How modern adaptations of fairytales, within illustrated literature, are creating powerful female heroines?
What interests me about the fairytale?
I’ve always been interested in fairytales ever since my mum bought me my first illustrated collection of fairy stories which were retellings by Berlie Dougherty and illustrated by Jane Ray. I’m interested in how classic fairy tales still resonate with audiences today, I feel like they’re always being adapted and having new life breathed into them by authors who want to tell a story differently from the last.
What I want to find out?
How modern adaptations of fairy tales present female characters and femininity.
What’s my argument?
That I think more fairy stories need to be modernised to include powerful female characters so that women are not always presented as the ones who need rescuing. I like the idea of adapting a story rather than creating new stories, because the stories themselves are interesting but the character could be adapted for a new generation.
Lines of inquiry
What is a fairy tale:
Common female tropes and roles within the fairytale:
The motherless girl; What do Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine all have in common? They don't have mothers. The death of fictional mothers contains elements of misogyny, serving to split women into two (the "good" dead mother and the "evil" stepmother) in fairy tales and to glorify fathers in modern-day stories.
Evil Step mother/sisters: The main characters of fairy tales are often not only without mothers, but also without supportive women to turn to, period. Instead, female fairy tale characters are in competition, whether for things like the prince in "Cinderella" or the title of "fairest of them all" in "Snow White." This trope implies that women are a threat to one another and men are the only people who can offer anything positive to a woman's life.
Romanticised sexual violence: The original versions of "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty" contain overt sexual violence. In Giambattista Basile's "Sun, Moon, and Talia," the predecessor of "Sleeping Beauty," the princess actually wakes up when she gives birth to the children of the prince, who has raped her in her sleep. And in the original "Snow White," the prince pretty kidnaps Snow White while she's unconscious. These plot lines depict women as objects that princess are entitled to do what they want with, and they don't even depict this as negative.
The knight in shining armour: One problematic aspect of fairy tales that's frequently discussed is their focus on a woman's longing to be rescued from her lonely life by a man. Fairy tales like "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel" end when a man saves a woman from her uneventful single life, which can encourage the girls hearing these stories to believe that the way to find happiness is to find and marry a high-status, conventionally attractive, masculine man like the princes they've read about in stories or seen in movies.
The Witch: As seen in fairy tales like "Hansel and Gretel," "Snow White," and "Sleeping Beauty," the trope of the evil witch smacks of both sexism and ageism. The stigmatization of witches historically has roots in misogyny; many historians have argued that the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries targeted women in particular for being independent and forming spiritualities free from patriarchal religions. In addition, the witch is usually an old woman, suggesting that all a woman can be as she ages is a jealous adversary who lives all alone in the woods. Like the evil stepmom and stepsisters, the evil witch trope pits women against one another and leaves them to rely on men for all positive relationships, neglecting all the ways women — especially older women — can help one another.
Examples of modern adaptations