For centuries, when people have had to explain the harshness of this world to their children, they’ve turned to fairy tales. Not to soften the blow, or to give things a fictive sheen—rather they’ve used them to stare unflinchingly into the darkest places of the human psyche. They have given us monstrous husbands who murder their brides; starving children abandoned in the woods; beasts, and the beauties who love them. A variety of cultures have adapted these stories to their own needs, and it’s because of this resonance that so many authors go back to fairy tales to explore changes in society. Victorians turned them into harsh but G-rated bromides to keep kids in line, without scaring them too much. Disney scoured off any weirdness and slapped happy, heteronormative endings on every story.
With this in mind I took a look at some of our readers’ favorite fairy tale retellings, especially some of your Twitter suggestions! What I found is that some of the best modern tales use the lens of the fantastic to examine issues of gender, class, and race, going beyond a basic “feminist” version or “racially diverse” version of a story to dig into some of the darkness that haunts society today. The best of the books, television, and film I looked at give us ways to see old stories from new perspectives, and if you’re looking for reading and viewing over the holiday season, the following titles will not let you down.
[Grab some breadcrumbs and let’s start walking...]