As I’ve said, my goal in my Master’s Program is to somehow finagle every paper I write for the next year and a half into focusing on the genre of the fairy tale. So far, I have managed to succeed in my first three classes, including a 22 page monstrosity where I compared the first half of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights to the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and the second half of the same novel to Cinderella. It is amazing to me how many novels, movies, and plays either subtly or boldly reference fairy tales, and it is certainly not just Brontë who does so in her work. Fairy tales are a universal.
I feel like I introduced this borrowing of fairy tales elements and motifs in my Wuthering Heights paper in a semi-intelligent manner, so here it is:
“There was once upon a time…” is the opening line of every one of Charles Perrault’s fairy stories; it is the single most identifiable phrase in literature; as soon as one hears it, one knows that a fairytale is about to follow, brimming with dastardly villains, wicked stepmothers, and magical beings. Because every culture has its own versions of these stories, and the fact that their themes and lessons are still relevant today, fairytales have been inured into the very fabric of western culture and thought through centuries of retellings. Through careful examination, one can even find innumerable places where fairytale motifs have been employed in other mediums, like the satirized fairytale characters in DreamWorks’ Shrek, and the adaptation of the “Little Mermaid” in the opera Rulsalka. Furthermore, the fairytale’s pervasiveness has left an indelible mark on literature as a whole.
Think about it. If you pay attention, you will find references to fairy tales even in genres that you would least expect it. Carol accuses Ezekiel of selling his people a fairy tale in The Walking Dead. In Stephen King’s Carrie, it says, “They were still all beautiful and there was still enchantment and wonder, but she had crossed a line and now the fairy tale was green with corruption and evil.” In BBC’s Sherlock, Moriarty tells Sherlock that “Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain.”
Fairy tales, which started out in the oral storytelling tradition, have morphed over the intervening centuries into the literary canon and then into Pop Culture. In short, they are everywhere.
In this blog I will document some of the unexpected places in movies and television where I find these references, but while I continue with my degree, I will especially be looking for these references in all forms of literature. I will keep everyone apprised as I stumble upon them. Enjoy. 🙂