Like most children, growing up I inhaled all the usual suspects when it came to fairy tales. Of course, we’re talking about stories that had been Disney-fied to one saccharine extreme or another.
The upside is that I had fun discovering adventures in books and films that left me with a syrupy sweet outlook on life—like following every meal with a dish of rocky road ice cream. I sailed through childhood and even young adulthood blissfully unaware of the deeper themes or symbolism lurking in these stories.
The down side is that I was missing out on the really heady stuff—The Dark Side of fairy tales, as it were. All that changed, however, when I read a fairy tale collection that presented uncensored versions of the classics.
That’s when I truly lost my fairy tale virginity.
As it turns out, crossing over to the
Dark Enlightened Side was actually quite painless.
Originally, fairy tales served as cautionary stories for children and adults. These ranged from warnings about unprotected sex to cannibalism to rape. But somehow, much of it became lost in translation. At times, the change was deliberate in order to render the stories more suitable for children. (My hope is that this was done in recognition of their developmental needs rather than for profiteering.)
Perhaps the more innocent versions actually strengthened my love of fairy tales—certainly, I never experienced any kind of visceral fear while reading them. Those nostalgic feelings contributed to my seeking them out years later, to relive the ecstasy contained therein.
Little did I know as I settled down in a comfortable chair to read the collection, but my proverbial cherry was about to explode [Spoiler Alert if you prefer keeping your own intact]:
• When they told you the Big Bad Wolf ate Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, it had nothing to do with the culinary arts and everything to do with his carnal tastes.
Fast Forward to the Future
One would think fairy tales are pretty far removed from science fiction, but they’re not. Fairy tale themes and concepts are woven throughout many books and films. One of the most famous examples is Luke Skywalker, a thinly veiled Cinderella.
Spielberg apparently can’t get enough either, since he presented us with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Artificial Intelligence: AI (the latter being based on, as many of you probably know, the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss).
“I’ve got no strings to hold me down,” indeed!
Other books featuring “fairy tale motifs” are Samuel R. Delany’s Babel‐17 (1966), Vonda N. McIntyre’s Superluminal (1984), and Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (1991),” while Stanislaw Lem “…used fairy‐tale structures to parody the foibles of his robot inventors in the short stories collected as The Cyberiad (1967).”
In science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair’s An Accidental Goddess, “Raheiran Special Forces Captain Gillaine Davré has just woken up in some unknown space station, wondering where the last three hundred years have gone.” I’d wager Sleeping Beauty might be wondering the same thing!
Occasionally the similarity is more overt. Here’s a few that offer an SF twist on fairy tale classics:
Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen
The short story “The Good Mother” from the collection Truly Grim Tales by Priscilla Galloway.
…and now, Jordan Summers’ Red, a new science fiction romance novel that poses the intriguing question: What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf were the same person? Red is the first of a trilogy called The Dead World Series—“a near-future, post apocalyptic twist on the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale.”
To help complement the above, here are some additional resources about fairy tales for your reading pleasure:
Science Fiction and Fairy Tales by Amelia A. Rutledge
Sur La Lune
In The Dark Wood: Abuse Themes in Common Fairy Tales by Anna Roberts
While not SF, I’d be remiss to not mention Fables, DC Comics’ excellent Vertigo series that plops the magical kith and kin into the prosaic world of contemporary NYC.
And speaking of Jordan Summers’ Red, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky passenger at The Galaxy Express as part of a week long celebration of her work!
To enter, leave a comment at this post anytime between Friday, November 21 and 9 p.m. on Sunday, November 23, 2008 (contest limited to U.S. residents).
Then avail yourself of the black-puddings buffet while yodeling your love of Fables-like fare (or, um, on second thought, let’s just stick with the yodeling).
[Fables cover image by the inestimable James Jean.]