The Evolution of Fairy Tales: The Return of Dark Stories (I)

The Inexistent Original Folk Tale

      I read a very interesting article (Once Upon a Time, why fairy tale adaptations continue to thrive) about fairy tales and the way they continue to thrive. It dealt mainly with some analysis of the TV show ‘Once Upon a Time’, but what really appealed to me was the question on ‘fidelity criticism’. This corresponds basically to the accuracy with which the adaptations tell the story compared to the original ones. And the question was as follows: “Why does the issue of fidelity criticism never play a large role in the reception of these adaptations?” (K. Clark, 2013)

This question is based on the affirmation that the audience nowadays is not bothered that fairy tale adaptations aren’t always true to the original text. I personally believe that this is debatable. While it is true that it is always exciting to watch new twists added to the fairy tales we all know and love, I personally think that people feel slightly betrayed when it strays too far away from the well-known stories. But reading the article made me question this belief as it raised really good points that I hadn’t thought about taking into consideration.

      Fairy tales are timeless stories and weren’t originally written tales but rather verbal stories told to children and adults alike, in order to warn them of the dangers of the real world. The stories were dark, disturbing, but back then, it was acceptable. It’s when society begins to change that these stories and even films take a new turn.

About fidelity criticism, the author writes that fairy tales are exempt from it as “there may not have been an ‘original’ version the production company would have had to follow meticulously” (K. Clark, 2013). And I loved this remark because if we think about it, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm are often seen as the original tales, but they themselves heard the stories from other storytellers. Charles Perrault heard the tale of Sleeping Beauty before writing it down his way and publishing it in 1697. It was then in 1812, that the Brothers Grimm published their own revised version. Therefore, there is no real ‘original’ tale when it comes to folk tales.They grow and differ with each storyteller that decides to pass it on to the next generation. The main theme seems to be kept as a sort of guide for each well known tale, but everything around it changes, usually resulting in the apparition of various different versions.

      I think this observation is particularly pertinent. I think it’s up to each and everyone of us to keep an open mind towards differences. Although there are some versions of famous tales that we like more than others or that are the most popular ones, we have to keep in mind that there is very little to no chance that these are the original tales. Therefore if a fairy tale is readapted with new twists and conveying a new message, it should be seen as an evolution, not only of the tale itself, but the people that take pleasure in listening to it. These tales have an amazing capacity to be re-invented and re-modelled to suit a modern audience. The argument: “not true to the original” shouldn’t really be valid.

A simple yet smart observation I read is summed up in this lovely quote: “This genre will continue to thrive as long as people enjoy hearing a well-told tale” (K. Clark, 2013). How true that statement is; because in the end it really all comes down to this: the storyteller (director if we consider films). If he manages to build a solid believable world with a fascinating story, then there would be no problem for him to enchant any one throughout the world.

NICHOLSON. T, 2012. How the Brothers Grimm came to write fairy tales [online]. Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2014]

WOOD. J, 2014. The Strange Story of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairytales: Dr. Juliette Wood [online]. Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2014]

CLARK. K, 2013. The Artifice: Once Upon a Time, why fairy tale adaptations continue to thrive [online]. Available at: [Accessed 07 November 2014]

B,Bettelheim. 1976. Psychanalyse des contes de fées (The Uses of Enchantment), Pocket. Paris

J,Zipes. 1979. Breaking the Magic Spell: radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales. Heinemann Educational Books. London – quotes and ideas taken from the book, I do not own anything.

2011.A Critique of the Criticism of Film Adaptations. The Believer’s Blog. [online blog]. 15th April. Available at: [accessed November 2014]


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