To Conclude…

Modern retellings of fairy tales – How can the symbolism in fairy tales be adapted to different genres in the film and TV industry within our modern era?



This was a research project whereby I looked at four retellings of Donkey Skin set in very different places and time periods. These four retellings each belonged to one particular genre: the fantasy genre, historical fiction, Film Noir and science fiction. The designs that are illustrated in the finished book are possible solutions for designing Donkey Skin for each of these genres. The decisions taken regarding the designs are justified in the book and in the reflective journal. To analyse if this tale could be adapted to a story set in the real world, either in the 40s or in the future, I imagined new retellings with redefined characters and a more elaborate plot. The magical aspects of the tale have sometimes been slightly altered to fit the era in which the story is set, however they have not been dismissed, even for a story set in the real world.


The designs shown here are not the only solutions for newer adaptations of this fairy tale. On the contrary, the retellings of a fairy tale are endless. A fairy tale can be embellished and retold in thousands of ways while staying true to the fact that they deal with human fears and anxieties. It has been this way since they were first told orally and it will remain so in years to come. While there are other solutions concerning the designs of a film adaptation of Donkey Skin, the work recorded in the book show that there are possibilities when adapting a fairy tale to a genre that, at first look, is very different from the setting of these stories.


Fairy tales deal with universal issues that we all face in our lives. Most deal with growing up: the metaphorical journey by which we go through and gain our independence. Some fairy tales have deeper morals and lessons. The tale of Snow White teaches us that vanity is wrong. Cinderella or Toads and Diamonds, urge us to be kind and to work hard. Little Red Riding Hood warns children not to stray from the path and to listen to the wise advice of their elders. In Donkey Skin, one of the lessons relates to the myth of Oedipus and the idea in psychology that, as children, all little girls want to marry their fathers and all little boys want to marry their mothers. However it warns us that this sort of love is wrong and that a child needs to grow up and gain his independence if he wants to live a pleasant life. It denounces incest as wrong and unnatural (the Fairy Godmother is the voice of reason). Staying in the comfort of home tended to by our parents is the easy way, but it is not necessarily the right way. There comes a time when we all need to grow up. The tale includes the metaphorical journey that most heroines go through in fairy stories: like Rapunzel and Snow White, Donkey Skin leaves her home and travels on her own in search of work and a place in which to settle. In fairy tales, the metaphorical journey is usually linked to the woods. Crossing the deserted and seemingly dangerous forest is a rite of passage. The forest represents the unknown – although we may fear it, we need to go through it; otherwise, we will never get anywhere in life. Far from the comfort of home, we need to face the trials of life in order to find our happy ending. The notion that hard work always pays off is also frequently dealt with in fairy tales. The Princess endures many hardships and is usually ill treated by the other villagers that do not accept her as being different. Through it all, she perseveres and stays concentrated on her work. Even after she is seen by the Prince, and that he throws a ball in order to formally meet her, she is patient and waits for him to dismiss all of the other women in the kingdom. Patience is a virtue.


But most of all, fairy tales are about hope. While nothing will ever change the fact that we are easily subjected to fear, fairy tales are a way to give us hope and to help us deal with our anxieties. They show that while things may seem desperate, we need to believe that everything will eventually be all right. We need to hang on to the fact that by working through a hard situation, we will find a solution. Perhaps our fairy godmother isn’t the one who is going to solve our problems, but the individuals that we hold dearly in our hearts and on whom we know we can count, are the source of comfort that she represents. The fairy godmother never appears to those who do not deserve her help – the same goes for friendship. To come to depend on someone and rely on them is hard work that eventually always pays off.


These are universal concepts that can be adapted to any story. Film Noir by definition is about disillusionment. These films made in the late 1940s and 1950s reflected the constant state of fear and insecurity that people were in. Not only had the world been through a global war, tensions had also risen between two powerful nations threatening it with Mutually Assured Destruction. In this dark time, Hollywood directors came to reflect these fears in their films where bleakness, melancholy and pessimism were usually the main subjects. Film Noir seldom have happy endings. Film Noir and fairy tales are opposites. Opposites attract. This project gave me the opportunity to try and adapt Donkey Skin to Film Noir. Although it was a daunting experiment at first, I believe that the two completed each other. Film Noir are about fear, and fairy tales are a way to deal with it. Magical elements in fairy tales are usually a way to illustrate situations or ideas. The gold producing donkey represents the King’s fortune; the Fairy Godmother gives advice; by donning the donkey’s fur (which represents the carnal nature) the Princess is basically donning the disguise of the thing she is trying to escape – people rarely notice what’s right under their noses. These can all find a non-magical equivalent: a priceless artwork worth a fortune, a trustworthy companion and a daring disguise. If carefully analysed, the tale of Donkey Skin can be adapted to Film Noir.


A European fairy tale set in the Middle East is unusual. It was a way to investigate if it was possible to adapt a fairy tale not only to the historical genre, but also to a very different cultural setting. The set of tales that compose the Arabian Nights can be compared to fairy tales as they often have similar origins. They have their own versions of magical symbols and meaningful metaphors that can help in adapting a fairy tale to this setting. The white donkey of Egypt can replace our own European donkey, the Fairy Godmother can be changed into a Genie, and the dangers and uncertainty of war is similar to a life of hardships and the trials that forge our personalities. Hence, Donkey Skin was successfully adapted to the historical genre set in the 11th century at the start of the First Crusade. The elements of Perrault’s original text are still present, although the theme of hope is predominant. In a world of war and chaos, there is something to root for: Donkey Skin’s search for a new life; the unlikely love that this Byzantine heroine shares with her European Crusader. Dealing with a subject at the forefront of today’s issues – war of religion – the tale is given a new dimension, treating a current controversy.


In my opinion, there is always a solution to deal with the magical elements present in fairy tales that may seem like an issue when adapting to genres set in the real world, past or future. While the historical adaptation should be referred to as historical fiction – indeed, the presence of a magical genie and donkey makes the story unrealistic to be classified as truthful – it could have been possible to realistically set the tale in the past. There is something mystical about the things in which people used to believe in the past and that they illustrated in their art (Greek mythology, Egyptian gods, Yggdrasil and the Nidhogg). Alternatively, in science fiction settings, the seemingly impossible elements present can be explained through a scientific reasoning that make them viable in a distant future. Mystic is a solution for magic for stories set in the past. Science is a solution for magic for stories set in the future.


Generally, modern retellings of fairy tales work because the essence of the stories is unchanged despite the newer twists and embellishments added by today’s modern storytellers. The symbolism and universal concepts dealt with in these stories can be adapted to any genre or setting. Furthermore, this trend appeals to people because it enables us to rediscover well-known stories and the characters that we have all grown to love since we were children.


Slay your dragons and you’ll live happily ever after.


Book Layout (IV)


Once the content was done, it was important to give as much thought to the outside of the book as to the inside. Indeed, the cover being what is first seen by the reader, it needed to be appealing and pleasant to the eye. The back cover and spine also needed to be designed. Experimenting with one of my drawings, I found a style that I really liked for the cover.

Book template portrait

However I wanted the work to be exclusively made by me, background included. Initially the cover had been made with a portrait format in mind. The title was hiding the donkey’s ears and would have needed amending had I chosen this format.

I kept the colour scheme and the drawing, and tried a different approach. The finished cover is as follows:

Front Cover

For the back cover, I had a few possibilities. Either, I could have written a short synopsis, the final quote of the tale of Donkey Skin (this particular quote can actually be found on the last page of the book) or another drawing. I didn’t want to give too much away on the cover, therefore, I wasn’t too keen on putting another one of my drawings.

For the front cover, I had had an idea which included a donkey’s eye and the princess reflected inside. However, I had dismissed the idea, preferring the chosen drawing instead. When looking at possible designs for the back cover, I decided to explore this idea once more. The artwork is a mixture of a photograph and a drawing. The eye is actually a photo taken by me, of the family horse. With a little editing on photoshop, it was made to look like a donkey’s eye. I then added one of my pencil sketches inside the eye.

Back Cover

The artwork is strong enough to support the back cover without having any additional words written on it.

Book Layout (III)

I had initially decided on doing the book at A4 format. However, looking at other works, I realised that perhaps, a bigger format would be better to show the drawings. I tried printing a few pages in A3 but on the contrary, the format was much too big. It did not look like a professional book – it felt more like a portfolio.

After further research, I decided to use a slightly larger format than A4. Although I had decided on having the page set up as portrait, I went back to the landscape format. The size would have been 24cm by 30,5cm. Unfortunately, because the format was bigger than A4, the cost of the book would have been that of an A3 project containing 150 pages. The cost being too high, I went back to looking at A4. The layout of the pages were already determined and having 3cm less for the height was not as big a problem as I had feared. The drawings done in portrait needed to be shrunk but the landscape drawings fit the pages perfectly. Indeed, it would have been nice to see the work on a slightly wider format, but the A4 format enabled me to have a hard cover book printed at an affordable price.

Here are a few of the finished pages:

Page 2 Page 3

Page 4 Page 5

Page 10 Page 11

Page 15 Page 20

Page 22 Page 25

Page 28 Page 29

Page 30 Page 31

Page 56 Page 57

Page 70 Page 71

Book Layout (II)

Putting all my work together in a finished book has been an interesting, insightful experience. However, it hasn’t been easy. I was very lucky to have been assisted by a professional graphic designer who specialises in this sort of work. My supervisor Deborah Kerby and her brother David Kerby were very helpful in helping me make the finished book that is currently being printed.

With the final layout done, I now look back at the first pages I had done a few months ago and realise that David Kerby has taught me a lot about putting together a book that not only looks professional, but that is also pleasant to read. I feel that I am now aware of the things to consider when designing a book, and that I now know some tips to make drawings look better on a printed page.

I had explored different looks for my book early on in my MA. Back in June 2014, my posts on the characters for the fantasy genre had been done with the book in mind. I had imagined that this could be the way the book would look. Then, closer to the end of the project, I revisited the possibilities for the layout. Here are a few examples of the first possible layouts I had thought of using. The texts are not relevant or correct as, back then, I was only trying to see how the images would fit on the page. (These are double-page spreads).

Presentation Module 2 page 30

(Above, very first layouts done in 2014)

Book Template 2 Double Page 4b

(Above: first chapter intro page – the size of the font is too big. The drawing should be facing the inside of the book and is generally too close to the gutter)

Book Template 2 Double Page 5

Book Template 2 Double Page 5a

Book Template 2 Double Page 6

Book Template 2 Double Page 7a

Book Template 2 Double Page 10

Book Template 2 Double Page 12

The texts were too bold, the background was too prominent and there lacked order. There needs to be unity throughout the book, to keep the reader interested and to help them understand exactly how everything works.

Sci-fi Adaptation (IV)

As with the space station, I wanted the costumes to be bright and to give life to the metal structure of the environment. It was also a way to contrast with the vast emptiness of outer space. The clothes should look futuristic, with elements from today’s fashion. However, I wanted to have a go at incorporating older period features to a modern outfit, to give it the fairy tale touch needed to remind the audience of the origins of the story.

The period elements I decided to use would date back to the Rococo era. I incorporated Rococo patterns to parts of the Princess’ costume. I tried to keep it subtle so that the costume is still believable as a futuristic outfit.

Page 147

For the hairstyle, I had the idea of having a strange hair cut combining long and short strands of hair. Why not also add a bit of colour? It is such a fashionable thing to do nowadays – to change hair colour. After sketching the character, I decided that adding a strange headdress would complete the overall look perfectly.

Sci-fi Adaptation (III)

With the space station’s design in mind, I also sketched several possible looks for space ships that would come and go from the landing platforms. I wanted the space station to be constantly animated by ships arriving and departing. However, I wanted the ships to follow a particular design that would make them look as if they were meant to fit on the platforms – a sort of completion for the design.

Image numérisée-3

I looked at fish and other sea creatures for a streamlined organic look. The ships wouldn’t just fly through space, they would move in a flowing manner that makes them look almost alive.

Image numérisée-1

These ships would be recognised as being friendly visitors. Hence, when the audience suddenly spot a space ship different to these, they immediately know that the visiting ship is not from around here. Is it lost? Are they only passing through? But more importantly, are they friend or foe?