These are not concepts reserved to the very young.
Ultimately this is what fairy tales are: stories, albeit with certain characteristics that have been observed by later scholars. J.R.R Tolkien commented in his essay:
And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or
fundamental Things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the
more luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be ‘free with’
Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the
potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood,
and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.
How then did works of this genre begin to receive the reputation of being children’s literature? Tolkien notes that is “an accident of our domestic history . . . .” and explicitly states that “ . . . . fairy-stories should not be specially associated with children.” This “accident of domestic history” includes the fact that many fairy tales were told in the nursery by nannies spreading the oral tales they heard while growing up. The popular children’s adaptations of the Twentieth Century helped perpetuate this perception, especially the Disney movies. Yet just because people view these as stories for children, do not make them so. G.K. Chesterton obliquely asserted this when he wrote that “A fairy tale is a tale told in a morbid age to the only remaining sane person, a child.”
While the debate may still rage among Once Upon a Time fans about how true the show is to the fairy-tale genre, it is certain that the show oozes an immense love of stories. This affection has been a part of humanity from its inception and has evolved throughout History. Not meant for children, and consistent with the great stories acclaimed as literature, fairy-stories as presented in Once Upon a Time are an extension of this. Time will tell, but I can see a day not too far in the future when Rumbelle are canon in the same manner as Aurora and Phillip who danced in 1959 to “Once Upon a Dream.”
Chesterton also wrote of a key element to understanding Fairy Tales:
If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of
them to the other - the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition.
This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness
of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven
on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance; but she must be back when
the clock strikes twelve. The king may invite fairies to the christening, but he must invite
all the fairies or frightful results will follow. Bluebeard's wife may open all doors but one.
A promise is broken to a cat, and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a
yellow dwarf, and the whole world goes wrong. A girl may be the bride of the God of
Love himself if she never tries to see him; she sees him, and he vanishes away. A girl is
given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of this world
rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition that they do not eat
one fruit: they eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth.
The aforementioned adult elements are present in the stories of Once Upon A Time. There was that single forbidden act Mary Margaret and David did when they committed adultery. For other characters there is Rumplestiltskin who chose magic, Emma who passed up innumerable opportunities to believe her son, and Regina who held to resentment over other people’s happiness. This is but a sample of examples from the show. As for the “non-fairy tale stories” the television show has included, most notoriously for some the novel Frankenstein, they too contain these elements. Consider that the great transgression Frankenstein committed was, like Adam and Eve, to play God. The same is true to those who break the natural law in fairy tales. This could logically bring one to the conclusion that the inclusion of Frankenstein is not only acceptable within Once Upon a Time and the themes of fairy tales, but consistent with them.
J.R.R. Tolkien noted in his essay “On Fairy Stories” that “fairy stories . . . are very ancient indeed . . . they are found universally, wherever there is language . . . . The history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race . . . .“ This has been confirmed many times over through both literary research as well as archaeology. An article published in The Telegraph in 2009 found that familiar tales such as “Red Riding Hood” have roots more than two-thousand years old.* Since in every culture a good story has always been appreciated by both adults and children, it is safe to say that this was not considered a child’s tale. Moreover Homer’s epics and others were orally transmitted and told to the whole community. The holy books of all major religions including the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran were also disseminated in this manner. Naturally, many of these are still revered as true stories, but it is not the focus of this essay to examine the religious truths that many hold associated with these works. Rather this study is to examine, as Ursula K. LeGuin has been quoted as saying, that “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
Fairy Tales: Adult Stories
by Teresa Martin--(@Teresa__Martin)
Fairy Tales today are viewed as stories for children. Indeed many of them are suitable for young people, especially the adapted books and cartoons. Yet when viewed objectively, the original tales were works of jealously, murder, torture, and sexuality. Hardly fare for children. These are adult tales that can claim as their ancestors epics from the ancient people of India, the Middle and Far East, the Mediterranean, and peoples of Europe. It was the circumstances of the Nineteenth Century which erroneously imbedded people’s minds with the view that fairy tales were for children. Two great English writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton wrote influential essays in the first half of the Twentieth Century refuting this. Their works can be used to support the assertion that a show like Once Upon a Time fulfills the qualities of great drama and is consistent with the traditions of the Fairy Tale genre.
Moreover Once Upon a Time is a part of the tradition of the last centuries to adapt fairy tales not merely through cultural lenses, but also through a single writer’s vision. Hence the French Perrault version of “Sleeping Beauty” is very different from the Grimm’s German. Was Disney supposed to hold true to these tales? Apparently not since I have read the originals cover to cover and neither mentions a young princess named Aurora who sings and dances with birds. Also, there is no Prince named Phillip who appears and waltzes with her to the glorious music of Tchaikovsky. Adaptations adapt. Once Upon a Time stays true to this pattern, with perhaps the taking of liberties a little farther than some of the cartoons. This show takes all of the timeless tales and molds them together in somewhat unexpected, but logical ways. The Beast could very easily be a metaphorical monster. Many fan fictions of the cartoon have already explored that option. Furthermore, surely Snow and Charming got pregnant immediately and had a crisis on their way to Happily Ever After. These options are open, compatible, and, one could argue, a fitting tribute to the age-old tradition of story-telling.
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.