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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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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