Thursday, July 7, 2011

Our Favorites: Re-Told Fairy Tales

Into the WoodsI was in about fourth grade when I saw Into the Woods on stage for the first time. This musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, intertwines multiple fairy tales--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and several others--telling each story in its familiar version in the first act. At intermission, I bumped into one of my teachers, who had seen the show before. I told him how much I was enjoying myself, and he suggested that I go home and not see the second act, so that I continue to feel happy about what I had seen.

I stayed and saw the second act. And while I was a little shaken up at the time, I am so glad that I stayed. Sure, the second act of Into the Woods challenges the idea of "happily ever after," but in doing so, it provides a means for fairy tales to become more than familiar bedtime stories that fit in a comfortable box created by "once upon a time" and "they lived happily ever after." It provides a way for them to speak to the issues that we all deal with in everyday life.

Fast-forward to my high-school years. I was part of a contemporary issues peer-education group, and one of our main roles was to provide sexual harassment and assault education for middle school and high school students around the state. To do this, we performed a play called "Alice in Sexual Assault Land," where we took familiar fairy tales and used them to talk about issues like date rape, teasing someone because of her appearance or sexual orientation, and the consequences of harassment and assault. The familiar fairy tales provided us with a way to grab the students' attention and make them feel comfortable, even at home, while our contemporary retellings challenged them to think about their own lives and actions in a new way.

It is this juxtaposition of the familiar and the uncomfortable, the simple and the challenging, that I think is the real power of the fairy tale retelling. Kat Howard and I are both big fans of this genre, and to continue our celebration of the release of Jim Hine's The Snow Queen's Shadow, we thought we'd list a few more of our favorites.Tam Lin
What are some of your favorites?  List them in the comments!