Saturday, April 12, 2014

Little Red Writing Hood

This would really fit as a part of my recent post "Fairy Tale Lesson Plans," but one of my students was just telling me about the play her class is putting on. When I heard it was a fairy tale mashup I was of course fascinated.

The play (which may be this one? I don't think so though) begins with Little Red Writing Hood, who has the script to her own story and others, and she uses her pencil to make changes to the script. When the wolf comes, she doesn't want to be eaten, so she changes him into a ballerina to make him harmless (although, ballet dancers are STRONG and have incredible endurance, so I wouldn't necessarily choose that but, you know, fourth grade play). When Goldilocks is being chased by the bears, Writing Hood changes her into a bear cub and the family adopts her. Writing Hood introduces Prince Charming to Little Miss Muffett, etc.
Harry Clarke

At first I was thinking, all right, a play that encourages empowerment and learning from other people's mistakes, and hopefully inspires a love of writing and the ability to create your own stories, that's great. But then in the second half, Writing Hood's changes have begun to get out of hand. Goldilocks doesn't want to be a bear any more, Charming wants to take Miss Muffett to the ball so now Cinderella is all alone, and none of the solutions were as simple as she thought-and now she's run out of eraser. Enter the FBI-the Fairy tale Believers Incorporated (haha). They take over and change the script back to what it was supposed to be, because "fairy tales shouldn't be changed." When Writing Hood protests that she doesn't want to be eaten by the wolf, the FBI reminds her that she knows she'll get rescued.

Does this ending possibly contradict the empowerment/learning from mistakes that I thought at the beginning? Maybe. Whenever there's a story that involves magic or supernatural abilities, I think it is important to address the possibility of such powerful forces getting out of our control. The world of Faerie is dark and the creatures there are known for being tricksters and not bending to the will of humans easily. And there is definitely truth to the concept that we can't just avoid all unpleasant experiences in life-sometimes we just have to endure things, although I don't blame anyone for wanting to avoid being eaten alive by a wolf.
*Fairy Tale Mashups-Christian Lindemann

I just think the conclusion is very telling. Many people have this idea that fairy tales are sacred and don't realize that the versions we now know as "traditional" underwent many, many changes to become that way. With all of these new versions of fairy tales coming out, it can be so tricky to  reinterpret the tales in a way that isn't ignorant of the tale's history or other modern versions. People grew up with traditional tales (whether Grimm or Disney or probably a combination thereof) and some people are resistant to the idea of changing these stories that resonated with us so much in childhood.

Being an elementary school play we shouldn't read into it too much, but it still reflects how people interact with fairy tales, and to any kid who is ever in that play, the story will probably stick with them for a while.


  1. I first ran into the idea that "folklore means we can change things" in a statement from Peter Yarrow, where he said he has no problem with people changing the lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon" because that's what folk music is meant to be - music of the folk who make it their own. Ever since I've dropped the idea that there is a "correct" or, as you put it, "sacred" version of any folk art, particularly folk tale, and it's very freeing indeed.

  2. That's great when an artist can feel free to let other people play around with his work like that.

    And while fairy tales are extremely malleable, to be a devil's advocate here, is there such thing as taking things too far or having too much freedom? Many popular versions of fairy tales, from Disney to the show Once Upon a Time, have received criticism for how they were handled. Are there ways to respect the old tales in the changing and evolving process? Or is it completely up to each creator and there's no wrong way to rewrite fairy tales?

    1. Hmm. This is a tricky thing. First of all, we need to acknowledge that there are some stories that probably shouldn't be changed much because they aren't "folk". The tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde and L. Frank Baum, for instance.

      You know, I'm not even sure I can answer this question. Personally, I love the idea of folk tales being a sort of "open-source" form of creativity. However, I've also found issue with certain takes on them because either they left out a part I liked or twisted around a meaning I saw in the original or maybe I just thought I told it better. I find it's often easier to accept tweaks and expansions of the old stories rather than top-down rewrites. For example, if you kept the same sequence of events but expanded on things in-between. The reason for this being that the storyline, the plot and sequence of events, are often all a folk tale has. The characters are generally just standard archetypes with professions (woodsman, soldier, tailor) or physical descriptions (Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood) in the place of names. At that point, it's a question of how much you can change the story before it becomes a different story entirely. My problem with Disney is . . . well, I've got lots of problems with Disney. But the biggest thing is how they have such power in our culture over the perception of the old tales to the point where many accept them as a kind of fairy tale canon. At that point, it feels like the folk tales have been taken out of the hands of the folk and put into the hands of Hollywood. However, that's a long, detailed Fairy Tale Fandom blog post for another day.

    2. I don't know if I'd say literary fairy tales shouldn't be tampered with over ones that were told orally. Even the tales of Andersen, for example, were usually based off of tales he heard in childhood and have many similarities to other fairy tales that came from the oral tradition. And according to some people (Ruth Bottigheimer, for example), all the fairy tales we think of as orally passed down by the folk really all came from Straparola and Basile's literary versions.

      Plus, it's not necessarily a sign of disrespect to an author to use their story as inspiration. Often it helps to keep the "original" story alive and in people's minds.

      I don't claim to have an answer either, in fact there really is no way to draw a line, it's all very subjective and there's lots of gray areas. But it's something I've been mulling over myself and worth discussing!

    3. Another thing to consider is how much we seem to respect the past generations more than we do the present one. We treat old books like they were perfect. Back then, there was a lot more that went into critiquing a story, or stories were critiqued much differently than they are today. Books and fairy tales/folktales. Especially when someone is making a movie "based" on a book, we get mad because we think the director is going to "ruin it".
      Nothing under the sun is new, though. Nothing is completely original.
      Should poor people have more respect for their stories than rich people? Then again, true, Hollywood probably mostly just wants money and doesn't care about the quality of story.

  3. It's true-back when the Grimms published their volume of Children and Household Tales, THAT was the newfangled version and the Perrault tales were probably the ones considered "authentic", and so on it goes back through time. It reminds me of the movie Midnight in Paris-some people just have a tendency to value antique things, not necessarily because it's better quality, but just because it's old.