Fairy tales can be oral (told by people in different geographical locations and at various historical times up to the present) and/or literary (written by known authors). All concern the fantastic, the magical, the dark, the dreamy, the wishful, and the wonderful.
Fairy tales with known authors like Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Edith (Bland) Nesbit, Oscar Wilde, or Mary Louisa (Stewart)
Molesworth are literary forms, based primarily in an individual writer’s creativity. But the actual differences aren’t always that clear.
Oral fairy tales can be found in written forms (such as the works of the Grimm brothers) and most North Americans now encounter all kinds
of fairy tales mainly in books–and on film. Some fairy tales come in both traditional and literary forms. Andersen’s “The Princess and
the Pea” is based on a traditional folktale type called “The Princess on the Pea” (ATU 704). And the two forms are rarely discrete in the
popular imagination; Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” is generally seen as the same kind of story as the traditional “Little Red Riding Hood” (ATU 333).
Yet there can be distinguishing characteristics beyond their origins and transmission. Traditional wonder tales usually end happily, while literary tales often do not. Most North Americans expect the main protagonists of all fairy tales to “live happily ever after.” But in the tales of Andersen and Oscar Wilde, for example, the conclusion can be sad or depressing. Indeed, in contrast to the Disney film’s happy ending, the Andersen version of “The Little Mermaid” concludes with the title character being transformed into sea foam when she fails to marry the prince.
Historically, scholars of folklore understood fairy tales as traditional narratives of wonder and magic being transmitted not only orally, but also informally, locally, and face-to-face within communities and social groups.
As discussed by William Bascom (1965), folklorists distinguish myths and legends from folktales (which include fairy tales) not by their forms but
by “the attitudes of the community toward them.” Myths are seen as “both sacred and true....core narratives in larger ideological systems. Concerned with
ultimate realities, they are often set outside of historical time...and frequently concern the actions of divine or semi-divine characters” (Oring 1986, 124).
Legends “focus on a single episode...which is presented as miraculous, uncanny, bizarre, or sometimes embarrassing. The narration of a legend is, in a sense,
the negotiation of the truth of these episodes.” This genre, “set in historical time in the world as we know it today....often makes reference to real people
and places” (Ibid., 125). Folktales, in contrast, “are related and received as fiction or fantasy [and] appear in a variety of forms” (Ibid., 126), one of
which is the fairy tale. Most folklorists understand fairy tales as Märchen the wonder tales or “tales of magic” numbered 300-749 in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther
classification of international folktales (Uther 2004 I, 174-396).
Literary fairy tales concern wonderful and magical events and times and are written by known authors.
Literary tales, “written by an individual, usually identifiable author....[may] draw upon preexisting published material for some or all of their characters
and plot...[but] put them together in a new way....[and] exist in only one version, fixed in print” (Harries 2008, v.2 579).
Fairy tale films are both versions and adaptations of traditional/oral and/or literary fairy tales; animated or live action, they draw on characters, titles, images, plots, and motifs of fairy tales.
Jack Zipes defines a fairy tale film as “any kind of cinematic representation recorded on film, on videotape, or in digital form that employs motifs, characters,
and plots generally found in the oral and literary genre of the fairy tale, to re-create a known tale or to create and realize cinematically an original screenplay
with recognizable features of a fairy tale” (2011, 9). Though his schema is not about film, we find Kevin Paul Smith’s description of relations between literature
and fairy tale useful. Based on Gérard Genette’s idea of intertexts, Smith posits eight possible ways for fairy tales to work in literature: authorized (explicit in the title);
writerly (implicit in the title); incorporation (explicit in text); allusion (implicit in text); re-vision (giving an old tale a new spin); fabulation (creating a new tale);
metafiction (discussing fairy tales); and architextual/chronotopic (in setting/environment) (2007, 10).
Fairy tale films don’t simply seek to repeat the content of an oral/traditional or literary original; they are adaptations create new versions in a significant intertextual relationship in which each form informs the other.
Linda Hutcheon calls adaptation “repetition without replication” (2006, 7). The repetition, then, need not be absolutely faithful to the original;
many fairy tale films transgressively break rules North Americans may associate the genre. Yet these films continue to intertextually reference
aspects of the fairy tale. This process is by no means, new, as Jessica Tiffin suggests: “any fairy tale--classic or modern--positions itself
intertextually within a complete discourse of fairy tale as cultural artifact, so that any tale becomes a necessary dialogue between its own specific
instance and the (unreal) textual expectations of fairy tales in general” (2009, 23).
Though television has long been a familiar vehicle for presenting fairy tales, this international filmography does not include material originally produced for television unless it was later released in theatres or cited in the filmography for Zipes’s The Enchanted Screen.
In the twentieth century--and into the twenty-first--and across the world, a wide range of fairy tales have made their way into televisual forms:
musicals, short cartoons, commercials, made-for-TV movies, and series. Fairy tale characters, themes, and motifs make their way into long arc
serials, variety shows, dramas, situation comedies, reality TV, and even non-fictional forms like news reporting. But apart from the fact that
including televised fairy tales would extend this already dauntingly large filmography, the sometimes fleeting and temporary aspect of this international
medium means that it may be impossible to fully document every instance of the use of fairy tales on television. TV studies scholars insist on
distinguishing themselves from film studies, and we agree that televised fairy tales can offer significantly different messages than cinematic ones
because of the specifics of television as a context.
Greenhill, Pauline and Sidney Eve Matrix, eds. 2010. Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity. Logan: Utah State University Press. available on USU Digital Commons! http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/usupress_pubs/70/
Fairy tale film research on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/groups/fairy.tales.films.research/
Fairy tales on television: http://fttv.byu.edu/#home
© Copyright 2019 - Pauline Greenhill, Kendra Magnus-Johnston, Jack Zipes