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.


Modern Film Noir (II)

Film Noir and Neo-Noir

There is a slight difference between the two genres. I defined the Film Noir genre in an earlier post and will now look a bit more into Neo-Noir films.

Neo-Noir which stands for a sort of Film Noir revival, characterises films that feature elements of the classic Film Noir period, however with updated themes and contents, then, absent from the 1940s films. The elements of these classic films include conflicted heroes, complicated/ depressing situations, unusual camera placement and a striking use of light and shadow.
Films don’t need to be in black and white to have a Film Noir feel. The colour palette used, with desaturated tones and darker hues, can work just as well to create atmosphere and give the movie a striking, personal visual identity.


Homages to Film Noir

Something I have noticed when watching modern TV shows, are the numerous ‘specials’ that usually pay tribute to classic genres of the film industry: Film Noir, Musical, Animation and so on. Sometimes, these genres are even mixed together to create a very interesting episode, that is not always at the centre of the main plot of the series but that in a way, explores possibilities and the character’s personalities more thoroughly than any other episode of the season.

I can site the episode Charmed Noir that was the 8th episode of the 7th season of the TV show Charmed that aired in 2004. The show, which is originally about witches, took on the look and style of classic Film Noir for this one episode.

In the science fiction TV show Fringe, the 20th episode of the 2nd series called Brown Betty does not only borrow features from Film Noir but is also a musical. The episode which is actually a story that one of the protagonists tells to a child, is not in black and white and features science fiction elements. However it still does a good job through the costumes, the music and the camera angles of reminding the audience of the Film Noir of old.

More recently, the TV show Pretty Little Liars also featured a Film Noir episode entitled Shadow Play. This season 4 episode was shown in black and white and while the protagonists’ outfits are said to have had very striking colours, the audience never saw them as anything but grey.


To conclude, it is interesting to note that although Film Noir may have lost its importance after the 1950s, the genre never died and is still a source of inspiration for directors nowadays. The fascinating visual identity one can create through the use of lighting and camera angles is what probably appeals the most to artists. While serious films can be classified as Neo-Noirs, several TV shows use the features of this genre in a single episode as an homage to this period that heavily influenced Hollywood a few decades ago.

When looking at the examples cited above, perhaps a Film Noir Fairy-tale isn’t that far-fetched after all.


DIRKS, T., Film Noir [online]. American Movie Classics Company. Available at: [Accessed April 2015]

Modern Film Noir (I)

Why this Genre?

The Film Noir period dominated films made in Hollywood in the 1940s and the 1950s. However, even after the classic Film Noir trend came to an end, the characteristics of these films carried on and are still influencing directors today.

Some of the films that come out nowadays do not entirely belong to the Film Noir genre, but it is debated that several do have elements that were present in classic Film Noir movies.

The features that are most often used in modern Film Noir usually include either a downbeat or morally questionable hero, a femme fatale and a particular visual style.

While it is not always obvious, when looking into a film, one can sometimes see and pick out Film Noir aspects that defined the genre all those years ago.

For example, I can cite the 2011 film ‘Drive‘. From the first few minutes, it is clear that the film has got its own visual style and is not a classic crime movie. The nameless protagonist is mysterious, and ends up involved in criminal activities after developing a romantic relationship with his next door neighbour.

Another movie that takes on aspects of the classic Film Noir is the 2005 crime thriller ‘A History of Violence‘. The protagonist tries to escape a criminal past that eventually catches up to him and ends up threatening the new life he has built. Again, a morally questionable hero, criminal activities and a sense of despair can remind the audience of classic Film Noir. For example the 1955 ‘The Man with the Golden Arm‘ that features Frank Sinatra as a heroin addict who fights his addiction in prison but struggles with it once released into the real world.

There is also a possibility of including ‘Black Swan‘ to the list yet it is debatable. The whole visual aspect as well as a mentally unstable protagonist are key features of the genre. Mila Kunis’s performance as a femme fatale was spot on.

I can also site the ‘Sin City‘ movies that are both categorized as Neo-Noirs because of their striking visual identity, and the crime themes that they deal with. While the first instalment was released in 2005, the sequel ‘A Dame to Kill For‘ is more recent, dating back to 2014.

The list goes on but I should also mention the crime thriller ‘Nightcrawler‘ (2014).

Some TV shows also seem to feature aspects of Film Noir and can be seen as belonging to the Neo-Noir genre such as ‘House of Cards‘.



Campbell.C., 2014. 11 Modern Film Noir Movies You Must See. Fandango. [online]. 27th October. Available at: [accessed 2015]

Searle.T., 2012. 10 Outstanding Neo-Noirs of the 2000s. Listverse. [online]. 1st February. Available at: [accessed 2015]

Akande.Z., 2014. Why we have film noir to thank for ‘Twin Peaks’ and other hit TV dramas. Indiewire. [online] 27th December. Available at: [accessed 2015]

The Film Noir/ Crime Genre

Another genre I wanted to explore with this MA was the Film Noir. The name was given to Hollywood films released in France to theatres because they followed a trend of dark, downbeat and black looks and themes. They usually dealt with crimes and investigating detectives.

They are said to have reflected the tensions and insecurities of the time period (the depression, the aftermath of the war and the tensed relationships present during the Cold War). Hollywood musicals made way for this new trend which counter balanced these earlier films full of colour and optimism.

Describing Film Noir

On a website (filmsite, I read that the themes evident in Film Noir are as follows: fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia. This pessimism reflects the insecurities of the people living in a time of tensions, where the nuclear threat and mutually assured destruction were always present.

The hero was usually a cynical and disillusioned man who would end up committing crimes after being manipulated by a mysterious Femme Fatale.

List of primary moods of Film Noir (as stated on filmsite by T. Dirks):

  • melancholy

  • alienation

  • bleakness

  • disillusionment

  • disenchantment

  • pessimism

  • ambiguity

  • moral corruption

  • evil

  • guilt

  • despair

  • paranoia

Expressionist lighting contrasts with ominous shadows while distorted camera angles give the film an uneasy feel. Smoke (either from cigarettes or in dark alleyways) is a very atmospheric element which emphasizes the effects to make a ‘moody composition’.

Interiors would have had a single-source lighting, venetian-blinded windows and a dark and gloomy feel. They could be dim apartments or hotel rooms, or even abandoned warehouses. I have also found that exteriors were described as being urban settings with deep shadows and wet asphalt, dark alleyways dampened by rain and flashing neon lights.

Characters in Film Noir

The hero – or anti-hero – in film noir would most often be depicted as a struggling and disillusioned man. Women however, usually fell into two different categories. While a woman could be depicted as a reliable and trustworthy ally, she could also fall into the category of the Femme Fatale.

A Femme Fatale in Film Noir is usually a mysterious woman whose appearance, while undeniably gorgeous, hides her double-crossing, unreliable, unloving and predatory nature that leads her to manipulate the hero into committing crimes of passion and going as far as to murder another individual. (A theory for this was woman’s slow gain of independence).

A Film Noir and a Fairy Tale – Drastic Opposites?

It appears that Film Noir were rarely optimistic, and happy endings almost non-existent. However, as seen in older posts, a fairy tale, by definition, gives the hero a happy ending as a reward for his/her troubles and trials. So is it possible to adapt a fairy tale to a film noir style and setting?

I will be investigating this through various designs which will also be shown in my printed art book.

The film would probably be set in New York in the 1940s. While Donkey Skin’s family would be wealthy, perhaps the father could be meddling in dishonest affairs. The fairy godmother, to keep her character ambiguous like I was hoping to in the previous genres I explored, could take on some of the characteristics of a Femme Fatale.

While the tale would take on the visual characteristics of the Film Noir, I feel that certain features would need to keep to the original story. Perhaps it would be possible to reconcile the film noir style with a happy ending so as not to loose too much of the fairy tale aspect.

DIRKS, T., Film Noir [online]. American Movie Classics Company. Available at: [Accessed April 2015]

Character Design for the Historical Adaptation – The Fairy Godmother (I)

Fairies are iconic characters in many european fairytales. Sometimes they appear as a kind fairy godmother, helping the protagonist make their dreams come true; other times they can be slightly mischievous with an affinity for tricks. In the case of Donkey Skin, the fairy godmother is there for the princess when she most needs her. She acts a bit like Disney’s character of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, in the way that she represents morality and righteousness. She knows it is wrong for a father to marry his daughter and does everything to prevent it. When I designed the fairy godmother for the fantasy genre, I explained how I had wanted to make this character slightly different from the one of the original tale. I wanted the character to be kind and seemingly good yet ambiguous and with a penchant for tricks and games. I kept these qualities in mind when I decided to explore the different designs for her character in the historical adaptation.

Initially, the historical adaptation shouldn’t have featured magical elements as by definition, it is meant to be set in the real world during real historic events. But let’s not forget that I am trying to adapt a fairy tale and hence, magic and wonder are necessary. The film should be categorized as historical fiction. I am basically researching the different possibilities there are to make a fairy story fit in a real setting – in this case, in the middle east during the first crusade. Therefore the fairy godmother needed to be different from the other human characters. She needed to have more power. And, as mentioned in my previous post, when I first thought about setting a fairy tale in the middle east, I immediately thought about the Arabian Nights. With this thought came images of flying carpets, forty thieves and genies. That’s when I realised that the oriental equivalent to our fairy godmother could be seen as the genie (Djinn). However, that was partly due to Disney’s well-known adaptation of Aladdin, in which the genie is a kind, beloved character that has the hero’s best interest at heart. Reading more about the arabian nights, I quickly realised that the djinn is usually quite the opposite.

Djinn, Succubus and Genius

“Spending any time in the Sahara desert makes it clear how the elements can conjure up sand or wind storms in an instant, and it does not take rocket science to work out how these acts of nature could be re-configured or interpreted as the actions of Djinns (genies)” (Richard E Grant, 2011).

The djinn (or Jinni in arabic) is a magical spirit present in islamic literature. They are said to be invisible but can take the shape of Man or animal, or even objects or the Elements. The djinn is mentioned in the Koran as being born of smokeless fire. Usually, they are seen as tricksters or demons that have malicious intentions – a favour from a djinn can quickly take a turn for the worse. In Islam, the King Solomon is said to have had the ability to control djinns; there is also a tale involving Solomon’s magic ring and its powers to control these supernatural beings which would have worked on building the First Temple of Jerusalem.

It is interesting to point out that some see the mythological creature succubus as a djinn that takes the form of a woman in order to trick and deceive men.

In ancient roman religion, a genius was a sort of spirit that watched over every man. They represented powers and abilities that formed an individual’s character. They were a divine entity that would protect each individual. A woman’s genius was a juno.

The Wicked Fairy Godmother

The concept of a wicked fairy godmother may seem slightly confusing, disconcerting or even unbelievable to some. Yet, a feared character from our childhood which has gained increasing popularity in the past couple of years exactly fits that description: Maleficent. The concept of a wicked fairy godmother is quite rare as fairies are never inherently bad. For example, the character of Tinker Bell in J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan is not always the kindest of individuals. However she remains a helpful ally to the protagonist. By definition, in folklore, fairies were renown for their malice. Thus, the concept of having the fairy godmother as a trickster of sorts, helpful yet slightly unsettling is not unbelievable. As I am trying to find the middle eastern equivalent to the fairy godmother, it seems that it might be possible to reconcile the djinn with the character of the fairy. Although usually depicted as demonic, djinns could sometimes appear as neutral; the idea is to play on this possibility to justify the fairy godmother’s character being a djinn in the historical adaptation.

An Islamic Djinn in Christian Constantinople?

After making this decision and sketching out a few possible designs for the djinn, I realised that there may be some confusion regarding the fact that, while Donkey Skin is supposed to be living in christian Constantinople, djinns were islamic entities. Therefore there seems to be a sort of ambiguity regarding folklore and religion. So as not to change the story too much, the fairy godmother should be around when the father asks his daughter to marry him. This is crucial as it leads to the making of the three dresses and the eventual sacrifice of the donkey.

Therefore, what would a djinn be doing in Constantinople? Perhaps this detail wouldn’t stop an audience from believing in the story that they are viewing but I believe that it is important to justify those small details in order to add to the credibility of the tale – especially when it comes to adapting a magical story to a real world setting. I have thought of a few reasons, mainly that perhaps during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Donkey Skin’s family could have bought an old lamp on the market place and brought it back with them to their home in Constantinople. This could have happened a few years before our story actually takes place, therefore, the little princess, while playing around one day, could have opened the bottle/ rubbed the lamp and released the djinn, befriending it in the process. Another possible explanation would consist in Donkey Skin finding the lamp in the outskirts of Constantinople one day, right at the beginning of the film (perhaps before the death of her mother). The lamp could have easily fallen off a merchant’s cart. Finally, the lamp could simply be a family heirloom that has been passed down from one generation to the other. Seeing as the protagonist’s family is supposed to be incredibly wealthy, it stands to reason that they could have accumulated many riches and items that constitute a wide collection of antics and treasures. The idea of having the djinn help the protagonist out also works well with the fact that Donkey Skin flees to Jerusalem in the hopes of starting an honest life there. Indeed, djinns are said to have an extremely long life (although not immortal), therefore in all the centuries she has been living, the djinn could have been to Jerusalem and found the city a pleasant place to hide out. Thus she would have mentioned it to the princess as a possible destination.


Finally, I also realised that it may seem strange that Donkey Skin flees to Jerusalem at the same time as the crusaders march towards Nicea in the attempt to retake the city. If she knows that an army is going to attack a city, then why would she choose that same city as a place to live in? Perhaps, this decision could occur a year before the beginning of the first crusade. Therefore the crusaders would arrive but by then, she would already have rebuilt her life in Jerusalem. If I decide to follow my initial idea of her fleeing with the crusaders before parting ways and going to Jerusalem by herself (knowing full well that the city would eventually be under attack) then it should be mentioned that she had originally planned on stopping in the big city for a couple of nights before continuing her way north. However, a chance encounter with the equivalent of her prince would have changed her mind and made her stay in Jerusalem for him.


Heiner, A.H., 2002. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales: Annotations for Donkeyskin [online]. Available at [Accessed 16/04/2015]

Guiley, R.E., 2015. Djinn Universe: a Short Course on the Djinn [online]. Available at: [Accessed 10/03/2015]

Circa71., 2011. A Brief History of Jinns or Genies [online]. WordPress. Available at: [Accessed 10/03/2015]

A Middle Eastern Fairy Tale

The Nights

When I first decided to set a fairy tale in the middle east, I immediately thought of the Arabian Nights. After all, the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights are the oriental equivalent to european fairy tales. They were first told orally thousands of years ago, and while the stories were passed on by many generations, there is no definitive version: “Trying to pin down the origin of stories that have passed down orally is akin to juggling with water” (Richard E Grant, 2011). They are said to include tales that spread through the middle east by travellers and merchants most likely journeying along the Chinese Silk Route, however the Nights as we know them today developed during several centuries. Like fairy tales, the Nights’s exact origins are unclear. The earliest known reference is said to date back to the ninth century. They are mentioned once again in 947 and in 987, when Abu Abdulla Ibn Abdus al-Jashyari is said to have started a collection of a thousand tales that he was unable to finish – he died and only 480 were written.

Antoine Galland was the first to write a european translation of some of the tales in 1704, in french. He apparently mainly used a four-volume Syrian manuscript of the Arabian Nights that dated back to the fourteenth century. More versions were written in the early nineteenth century; Richard Francis Burton published his own translation of one of these versions in 1885.

An interesting anecdote I wasn’t aware of concerns the origins of the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves as well as Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. It is argued that these stories were not part of the original oriental tales told throughout the centuries but were “arrivistes, with no legitimate Arab parents” (Wendy Doniger, 2012). Galland would have apparently added the tales to the ones he translated after seeing their popularity. It is said that he may have heard the tale from a story teller from Aleppo.

When reading these tales, it is easy to see the similarities with our european folk tales; the morals and lessons are similar, and the main characters who are usually flawed ordinary human beings like any one of us, are thrown into either dangerous or magical situations that they need to solve with their intelligence and morality in order for them to survive.

The Fisherman and the Jinni

The Fisherman and the Jinni from the One Thousand and One Nights has a recurring concept found in other tales such as Puss in Boots whereby a smaller, weaker character manages to save himself from the wrath of an all-mighty giant by tricking it into taking the form of something small and vulnerable. However that original story carries many more messages than that single one. The tale’s about a fisherman who throws his net in the water three times, however does not manage to catch anything. That is until he tries a fourth time which rewards him with an old jar. A jinni appears explaining that he has been trapped for four hundred years in the jar. He tells that he once swore to make the one who frees him from his fate, the richest man on earth. But after a century passed and none did, he swore he would instead enable his saviour to access all the treasures of the world. However another century passed and the jinni stayed trapped. He then promised, that he would reward the one who frees him by granting them three wishes everyday. Eventually, as another century goes by, out of frustration, the genie swears to kill the one who frees him. And this happens to be the unfortunate fisherman. When pleading does nothing to change the jinni’s mind, the fisherman decides to trick the jinni asking him how he managed to fit into such a small jar. The jinni shows him and shrinks back into the bottle that the fisherman quickly shuts. The story finishes with a happy ending after the fisherman and the jinni come to an agreement that leads the fisherman to lead a happy life with his family, held in high regards by the sultan himself.

This is an example of a tale from the Arabian Nights which can be compared to a fairy tale. It is constructed in the same fashion.

Bruno Bettleheim argued that the many tries of the fisherman when he throws his net four times even though the first three ones were a failure, teaches the child not to give up even though it may seem his efforts are fruitless. Eventually, they will be rewarded. He argues that it is important for the child that the deceived giant be an imaginary character rather than a rational adult, otherwise, it may be frightening for them to imagine that adults, who are supposed to be a reliable protection, can be tricked so easily by weaker individuals.

Religion in the Historical Adaptation

While designing my characters and sets for a story set in an 11th century middle east, I realised that there may be confusion on the audience’s part when it comes to religion and magical beings (in particular, the Djinn). While we have all heard of the crusades, we may not be very familiar with the history around it. After deciding to set the story during the first crusade, I realised that I actually did not know much about this time period. I lacked major information regarding who lived in which city, what the main religions of the well-known cities of Jerusalem or Constantinople were and in general, what type of architecture and style did the cities have. This is why I had such a great time researching the ways to adapt Donkey Skin to this time period in particular: it really helped me learn more about a historic period I knew very little about.

Originally, in the tale of Donkey Skin, there is the idea of fleeing and travelling, disguise and concealment. Hence, when I thought about having the crusades and Jerusalem as a backdrop for the adaptation, I wanted the protagonist to be able to travel there. In a way, Jerusalem is the equivalent to the adjoining kingdom of the original tale. Religion is a very sensitive subject, current and always present in the news around us. This idea also went into the decision to choose the crusades for the historical adaptation. However I quickly realised that I had a dilemma regarding the beliefs of the main protagonist. Some research was in order…

Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine empire. It was a christian city until 1453, when it was conquered by the sultan Mehmet II who made Constantinople capital of the Ottoman Empire. (He renamed it as Istanbul “city of Islam”). However for the time our story is set in, the city was christian. It was actually after the muslims captured Jerusalem in 1076 that Alexius I of Constantinople called on the Pope Urban II for help. Jerusalem being in the hands of the muslims made it difficult for christian pilgrims to travel to the holy city for pilgrimage. It was fear for his city that led Alexius I to ask for help. In 1095, Urban II spoke to the people, asking for volunteers to join in the crusades to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem. The crusaders stopped by Constantinople before marching off to Nicea’s siege.

Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony founded by Byzas. In 330 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium as the site of a new Roman capital. Hence he renamed the city Constantinople. Five years earlier, at the Council of Nicaea, Constantine had established Christianity (once an obscure Jewish sect) as Rome’s official religion. Therefore when researching the Byzantine style – be it in clothing or architecture – it was interesting to see this roman influence.

In Jerusalem however, the architecture is different. While some buildings feature byzantine architectural styles, Romanesque architecture is quite popular. It combines features from western roman and byzantine buildings and is characterised by its thick walls, round arches, large towers and decorative arcading. Examples of romanesque buildings in Jerusalem dating back to the time of the first crusade include the 11th century church of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross and the 12th century Church of St. Anne.

A decision needed to be made regarding whose side the protagonist should be on. This would in turn lead to the film taking on a political aspect as whoever the villain would be, would probably be linked to their religion. And this isn’t what I was looking for. While wars of religion are a current subject and are dealt with in the crusades, I wanted to adapt a fairy tale to an oriental setting. It isn’t about taking sides or pointing fingers. While fairy tales have a sort of black and white view of life quality about them with the hero and the villain, real life isn’t as easily depicted. Therefore to adapt a fairy tale for a modern audience, this needs to be taken into account: I believe that giving this quality and realism to a fairy story can make the story more interesting and keep the audience enthralled. However this needs to be done to a certain extent in order to keep the magical quality of these folk tales that feed our imagination and dreams. Thus, things aren’t as simple as stating that during the crusades there were heros and villains. The protagonist, Donkey Skin, has her own problems to deal with regarding her father (or step father) and needing to leave her home to find an honest life. She isn’t on anyone’s side in particular. So in order to do this, I decided to have her live, initially, in Constantinople. Therefore, it stands to reason that she is christian. However, this does not mean in any way that she is on the crusaders’ side. On the contrary. She flees with them and should probably get separated on the way, making her way to Jerusalem on her own, where she meets new friends and foes and perhaps the equivalent of her prince. And as Jerusalem is depicted as a peaceful colourful city, the battle scene of the siege of Jerusalem would probably lead the audience to root against the crusaders that destroy and slaughter the beautiful city shown in earlier scenes. Hence, there are heros and villains on both sides.

This study and research of religion and the way to adapt the fairy tale so as to make it acceptable by countries and cultures all over the world, has also come in useful when turning the fairy godmother into a Djinn – something I will discuss in a future post.

Grant, R.E., 2011. Richard E Grant unravels origins of The Arabian Nights. BBC World. Available at: [09/03/2015]

The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights Summary and Analysis of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” [online]. Grade Saver. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

2009. The History of the Arabian Nights [online]. Candlelight Stories. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

Doniger, W., 2012. The Magic of the Arabian Nights [online]. The Times Literary Supplement. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights [online]. Grade Saver. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

Al-Olaqi, F., 2012. The Influence of the Arabian Nights on English Literature: A Selective Study [online]. Academia. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

Trueman, C. The Crusades [online]. The History Learning Site. Available at: [Accessed 09/03/2015]

Setting Up the Historical Adaptation

Constantinople and Jerusalem

A Brief History…

For a story that would take place during the first crusade, it was quite clear from the beginning that two of the main locations should be the great cities of Jerusalem and Constantinople (Istanbul).

The crusades were a series of military campaigns against the muslims of the middle East. The city of Jerusalem was important to both christians and muslims who, for two hundred years, either fought to recapture or keep the city. For my research, I have chosen to look more closely at the beginning of these wars: the First Crusade.

As I explained in a previous post, the first crusade took place in the year 1096 and lasted until 1099. In 1076, the muslims captured Jerusalem hence making it hard for christians to continue going there for pilgrimage. Therefore, Alexius I of Constantinople, fearing to be in turn invaded by the muslims, sought help from the pope Urban II. After the latter’s speech of 1095 in France, many volunteered to join the crusades. In 1097, nearly 10,000 people had gathered at Constantinople, ready to journey to the Holy Land. The first city targeted by the troops was Nicaea, followed by Antioch, before they eventually arrived at Jerusalem in 1099. The taking of the city is said to have been a massacre.

The Palace of Antiochos and the Palace of Lausus

If the tale of Donkey Skin was to be set during this time period, I needed to clear some things up to ensure that the story would make sense. Because it is meant to be set in our world (although the genre would be that of historical fiction), the look of the designs needs to be truthful, to a certain extent, to the those of the period. The princess and her family would be living in Constantinople. Therefore, there wouldn’t be a king, his queen and their daughter, but rather a rich important family who happened to own a very particular donkey. I researched the sorts of buildings and architectural style of the Byzantine empire and found two very interesting places that could be used as a base for the design of the family’s wealthy home: the Palace of Antiochos and the Palace of Lausus. The Palace of Antiochos was built in the 5th century however, its hexagonal hall is said to have been converted into a church in the 7th century. Therefore, at the time of the first crusade in the 11th century, the palace would no longer be a private property; it would already have been confiscated by the emperor. However, it would still have been standing and perhaps could be used as the background for the property of Donkey Skin’s family. I then went on to look at the Palace of Lausus. It is such an interesting building that was unfortunately destroyed in the fire of 475. The owner Lausus’s estate was renowned throughout the city for its great collection of heroic and mythological statues including the statue of Zeus at Olympia. There are several reconstruction images of the two buildings available which are interesting to look at. The map shown below gives an idea of the shape the buildings would have had, however the design itself is left to interpretation:


“Antiochos & Lausos palaces”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –


Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture and Style

Byzantine architecture was abandoned in Europe after the fall of the Empire in the 5th century. However it continued to last in the east, in Byzantium and its capital Constantinople. Romanesque architecture appeared around the 11th century in Europe and was popular up until the late 12th century. It was then replaced by the gothic style. In Jerusalem, the style of the buildings would differ from those found in Constantinople. Some buildings would have features from the byzantine period which lasted until the mid 7th century. Byzantine architecture borrowed many elements from the Romans but was then further developed by the Byzantines themselves. The original church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was built in the 4th century and borrowed features from byzantine architecture. The Nea church and the Golden Gate may also have been built during the byzantine period. The monastery of the Holy Cross was built in the 11th century; it’s an example of romanesque architecture that can be found in Jerusalem. The church of Saint Anne as it is known today, was rebuilt by the crusaders in 1140 in the style of romanesque buildings.

Overall, Jerusalem is a city with a very rich history and architectural style. When designing for an 11th century street of Jerusalem, I looked up many pictures of small alleyways and old buildings from the Old City. Paintings are also a good resource; a couple representing market places in Cairo and Jaffa have been helpful.

Jerusalem ref

Rom Arch 1

Rom Arch 2

Rom Arch 3

Moving on to the costumes, I have been researching byzantine style clothing which is a sort of continuation of the clothes the romans used to wear. Clothes of the period are quite different and original; I personally find that they fit the story well as it is possible to give them a fairy tale look while keeping them truthful to something that could have been made back then.

I also need to look at the clothes of the crusaders and the saracens. The idea is to have Donkey Skin travel with the crusaders in an attempt to escape her family. She would end up at the siege of Jerusalem where she would hide out until she meets the equivalent of her prince. I thought about having her witness the massacre by the crusaders of the population of Jerusalem. As I mentioned in a previous post, I would like to make the historic adaptation a film rated R, or at least something not appropriate for an audience below 15. Keeping this in mind, I’d like to explore the way one can create a real visual contrast in a film. Basically, at the beginning, when the story is set in Constantinople, visually, the film would be colourful and lively. However this would slowly change, until the battle scene in Jerusalem which would be quite striking and gore; very different from the way the story had initially started. It should depict a realistic picture of war.

What I am planning to research in the next few days is a costume that would reconcile the donkey skin disguise with an actual crusader outfit, with perhaps a hint of Byzantine style to indicate that the protagonist is not from Europe.

Why the Crusades?

Because I wanted to try to imagine a historical adaptation of a fairy tale, I thought I might as well go even further with this idea and set it somewhere unexpected. Instead of having the scene set in Europe, probably during the middle ages, I thought about having the action take place somewhere far. Somewhere which would not immediately be associated with fairy tales. Thus I thought of the Middle East. Then, going on to research a major historic event that would serve as a background for the setting of the story, I decided to learn more about the crusades.

The tales of the arabian nights are similar to fairy tales, and each genre has borrowed elements from the other in the past. Some stories are direct translations with different names and places. So while fairy tales set in the middle east may seem a little far fetched at first, I believe that, if handled carefully, they can work. After all, what real difference is there between a fairy godmother and a genie?


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