing both a means to escape the world we live in, as well as a means to cope with the difficulties we face.

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Who am I?: Anime in Wonderland

This guest post is by Monica Allen of the Winter 2017 394r class.


We all love fairy tales, whether they be old or new, and one fairy tale that is fairly easy to find within TV is Alice in Wonderland, which is especially prominent in Japanese anime. It appears in single episodes and “omakes” (extra non-canon episodes) to complete series. Just a few examples can be seen in the screenshot of the FTTV Database.

Alice in Wonderland animes in the FTTV Database

Alice in Wonderland animes in the FTTV Database (click to enlarge)

One series is Pandora Hearts. Pandora Hearts is a weird little anime (with a much more confusing and long manga) about two kids named Alice and Oz (can you tell who the Alice-character is?). They are trying to stop an evil family from destroying the world while searching for Alice’s lost memories. Both Alice and Oz are Alice-characters and both are trying to figure out just who they are using ways that Carroll’s Alice either thinks about or says. They either face their identity issues head-on or avoid them; through their discovery viewers can see a more healthy way of figuring out identity and a less healthy way.

This theme of identity is prevalent throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Near the beginning of the book Carroll’s Alice asks herself, “Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’” (11). Answering this question does not start in earnest in Pandora Hearts until Oz first falls into Wonderland—here called the Abyss.

Oz in the Abyss

Oz in the Abyss

Here, even though Oz has just met Alice earlier that day, Alice has no memory of their earlier encounter and is styling herself as the Bloody-Black Rabbit (B-Rabbit for short). This isn’t the only memory problem Alice has. Once the two of them escape the Abyss, all Alice wants to do is find her lost memories. This is quite reminiscent of a conversation between Carroll’s Alice and the Cheshire Cat when Lewis’s Alice says, “I can’t remember things as I used” (30). Likewise, Alice from Pandora Hearts spends the rest of the time trying to find her memories. She wants to know just who she is and makes sure to put herself into situations where her memories might be hiding (since memories are sort of tangible here). Even when some situations are scary or far away if she can learn about herself through these she jumps right in. By this Alice illustrates that who we truly are can be found in these less comfortable situations.

Alice and Oz

Alice and Oz

On the other hand, Oz’s identity problems stem from why he was thrown into the Abyss and from his “daddy issues.” In the first episode, Oz’s sister asks what the Abyss is to which she is told that [1]“it’s a prison where they lock up bad people,” specifically bad people “who have committed deadly sins” (18, 1×1). Oz dismisses it as an urban legend used to scare little kids. But later that day in Oz’s coming of age ceremony the keepers of the Abyss, the Baskervilles, come and banish him to the Abyss. His sin? His very existence. Sufficient to say this makes Oz very confused about himself and his relation to everything else.

These two characters go about trying to solve their respective identity problems through two different methods, both of which can be found in the book. Alice’s (anime) first memory is found in a pocket watch that Oz is carrying around with him. This imagery is similar (in more ways than told in the anime) to the White Rabbit of the book. Throughout Alice, Alice is chasing after the White Rabbit; likewise, throughout Pandora Hearts, Alice is chasing after her memories. Both Alices chase the White Rabbit/memories as if “there was not a moment to be lost” (Carroll 6). Alice (anime) runs from memory to memory learning more about herself as she goes. She only hesitates when SPOILER she learns that she died 100 years ago (so why is she alive?), but this is also the end of her pre-Abyss memories.

Alice in her memories

Alice in her memories

Conversely, Oz does not run headlong into discovering his identity and the whys of his existence as sin. He more or less ignores the identity issue. At one point in the second episode, Oz has almost been eaten by a chain but instead of freaking out like Alice expects him to, Oz begins to eat cookies. When Alice asks him what in the world is wrong with him, he simply replies, “I’ve already seen enough things that couldn’t possibly be real, so I kinda got used to it. I think it’s easier to accept that this is the way things are” (108, 1×2). So rather than stop or look for an answer he simply accepts his “sin” and goes on with life. In Alice, Alice does something similar when presented with Wonderland. In fact, “so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible” (7). She too ignores her problems (which are mostly just being in Wonderland) and just continues on her way.

Later, in episode nine, we learn that Oz’s cavalier attitude towards his identity and his surroundings stem from what I graciously term “daddy issues” (parental issues are also discussed in the Ouran High School Host Club Wonderland episode). In flashbacks, we learn that Oz’s dad hates him and wishes that he had never been born. In order to cope with this rejection Oz decided to unhealthily accept it. This rejection is part of the reason why he does not try to figure out his existence, most likely because he is afraid of the answers he will get. Unlike Alice, Oz does let his fears stop him from progressing.

Alice discussing her identity with the Caterpillar

Alice discussing her identity with the Caterpillar

At the end of the series, we get closure for both Alice and Oz. After learning about her death, Alice no longer actively looks for her memories. She doesn’t need to though, since she does know what happened to her. She is able to answer all the questions she had about herself. Oz too resolves his identity issues when he turns to face them rather than “accepting” them ending with him confronting his father. As these two characters figure out who they are, viewers see two different methods of coming to terms with their identities. Oz’s is not very healthy, but he eventually realizes that he cannot just avoid it by “accepting” it. Whereas, though Alice may be a bit too quick at times, Alice sets out to find who she is head on and acknowledging both the good and the bad.

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The Lesser-Known Fairy Tales in Grimm

Here is Rachel Rackham to give us this week’s guest post from Dr. Rudy’s Applied English class Winter 2017.


Warning, spoilers ahead! If you have not watched the series finale of Grimm, or are not caught up with the episodes, stop reading, and go catch up first! Then, keep reading, as Grimm is pretty great!

“The wolf thought to himself, what a tender young creature. What a nice plump mouthful . . .” Not only is this excerpt found in the 1812 edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen compiled by The Brothers Grimm, it is also the opening epigraph to NBC’S Grimm, a procedural drama loosely based on the Grimm’s collection of fairy tales. The series began in 2011, and after six seasons, its final episode aired March 31 ☹.

The show follows detectives Nick Burkhardt, a Grimm, and Hank Griffin, played by David Giuntoli and Russell Hornsby respectively. As a Grimm, an elite criminal profiler descended from the first Grimm, Nick has the “ability to recognize the true nature of fairy-tale creatures in the real world” (Greenhill and Rudy 311), and he must keep the world from finding out about the Wesen, or the embodiment of the fairy tale creatures that exist.

The creators of the show seem to draw on the lesser-known tales for their work, in order to demonstrate that meaning can be found from the unknown. Sure, popular tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “Hansel and Gretel,” are seen in the show, but most episodes deal with tales that are unfamiliar to the audience, such as “Godfather Death” and “The Golden Key.”

Bringing unfamiliar tales to life in their episodes seems to hold true, even, for the overarching storyline of the series. Introduced in the first episodes of the show and still highly relevant to the end is what can be seen as the Grimm story, “The Golden Key.” This story is represented in the show through keys that unlock a powerful magical object, and is explained more in season two, episode one, “Bad Teeth.”

One of the keys

While the original tale of “The Golden Key” does not allow us to see inside the magical and mysterious box opened with the keys, the creators of Grimm enabled this: the box contained a mysterious stick with healing properties. The stick, we discovered, came from a larger staff that was currently in the hands of an evil darkness, the Zerstörer.

Also, while the television series has this overarching theme of finding meaning in the unknown, it has not been overtly present throughout the show’s run. The majority of the series, while the episodes and knowledge do build on each other, has contained single storyline episodes, with the occasional two-parters. Each represents a unique tale and are not your average fairy tale. These episodes focus on lesser-known tales from all over the globe, representing many different nationalities and cultures besides the European tales, helping make Grimm a universal television show, as “the Grimms are the (bloody, beating) heart of the fairy-tale genre, independent of geography or time period . . . if it’s a fairy tale, it belongs to the Grimms— or in this case, to Grimm” (Greenhill and Rudy 217). Grimm’s usage of many lesser-known and international fairy tales gives it a feeling of timelessness, and allow the tales to fit in many situations as well.

From the episode “Tree People”

In her book Once Upon a Time, Marina Warner states, “the current is running firmly now towards larger and larger audiences, all over the world, and darker and more disturbing treatments, in the theatre, the cinema, and on television” (159). This is evident in Grimm, which was different from the start: darker and more violent than Once Upon A Time, and it has grown deeper and darker as it has progressed.

In the trailer promoting the first season, viewers gained a glimpse into the show’s inner workings. Grimm would be about fairy tales, such as “Little Red Riding Hood” as seen in the trailer below. Through characters like Monroe and Adalind, a Blutbad and a Hexenbiest, you can see that fairy tale elements will be present throughout the series.

While clearly not a light show from the start, the show is significantly lighter at the beginning than the end, with the tales becoming less recognizable, and therefore unknown and darker, as the series progresses. In the promo for the final episode, it is unclear what fairy tale is represented, and it has a significantly darker tone than the video above.

This trailer’s dark theme is clear, and there is an element of the unknown present throughout. This demonstrates just how much the show has developed and progressed throughout the years, through its ability to keep the fairy tale qualities of magic and the unknown present in its episodes, even when not overtly connecting to a fairy tale.

The tales of “Godfather Death” and “The Golden Key” make their appearances in Grimm alongside other lesser-known tales such as “The Juniper Tree” and “The Goblin Spider,” enabling viewers to widen their fairy tale horizons through these international, lesser-known tales. Through the database, you can confirm that these are not portrayed often in television, and with Grimm’s popularity, more people are becoming exposed to these lesser-known tales. For example, “Godfather Death” is recorded in only three shows in this database, and “The Golden Key” is portrayed in only one tale, besides seeming to be the overarching theme of Grimm.

Godfather Death

The Golden Key “Godfather Death” and “The Golden Key” occurrences.

Grimm does use lesser-known tales in order to successfully move the plot of the series along, highlighting the darkness that exists throughout the show. At the close of the series, viewers were brought back to the beginning of Grimm, and given a reminder that strength comes in numbers. Together, Nick and Trubel channeled the blood of their ancestors, and defeated the Zerstörer.

Together, they defeated the Zerstörer.

The series ended in the voice of Nick’s son, Kelly Burkhardt. He tells viewers that “Some will say it’s just myth, legend, or fairy tale, but I know it’s true because my father told me so.” Again, we are brought full circle: the lesser-known tales described in the Grimm series enables meaning to be found from the unknown, and produces a timelessness that makes the show relatable even if the episodes are not always easily recognizable.

One of the purposes of Grimm was to show that story time is over, and that the fairy tales are real. By ending the show with Kelly asserting that it is all real, we can tie everything back to the fairy tales, where the unknown and the magic exists. Though we are given a darker perspective on the tales from the beginning, it is this perspective that enables viewers to truly see the lesser-known tales as a source of understanding the unknown in the world.

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Feminist Empowerment in “Beauty and the Beast:” An Analysis of Beauty’s Feminist Qualities from 1740 to 2017

We’re pleased to have Abby Elkins brings us the guest post this week from Dr. Rudy’s Applied English class from Winter 2017. Please enjoy!

Apart from the fairy tale tradition’s classic damsels in distress, shines Belle, or “the Beauty,” from the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” Critics have argued that the story of “Beauty and the Beast” follows the traditional captivity narrative of a female succumbing to a stronger male character, however I argue that Belle’s choice to sacrifice herself in her father’s place and remain with “the Beast” shows strong feminist ideals and strength of character, which are further strengthened by the tale’s gothic roots and portrayal. In fact, the modern character of Belle originated in the 1700s from two female authors, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Both women held feminist ideals ahead of their time. Belle has grown over the past three hundred years to further represent an intelligent and self-aware fairy tale heroine. This is seen wbelle 1ith Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la Bête, which emerged in the midst of the passive princess Disney era of Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). La Belle et la Bête, in contrast to these Disney films, shows a strong female protagonist with complete agency. Almost forty-five years later, Disney swooped in and built upon Cocteau’s adaptation to create an educated and proactive Belle in the 1991, Beauty and the Beast. Disney has released yet another adaptation starring gender equality advocate Emma Watson as Belle. Watson’s portrayal of a 2017 Belle shows an innovative heroine who is visibly not be wearing a corset.

Understanding the progressive nature of Belle’s character is strengthened when considering her origins in the mid 18th century. 18th century literature primarily shows a narrative with increasing female passivity and tightening domestic encirclement including themes of duty, resignation and elegance. The 18th century also showed the emergence of the female gothic genre, characterized by gloomy castles, treacherous forests and feminine societal and sexual desires. M. H. Abrams defines the female gothic as an opportunity for women writers to attribute “features of the mode [of Gothicism] as the result of the suppression of female sexuality, or else as a challenge to the gender hierarchy and values of a male-dominated culture.” It is with this female gothic approach that both Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont composed their versions of “Beauty and the Beast.” They used their real-life experience to bring attention to societal and gender inequality through their stories.

Villeneuve was married in 1706 to Jean-Baptiste Gaalon de Villeneuve, a wealthy member of an aristocratic family. After just six months of marriage, she requested a separation of property from her husband, who had freely spent the majority of their inheritance during their first months together. Her husband died just five years later, leaving her a widow at age 26. Subsequently she lost her fortune, moved to Paris, became friends with famous playwright Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, and began to support herself through writing. She published her version of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1740 in La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins, showing a royal Belle with magical powers. In Villeneuve’s version, it is Belle, the female protagonist, who has exclusive power to rescue the Beast and his kingdom from danger.

Belle 3Beaumont also proves to be ahead of her time both in her literature and accomplishments. She was subject to an arranged marriage as a young woman and consequently left her “dissolute libertine” of a husband in 1746. In Beaumont’s version, Beauty is no longer a product of magic and royalty, but the daughter of a recently impoverished merchant. She is neither peasant nor royalty and this, plus the setting of her urban home, are unusual among fairy tales. Beaumont was alluding to and promoting the social changes occurring among classes in the mid 18th century. Critic Christine McDermott writes: “For particular social reasons, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ became the story everyone needed to tell throughout the 18th century. It addressed dissatisfaction with restrictive gender roles and the quest for Beauty to find her prince through the Beast became the representative of a female quest for the self in a repressive world.”

Almost two hundred years later, director Jean Cocteau released a gothic adaptation of Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The following clip shows the Beast’s castle coming alive for Belle, which had previously remained dark and foreboding to the film’s male characters. Belle is the savior of the cursed castle and the film’s score welcomes her with a chorus of heavenly angels. This can also be symbolically viewed as Belle being a savior for women’s rights and gender equality.

Forty-five years later, Cocteau’s film served as almost direct inspiration for Disney’s 1991 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. The 1990s show a drastic change in the stereotypical Disney princess character. Critic Keisha Hoerner published a study in 1996 comparing eleven Disney animated feature films and analyzing the different modes of behavior between female characters. She found that “more contemporary characters, such as Belle, show more vocalization in opposing unfair treatment they experienced compared to older characters like Cinderella and Snow White who suffered injustices without uttering a complaint.” Belle stands as a feminist character from the very beginning of the film with an opening musical number about her being an outcast in her French country village. The other women in the village are taking care of crying babies, baking, and throwing themselves at the masculine Gaston. There are three blonde women especially highlighted in the opening scene as contrasting Belle. They are triplets, dressed identically, show bare shoulders and skin, and live primarily to swoon over Gaston. InBelle 2 contrast, Belle is dressed conservatively, spends her time reading at the bookstore and spurns Gaston’s advances. She dreams of “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” and longs “to have someone understand, [she] wants so much more than they’ve got planned.”

In Disney’s most recent adaptation of the tale, Belle, as portrayed by feminist Emma Watson, is even more progressive. She is independent, an inventor, an avid reader and strongly declares, “I’m not a princess,” when given a gown to wear. Both Belles also hold a unique capacity for kindness that their fellow villagers do not. They show compassion to their aging fathers and selfless sympathy towards the Beast. Although both Belles are physically beautiful, Disney places an emphasis on their beautiful and kind hearts. This move gives empowerment to women as the character Belle is not objectified by mere physical attributes.

Since the 1700s, the character of Beauty or Belle has brought light to women everywhere who gain hope from her strong choices, selflessness, inner beauty, love for knowledge, and unconformity. The continual and frequent adaptations of the tale prove its importance and invite women and girls to believe in themselves. The much desired “happily ever after” can be achieved in a myriad of ways and is not secluded to a typical “fairy tale” ending.

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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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