Monday, November 11, 2013

Fairy tales and Arranged Marriages

Fairy tales have been intertwined with messages against arranged marriages for hundreds of years now. The French salon fairy tales of the 1700s were largely written by feminists encouraging marriage for love; the whole notion of love at first sight which many people today criticize in fairy tales was a way of promoting the idea that women could marry young men their own ages they considered attractive, instead of older, abusive husbands, as was sadly so often the case. The whole Animal Bridegroom series of fairy tales is thought to have been largely encouragement to girls who were about to be married off to men that might seem monstrous.

Clearly the world has changed since then. Arranged marriages are getting pretty rare these days, and the average person expects to marry for love (with a few exceptions, like the Indian and Orthodox Jewish cultures, where arranged marriages are more common). Which is why is always surprises me that the message in popular YA novels and other fairy tales seems to have stayed the same. It's no longer a provocative message, but someone merely preaching to the choir. I thought as much when I saw Disney/Pixar's Brave. No, I don't think you should force your daughter to marry, but the movie isn't watched by young princesses being forced to wed princes they don't love, but mostly young girls years away from marriage who were probably planning on choosing a spouse anyway.

I'm not saying parents are perfect these days and don't impose their will inappropriately, but the message can go too far, especially when the media acts like it's giving us this revolutionary message which it's really not. There's still a lot to be said for trusting the wisdom of parents and those who have been around longer. Though parents can make choices selfishly, young and inexperienced people in love can also act very foolishly and make decisions they regret.

It's not a fairy tale, but I just finished reading Kristin Lavransdatter, a book written in the 1920s but set in medieval Norway. The book is about the life of a woman who rejects the man her parents arrange for her to marry and marries for love instead. I'm so used to the modern "arranged marriage=bad" message that I was expecting the book to have the same message, but it doesn't. In fact what I love about the book is it shows how complex any marriage situation is-the marriages that were approved of and those that were chosen by the couples. Neither is all good and neither is all bad; no character in the book is without flaws yet no one is without redeeming value. The book explores very messy relationships over time, and it's really a good book to have read right before getting married.

It would be nice to get more fairy tale interpretations like this. It seems these days its either the same happily ever after versions for children, which end at the wedding with happiness implied, or the twisted, dark versions being redone for adults. What about versions that are realistic without being entirely depressing or going for shock value? Books and movies that challenge you and encourage young, single people to choose their relationships wisely?

By the way, this interesting article by Ezriel Gelbfish recognizes that while not all arranged marriages are successful (and let's face it, many love marriages aren't either), statistically they tend to work. Fairy tales are cited as one of the reasons love marriages fail: “We grow up on fairy tales and movies in which magical forces help people find their soul mates, with whom they effortlessly live happily ever after...The fairy tales leave us powerless, putting our love lives into the hands of the Fates.”


  1. That is very true, parents usually are much wiser than the media portrays. I know of so many modern 'love' marriages that have ended up failing, where the parents have been against the marriage or not been too happy about it.

  2. I'm so glad I found this blog! You may like the movie Frozen that's coming out late November -- it's a fairy tale sort of against love at first sight, which will be refreshing, and has a positive relationship between two sisters, which is also rare. It's "inspired" by the Snow Queen story but is very quite different from it.