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 v2.fttv.byu.edu


Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 9.08.21 PM

Data from v2.fttv.byu.edu


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.

Posted in Watching TV | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Watching TV | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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




Posted in Contests and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

“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!


Posted in Contests and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

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


Posted in Contests and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Contests and Events | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinderella from Disney's 2015 film

Cinderella from Disney’s 2015 film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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

child vs adult

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


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

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


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

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

(click on graph to expand)

(click on graph to expand)


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Posted in Working With the Database | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Visualizing Wonder: English 394R Winter 2017

394 flyer

English 394 is no ordinary English class, this class is specially designed to teach you marketable skills that will help you in the workplace. In this class, you will:

  • Gain a working knowledge of the contemporary scholarship in the field of fairy tale studies in the context of media studies and adaptation studies
  • Build a solid grasp of the field and practice of digital humanities and use those strategies to approach the study of fairy tales and television in innovative ways
  • Contribute to and manage an online database and data visualization tools
  • Visualize and draw conclusions from big data sets through relational graphs and interactive data tools
  • Tailor your critical reading skills
  • Write for both academic and general audiences
  • Learn or improve research skills
  • Contribute to the ongoing FTTV project in the form of the blog, database website, and social media accounts
  • Manage social media and project outreach
  • Collaborate in teams to complete projects and tasks
  • Craft, advertise, host, and reflect on a variety of public programming events
  • Publish on the blog and work to expand its audience
  • Hone skills with WordPress, production and graphic design, and budgeting
  • Create a business plan to extend the reach and contributions of the project in the community as well as the academic field
  • Produce professional products for the public to see

This class is an Applied English class and fulfills the English + requirement for the new English major. Though this is an upper-division course, you do not need to complete English 295 as a prerequisite to this course. This is a specialized course that will not be offered very often, so take advantage of this opportunity to gain all of these skills next semester in Dr. Rudy’s 394R !

Posted in Contests and Events, Working With the Database | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Girls and Boys and Animals: Graphing Patterns in Mash-up Episodes

jack and red

One of the unique elements of TV is that they don’t have to market towards a specific group to buy their product, the way movies, books, or toys do, so they work to make a product that will attract as many viewers as possible across a much wider spectrum. Though children’s TV is created with children specifically in mind, the shows want to attract as many different types of children as possible. This makes studying gender patterns of characters and tales in children’s television interesting, especially when one gender becomes clearly more prominent than the other.

For my project on mashups I used every data point in the Channeling Wonder Database that is from a children’s television show and is tagged with more than one fairy tale type.


My first step in this project, which I outline in this post about my methodology, was to sort different tale types by elements like gender of main character. I expected most of the mashups would be like the Veggie Tales TV movie “Sweetpea Beauty,” which uses the stories and characters of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, three stories of European traditional origin that contain princesses, magic, and castles.


However, not all of the mashups were the types of mashups I was expecting. (Think how boring research would be if it always turned out how we thought it would!) To visualize my findings, I created the following graph visualizing the mashups as combinations of tales with female, male, or animal protagonists.

better graph

(click graph to expand)

There are several trends contained in this graph. First, the female protagonists show up at a much higher rate than the male protagonists do (there’s more pink!), and are also increasing more than the male protagonists over time. As number of tales combined to create a mashup is rising over time, the number of male protagonist tales stays constant. This means as a whole, there is a higher percentage of female protagonists showing up in these mashup episodes over time.

To me, the most interesting thing about this graph is that, with the exception of two Looney Toons episodes which are made up of only animal tales, every bar has pink touching the bottom of the graph. There is not one case where only male-protagonist fairy tales are combined together, or where an animal tale and a male-protagonist tale are joined for a mash up. Why is this?

One knee-jerk explanation is that there are more common fairy tales that have girls in lead roles, but the data doesn’t support this. The top five fairy tales that are present in mash-up episodes on children’s television are (in order of frequency) Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella,  Jack & the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, and Three Bears. Two of these are female tales, one is male, two are animal. This diverse mix shows that it’s not a cut-and-dry “fairy tales are for girls” situation.

top 5

This prevalence of female-focused tales evident in this graph could be caused by the widespread oversimplification that princess = fairy tale, or that all fairy tales are targeted by default for girls. When TV decides to use fairy tales, they use a female tale as an access point to that tradition. I call this “the female anchor” strategy, and make the claim that these female-focused tales are chosen intentionally in order to connect the fairy tale approach to the wider fairy tale context that exists in our minds. Our assumptions about the femininity of fairy tales as a genre might be due to the Disney princess movies operating as our society’s most visible and influential fairy tales. Or, this could be caused by something even further back, the tales’ origination in the oral tradition that existed in nurseries, by kitchen fires, and in other domestic spaces that have been part of the female realm since long before anyone wrote down a single fairy tale.


Children gathered around a grandmother telling a story. This is the most traditional context for fairy tales.

This general association between femininity and fairy tales may cause creators of television mash-up episodes to feel that they need to include at least one female protagonist in order to ground them in the fairy tale tradition. If they are going to go out on a limb and really go for it with the fairy tale thing for one episode (the vast majority of these mashups are single episodes from a series that has little to do with fairy tales at the outset), they may feel they need one female character, a recognizable one with easy-to-read iconography like Little Red Riding Hood with her red cape, in order to tie them securely to that tradition. These female protagonists are used to effectively signal to viewers “This is a fairy tale episode. Adjust your expectations accordingly.”

I offer one explanation to this pattern, but there very well could be others. This could be a pattern based in fairy tale adaptation studies, the process and conventions of creating television, or more generally creating products meant for children. In fact, the issue of children playing roles in television meant for children is the issue I’ll be discussing next in this fairy tale mashup series. If children relate better to other children on television, how will that affect how television uses fairy tales with adult or adolescent characters?

Posted in Working With the Database | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment