A Literary and Multi-Medial Analysis of Selected Fairy Tales and Adaptations

Or: How Fairy Tales live Happily Ever After

Master's Thesis, 2012

116 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of Contents



The Fairy Tale
Origins and Definition
How Fairy Tales Echo throughout the World

The Adaptation
Adapting Literature
Adapting Fairy Tales
Adapting from different Media
Adapting to different Media
Adapting to the Screen
Disney and the re-invented Fairy Tale
Illustrative Adaptations

A Bed of Greens
Maiden(s) in the Tower
Rapunzel’s early years – and no man in sight
A Fateful Slip of the Tongue
The Duality of all Things
Contemporary Adaptations
Tangled (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard 2010)

Little Red Riding Hood
Spinning the Tale from Myths
Literary Variations & Pre-stories
The Grandmother’s Tale – finding the strength within
Perrault’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge – sharing the hunger
The Grimm’s Little Red Cap – change awaits
Cultural backgrounds
The wolf - father – seducer and protector
The two mothers – an (un)conscious battle
Contemporary Adaptations
Literary Adaptations
Angela Carter
Cinematic Adaptations
The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan 1984)
Red Riding Hood (Catherine Hardwicke 2011)



Eidesstattliche Erklärung



I am very grateful for the support of my two supervisors Dr. Geoff Parker and Dr. Günter Rinke. Their dedication and evident passion for their respective work has truly been a great inspiration for me. Even though fairy tales have never been merely tales to me, I was delighted to gain more insight and explore the multifarious depths of this genre in their seminars Self, Identity and Alterity in Modern and Contemporary Literature (Dr. Parker) and Märchen und Märchenadaptionen (Dr. Rinke). I would also like to express my thanks to Dr. Parker for his generous assistance and advice during the final semester, or, if this was a fairy tale: during the final stage. My interest and appreciation for literature studies have never been greater and I would like to hold these two proficient university lecturers accountable for it. Thank you.

On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to my mother for her devoted support and guidance on rainy days, as well as to the rest of my family for being my rock whenever I set sail to foreign lands. Last but not least, I would also like to acknowledge my best friend, flatmate and fellow student of five years, Manuela Wiegmann – together we made it.


Once there was a girl who went to bed at seven PM just to hear one more story from a land that lies east of the sun and west of the moon - to wonder how straw could possibly be spun into gold overnight and to marvel at King Thrushbeard’s clever, yet deceiving wits. Now I read those tales of wonder to my nieces myself, only to discover the same excitement in their eyes that I, too, once felt. And still feel, for fairy tales never cease to amaze. Today I might not be sitting on my bed, waiting for someone to read or recite a classic tale or an old myth to me, but I am nevertheless eager to witness new forms and ways for my old tales to be told, in different countries, under different roofs. Today I hear storytellers all around me, wonder at the current recovery of fairy tale films and marvel at Annie Leibovitz’s conceptual, yet beautiful photographs. As I am finding myself in a process of constant changing and adapting, I am once again accompanied by an old friend, the tale.

In a Darwinian sense, the term adaptation manifests first and foremost survival through evolution, a theory I find very applicable to literary studies, and more specifically, to the concept of continuity with regard to classic fairy tales. I therefore argue in my paper that contemporary adaptations of fairy tales positively affect the continuance of the tradition of storytelling. Adaptations influence the audience’s perception of foregone fairy tales and, depending on the former’s success, may be established as part of the collective memory, which ensures the survival of the fairy tale.

In order to further explore my thesis, I chose and analysed various adaptations of two classic fairy tales and compared them to the source fairy tale, its origins and its influence in modern times. Before I will specifically concentrate on the tales of Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, I will start my paper by giving an introduction to the fairy tale genre in general, as well as to the art and techniques of adaptation.

Over the past decades, a lot of scientific works have been published concerning the most popular fairy tales, e.g. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. In fact, this was done in such a great quantity that I did not feel very compelled to write about any of the afore-mentioned fairy tales. Instead, I noticed that within a time frame of mere four months, new film adaptations of the classic tales Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood were to be released in theatres, which gave me a first idea. The movies Tangled (Disney, 2010) and Red Riding Hood (Hardwicke, 2011) eventually turned out to take up most of my examination, as their genre-conform approaches impressively differ from one another and their respective source material. Nevertheless, I will also draw on other fairy tales and their adapted forms as illustrative examples.

I wholeheartedly agree with Sandra Beckett that retold fairy tales can be marked as an “interplay of tradition and innovation” (Recycling Red Riding Hood (2002), xx). Adapting and adjusting start where mere copying ends. It takes the product, or in this case story, beyond its original parameters, shaping it anew but preserving the core at the same time. It may be stripped bare until only the most distinctive features remain, translated into different times or even circumstances. Especially fairy tales were designed for exactly this: to be most fitting in any situation, anywhere and anytime, profession irrelevant. The short prose of fairy tales or even the slightly longer ones known as fairy tale novellas allow audience and adapters to fill the gaps, to extend the story or simply provide a new livery – in this regard the possibilities seem to be endless.

Before I started to write this paper, I had been tempted to use the German term ‘Märchen’ instead of ‘fairy tale’ for it recaps the main concept in one single word. The former established long before the seventeenth century term ‘fairy tale’, which is in fact rather misleading as the fairy tale does not define itself to necessarily include fairies. ‘Märchen’ on the other hand is the hypernym of both folk and literary tale (‘Kunstmärchen’). Other English translations for ‘Märchen’ are ‘tales of magic’ or ‘tales of enchantment’ which all hint at the supernatural plots they commonly feature. Then again, fairies can also be counted as a metaphor for otherworldly occurrences, which is the reason why I held on to the term ‘fairy tale’ in this paper.

As time passed, classic tales have grown in all kinds of directions, from the hearth to the stage, onto paper and screen. They will continue to do so and in my mind, this is not a violation of tradition or distorting their original character, but a tradition itself and proof for every storyteller’s imagination. If we take a closer look at some tales, especially those by the brothers Grimm, we soon realise that the motif of conveying certain morals is just a superficial layer that has mostly been added once the group of listeners and readers became increasingly younger. In the old times (during monocracy, slavery or serfdom) and amidst oral tradition, fairy tales were told to and by adults. They processed everyday experiences, expressed among hopes and fears, a need for equity and justice and included wishes that could only come true with the help of magic. After a great amount of fairy tales had been collected and written down (especially after the publication of the brothers Grimm’s first edition of Children’s and Household Tales, (1812)), the audience changed to that of mostly children. They remain as the main target group up until today, even though many fairy tales motifs and themes can be found in the entertainment world of adults as well.

Robert Stam, editor of Literature and Film (2005), further agrees that adaptations can be seen “as ‘mutations’ that help their source novel ‘survive’. Do not adaptations ‘ adapt to ’ changing environments and changing tastes, as well as to a new medium, with its distinct industrial demands, commercial pressures, censorship taboos, and aesthetic norms? And are adaptations not a hybrid form […]?” (cf. Stam 3).

On the other hand, he does not fail to outline the threat that adaptations pose to their literary sources for they can also be

“[…] seen as parasitical on their source texts and on the A-list prestige of literature. […] critics speak of adaptations which overwhelm and vampirize their sources, ‘sucking the life’ out of their ‘hosts’. (ibid).

Notwithstanding the manifold disapproving statements that have presumably existed ever since the very first fairy tale adaptation, Jack Zipes underlines my thesis by claiming that

“the tale is preserved in some manner and in many cases enriched […] and can become of a documented cultural heritage” (Zipes, The Enchanted Screen (2011), 11).

Chapter 1

The Fairy Tale

“I foresee that the Andersen and Fairy Tale fashion will not last; none of these things away from general nature do.” Mary Russell Mitford to Charles Boner (1848)

Origins and Definition

The curious thing about a fairy tale definition is that there is no consistent definition, only guidelines which include representative characters (or archetypes), themes and motifs and that are ever open for dispute. One of the difficulties is that the term fairy tale itself is too broad on the one hand, yet also too constrictive on the other. Some literature professors prefer to use the term ‘folk tale’, whereas others banish any foreign translation and keep the German word ‘Märchen’ as it is a more distinctly defined term. Stith Thompson published The Folktale in 1946 with the definition that a ‘Märchen’ is "a tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes. It moves in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and is filled with the marvelous. In this never-never land, humble heroes kill adversaries, succeed to kingdoms and marry princesses." (Thompson 8). As a sub-genre, the fairy tale belongs to the genre of general folktales, which also includes legends, fables and myths. However, the lines between those sub-genres are often indistinct and can blur easily, making it impossible to be properly distinguished from one other.

Fairy tales are furthermore understood as orally passed down narrations from generation to generation, with varying characters, order of events and endings. The popular saying ‘Tale as old as time’ refers to the practice of storytelling which is indeed thousands of years old and has probably developed along with the first signs of communication. Therefore, fairy tales are an assumed form of unwritten folk literature or, as Johann Gottfried Herder coined it, ‘natural poetry’, which Jacob Grimm understood as something creating itself (naturally, as opposed to a poet’s or writer’s concoction). Because of the romantic understanding that folk literature has always been present and seems therefore non-contrivable, the fairy tale’s origins are only seldom questioned. So, even though images of fairy tales are formed individually in the recipient’s mind, the concept of folklore leads them back to a collective source. This does not necessarily exclude the former, though historical, artistic or cultural influences as well as personal accounts regarding the perception of tales are not considered a priority in this theory. Again, in the sense of Herder, the concept has developed that fairy tales have become part of the ethnic soul with a transpersonal and time-transcending nature (cf. Liptay 40 f.).

The reason why origins of fairy tales are indeed explicitly difficult to trace, despite their longevity, is because of the little literary evidence there is, including cave art. In the old days, tales were told around the hearth or during a peasant’s daily work and were frequently acted out. The idea of collecting those stories told within a community became fashionable in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in the Western world and was further encouraged by the invention of the printing press in 1440. Giovanni Francesco Straparola published Le Piacevoli Notti (English title: The Facetious Nights of Straparola) in Italy in the middle of the sixteenth century, followed by Lo Cunto de li Cunti (The Tale of Tales or Pentamerone) by Neapolitan Giambattista Basile almost a hundred years later. Charles Perrault borrowed many stories, contained in his Contes de ma mère l'Oye (Tales of my Mother Goose, 1695) from Basile (e.g. Sleeping Beauty) and Straparola (e.g. Puss in Boots), along with other folktales from the French oral culture and adjusted them to the likings of the current society. Over a hundred years later, the brothers Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales also became one of the best-known fairy tale collections worldwide, popularising stories like Cinderella, The Frog King or Snow White up until today. While reading the latter’s tales, it becomes clear that many roots lie in the stories already told by Straparola (e.g. Iron John), Basile (e.g. Rapunzel) or Perrault (e.g. Little Red Riding Hood). In fact, all five authors hold a position somewhere between publishers of orally told folk tales and writers of literary fairy tales. They did not invent the whole story, but changed them enough (e.g. in style and context) that they were able to publish them under their own name and call them their property, so the adapted folk tale was no longer public property. In this sense and for the sake of more clarity, it was (unsuccessfully) attempted to establish the term ‘Buchmärchen’ (cf. Tismar, Kunstmärchen (1977), 48).

Whereas possessing books was a sign of luxury in former centuries, certain writings soon became affordable to the common people. Thus, the history of any tale preceding these ‘modern’ developments is inevitably vague and unclear. They are therefore called or declared folk tales due to the unidentifiable inventor or rather inventor s of such story. There are, however, exceptions to this. Lucius Apuleius’ tales, which include the well-known tale of Cupid and Psyche, date back to the ancient Rome of 100-200 AD. It is even preceded by the Indian Panchatantra from the third century BC as well as The Tale of the Two Brothers which is considered to be one of the oldest known fairy tales as it dates back to ancient Egypt in 1200 BC. Yet, how precisely those tales relate to popular narrations of their respective period of time and its people, remains unknown. They do, however, prove that the beginnings of collecting fairy tales started during antiquity and not, as opposed to popular belief, in the fourteenth century with the oriental collection of One Thousand and One Nights (cf. Diedrichs, Who’s who im Märchen (1995), 56).

Fairy tales had not been classified as a distinctive literature genre for a long time. They were merely considered or perceived as ‘Märchen’ or ‘Märlein’ – a fictive or funny short tale. Both German terms are diminutives of ‘Mär(e)’ which translates as lore or a piece of information. The term fairy tale first appeared in France in the late seventeenth century where the first ‘contes de fees’ were told at the French Court and literary salons by both noble women and men. Among them, of course, was Charles Perrault. Today’s meaning of fairy tales have mostly been coined by him as well as the brothers Grimm. Even though the latter’s collection also contains elements of legend, saga and fable, they are first and foremost tales of wonder and enchantment (cf. Rötzer, Literarische Texte verstehen und interpretieren (1994), 13).

Most popular volumes of collected fairy tales have remained mainly unchanged in their overall concept until today. This causes a so-called “Requisitenerstarrung” (Rötzer 12) – a ‘torpor’ of the accoutrements, i.e. of cultural, political and economic circumstances. In her book WunderWelten (2004), Fabienne Liptay refers to this as literary fixation (cf. Liptay 130). Over the centuries, fairy tales changed whenever society changed, mirroring the difficulties of everyday life albeit the magical elements. As the adjustments to the folk tales came to a stop, the process of actualising or updating the tales also halted and as a result, the conditions of life in the fairy tale no longer match the evolving reality of today.

‘Märchen’ can further be divided into folk tales and ‘Kunstmärchen’ - tales whose rights belong to a known and identifiable author and remain unchanged from the beginning. Dictionaries either translate the German term ‘Kunstmärchen’ as ‘fairy tale’ as well or as a ‘literary fairy tale’, making a proper assignment nearly impossible. Authors of literary fairy tales, such as Oscar Wilde, use the traditional form and structure, but invent their own fairy tales. His collection The Happy Prince and other Tales was published in 1888 and features many internationally known ‘Kunstmärchen’. The Happy Prince, e.g., is written in the according, aesthetic style, but with a less amount of naivety. Fairy tale novellas or novella fairy tales (i.e. longer tales) generally belong to the category of ‘Kunstmärchen’ as well. E.T.A. Hoffmann, author of The Golden Pot – A modern Fairy Tale (1814) added a more sinister or eerie taste to the fairy tale in his novellas. The possibly best known inventor of literary fairy tales, H. C. Andersen, created a unique style of his own that has become recognised and inspired many an adaptation worldwide. The atmosphere of oral narration remains ever present in his tales, even though their frequent ‘unhappy’ endings stand in stark contrast to the general concept of the fairy tale. Büchner drove the idea of an unexpected fairy tale ending even further when he presented his anti-fairy-tale called Fairy Tale of the Grandmother (in: Woyzeck 1879). Distinctive traits of the fairy tale are reversed and his tragic tale with the seemingly ‘wrong’ structure ends accordingly. It conveys no hope whatsoever to the reader, but reveals the harshness of reality in every line instead. Everyone is on his own in his life, which never ends happily, but always deathly.


According to Röhrich, fairy tales appeal to collective anxiety dreams as well as idle wishes and mirror general inner conflicts and the possibility of solution. Therefore, fairy tales affect everybody for they represent an everyman’s reality and more importantly, the longing for fulfilment of one’s own fortune and happiness. (Das Kontinuitätsproblem bei der Erforschung der Volksprosa. (1969) cf. Liptay 41).

There is no distinction between reality and the supernatural; both worlds are inseparably entwined in fairy tales. Laws of nature are naturally overruled, meaning that everything is possible in the fairy tale which may include actions like communicating with animals or meeting magical figures like sorcerers or witches. Well known opening formulae such as ‘Once upon a time…’ or similar first lines like ‘There once was…’ signalise that the plot of the fairy tale may take place anywhere and anytime. Furthermore it does not come as a surprise that many protagonists of various tales do not possess common names. Their names are often designations for the character’s appearance (e.g. Beauty, Dwarf), their everyday or supernatural profession (e.g. Tailor, Witch), their status (e.g. Prince), the degree of kinship (e.g. Stepsister) and so forth. Popular, and thus exchangeable, names of a specific time period are also likely to appear as it is often the case in the Grimm’s fairy tales who, among others, published various tales that frequently feature protagonists named Hans, e.g. Hans in Luck, Hans my Hedgehog, Iron John (Der Eisenhans), Clever Hans, Hans married or the famous Hansel and Gretel. More abstract names like Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and Briar Rose (or Aurora as she is sometimes called in other editions) are often linked to circumstances of the protagonist’s birth, appearance or fate, marking them as symbols of their own (cf. Rötzer 72).

Whether these distinctive features are preserved in an adaptation as well differs from author to artist, who re-interpret and appropriate fairy tales to their own imagination. Depending on the objectives, adaptations may incorporate the typical characteristics of fairy tales, may invent new contexts or may be presented as a combination of both. Regarding the protagonist’s names, no tendency can be observed as to whether authors and playwrights keep the original ones or give them individual or additional names. Jim Henson refused in The Storyteller (1988) to call the Prince anything but and Cinderella’s name is simply shortened to Ella in Tommy O’Haver’s Ella Enchanted (2004).The same clipping applies to the name Rapunzel in Donna Jo Napoli’s fictive novel of Zel (1998) . Alex Flinn, author of cross over fairy tale novels, named her Sleeping Beauty in A Kiss in Time (2010) Talia, after Basile’s Sun, Moon and Talia (1634), which is one of the first literary versions of Sleeping Beauty. Angela Carter, on the other hand, chose traditional names for the characters in her retold fairy tales or simply referred to them as ‘her’ or ‘him’ as seen in The Courtship of Mr Lyon (1978) and The Lady of the House of Love (1975), respectively.

The almost non-existent introduction to the story is another characteristic feature of the fairy tale. Unlike in novels, there is not much space needed to create a whole new world, which, again, is supported by the concept of the collective memory. The fairy tale cuts right to the point of conflict, which is usually a state of injustice or improper behaviour. Many popular tales follow that pattern so that certain features have become an easily recognisable identifier of fairy tales. Problems and difficulties, although kept relatively short compared to other genres, are soon established in order to build up the arch of suspense and because the alternative would be too small a challenge for the protagonist to be worthy of a personal happy ending.

Fairy tales do not have to include the obligatory fairy in order to be called fairy tale. Before and after the time of etymological development, tales have been told with or without fairies, talking animals, sorcerers, witches and the like. No matter whether the supernatural element finds its way into the tale or not, they still mirror the wishes and longings of a seemingly unified audience. Ever since the oral tradition has turned into a written one, the conventions of a former reality have been left untouched. Centuries old fairy tale collections such as Perrault’s Tales of my Mother Goose nor the Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales are as present as ever, even though classifications or concepts, like a princess being promised to a neighbouring prince whom she has never met before, are now foreign to the Western civilisation.

Fairy tales deal with processes of life, whether someone is in danger, tested, maturing or saved – all of this we experience as surreal, as ‘magic’ moments which will then be projected onto our own life. Many tales are full of surprises, hope and humour. Instead of witty dialogues, humour in fairy tales is generally conveyed through the actions of the characters. The witch in Petrosinella, for instance, tries to catch the thief by lying underneath the earth, with just one ear above it. Thus, the thief thinks the large ear to be a special, yet beautiful mushroom and tries to pick it up. (Lüthi, Es war einmal (1998), 87).

Many people like to add a happy ending to the general set of fairy tales rules. Nevertheless, it is certainly not true for all fairy tales, even though such idea might have arisen because of various factors. First of all, many popular tales like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast end indeed very happily. Secondly, it is conceivable that a later version, which provides a happy ending at last, may come to fame. Little Red Riding Hood turns out to be a decent example: Whereas Charles Perrault lets the heroine die at the end of the tale in order to emphasise his message of warning, the brothers Grimm decided to have mercy on her and created a different, a happy ending, making it the favoured version of this tale. In fact when Heinz Rölleke speaks of the ‘Grimm Genre’ it includes the affinity for happy endings which especially applies to countless fairy tales by the renowned brothers (Rölleke, Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm (2000), 139). Yet numerous tales by different authors are not providing the reader with a classic happy ending, at least not at the first glance.

Even though fairy tales are not always fated to end with a happy ending, many of them still provide the reader with optimistic impressions. This means that even though the hero or the heroine has to go through hard times or accomplish nearly impossible tasks during his or her quest, they innately know that they will be rewarded in the end. At the peak of utter bleakness of prospects a rescuing, often supernatural force helps the protagonists to overcome their misfortune and guide them towards their wish fulfilment, underscoring the presumption that fairy tales first and foremost, consciously or unconsciously, mediate the concept of hope to its reader or audience.

How Fairy Tales Echo throughout the World

In 1926 and 1927, German storyteller Lisa Tetzner published Die schönsten Märchen der Welt für 365 und einen Tag. It is, according to Winfried Freund, the last significant collection of folk tales that offers a tale from varying cultural circles every day (cf. Freund, Das Märchen (2003) 43). Coming across one of those international collections of tales, it seems like a tale of wonder itself that a great amount of similar fairy tales exist in yet so many different countries. Themes and motifs repeat themselves even though the countries, in which they were originally told, lie far away from each other and did not have direct contact with one another.

Rötzer presents the following theories as possible answers to the afore-noted phenomenon: The oldest one thereof is called evolutionary tree theory: a certain theme or plot has been established at one place and one time from which travellers and merchants spread them out into different parts of the world where they were re-told with added local colour and were adapted to their own culture and way of living. Due to the longevity of fairy tales, large migrations display a supplementary possibility. Scholars refer to this as the concept of monogenesis: the singular development of fairy tales. The Indian Panchatantra e.g., is often regarded as the first collection of all tales, presenting “an entire ‘mythogenic’ zone from which tales first emerged and diffused throughout the world” (Orenstein, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked (2002), 77).

However, this theory does not explain why peoples that evidently never came into contact with each other call similar fairy tales their own. In this case the theory of polygenesis, represented especially by the Jungians, provides a look at the unique phenomenon of humanity that connects every human being, body and soul combined, and eventually produces the so-called archetype. Similar themes emerge at different times and different places because of the similar cultural, political and economic congruities of a human being, which “give rise to collective dreams and symbols” (ibid 78).

International exchange further has the effect that the boundaries of similarly structured and thematised fairy tales blur in the collective memory due to the great number of variants of one tale. In 1893 there were 345 recorded versions of the Cinderella tale, followed by presumably thousands of similar editions and adaptations in various medial sectors around the world. As opposed to other forms of art, the fairy tale genre evolved as a closely intertwined entity with traditional motifs which are frequently revisited, cited, varied, continued or advanced (cf. Liptay 131).

Chapter 2

The Adaptation

“Adaptation constitutes the driving force of contemporary culture, with stories adapted across an array of media formats.” (Murray, The Adaptation Industry (2012))

Adapting Literature

Adapting literature is, to put it briefly, transferring a story from one medium to another while keeping the essence of the original work (cf. Keane, Schritt für Schritt zum erfolgreichen Drehbuch (2002), 197 f.). Syd Field, author of a number of books subject to screenwriting, further adds that adapting a medium is the ability to make something inherently consistent by means of modification and adjustment (cf. Field, Drehbuchschreiben für Fernsehen und Film (2003) , 93). Conventions of the respective media have to be recognised and overcome in order to create something new without being held as a mere copy of something already existent. Yet the difference between appropriation (the process of turning another one’s work of art into one’s own, notwithstanding original intentions etc.) and keeping the message and effect of the original work remains. In a broader sense and reality, however, the degree of fidelity to the original ‘script’ often depends on economic restrictions:

“Adaptation is seen as a kind of purge. In the name of mass-audience legibility, the novel is ‘cleansed’ of moral ambiguity, narrative interruption, and reflexive meditation. Aesthetic mainstreaming dovetails with economic censorship, since the changes demanded in an adaptation are made in the name of monies spent and box-office profits required” (Stam 43).

Stam further sums up the unbalanced relationship between literature and, as will be discussed thoroughly in the next chapters, its cinematic adaptations with regards to reoccurring, though contradictive arguments by critics:

“Adaptation criticism purveys a series of such ‘double binds’ and ‘Catch 22s’. A ‘faithful’ film is seen as uncreative, but an ‘unfaithful’ film is a shameful betrayal of the original. An adaptation that updates the text for the present is upbraided for not respecting the period of the source, but respectful costume dramas are accused of a failure of nerve in not ‘contemporizing’ the text. If an adaptation renders the sexual passages of the source novel literally, it is accused of vulgarity; if it fails to do so, it is accused of cowardice. The adapter, it seems, can never win” (ibid 8).

However, structural theoretical developments and cultural studies are more and more deconstructing the system of a vertical hierarchy associated in this frame of reference. The focus lies on “exploring ‘horizontal’ relations between neighbouring media” (cf. Stam 9) in order to establish a separate “zone” (ibid) that is neither beneath nor above its source text but an entity, an original of its own. This way the genre of adaptation has the possibility to present itself in the proper, or at least in a more tolerable perspective for “[complete] originality is neither possible nor even desirable” (ibid). Hence, the adaptation can neither be substitute nor competition to the source material. Both are exclusively distinct in their significance.

Adapting a form of art into another requires altering and interpreting the original source in order to make it one’s own. In some cases, however, the popularity and impact of the altered, adapted material has surpassed that of its origin. The latter lives and dies with it at the same time. Julia Sanders wrote in her study about Adaptations and Appropriation that “so influential, indeed, have some appropriations become that in many instances they now define our first experiences or encounters with their precursor of art” (Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation (2005) 158).

In 1957, André Malraux brought the concept of ‘Le musée imaginaire’ forward. It describes the coexistence of different works of art, which can be experienced at the same time, despite their possible historical and cultural distance. His theory is also applicable to the art of adaptation, meaning that an adapted work can be equally enjoyed and exist next to its source text, creating an audience-oriented dialogue instead (cf. Liptay 129 f.).

Adapting Fairy Tales

Over the centuries, fairy tales have established their own ‘musée imaginaire’ as they shifted through various centuries, cultures and media and mingled with other existing themes and motifs. Therefore, whenever a new fairy tale emerges or has done so in the past, it can be observed that certain elements were taken of that large pool of existing tales or in Malraux’s sense: from the imagined museum of tales (ibid).

Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98) shows that the artist himself creates a new work of art from the indefinite fundus of an imagined collection of all things seen and remembered. In fairy tales as well as adaptations, the reference to something that has existed before is almost imperative and not only a side effect of artistry. In fact, some features, e.g. the archetypical characters and formulaic devices, derive from the act of manifold repetition. The emphasis lies again on the original, or rather roots of the story. Whenever a tale in the oral tradition of storytelling was re-narrated, a new version of the former tale emerged with it, growing and splitting into innumerable branches. This process is further evident in the popular collections of fairy tales which have been inter alia personalised in style and theme or altered for the anticipated audience. Especially the brothers Grimm repeatedly emphasised that their aim was the preservation of traditional Germanic tales instead of creating new ones (ibid).

The concept of continuity, i.e. passing on stories over long passages of time, rejects perpetuity and invariability of the traditional narration. Over the last years, the changes made to fairy tales over past centuries have been discussed, seeing them as the precondition for consistency of certain motifs and plot lines, leading to the conclusion that cultural goods can only survive when adapted to altered conditions. Technically speaking, the concept of continuity only applies to the oral tradition of fairy tales while their literary form, i.e. the ‘Kunstmärchen’, is fixed and preserved for it is not part of the active lore anymore. Therefore, questions of change should not be applicable to written tales. Liptay however argues, that written texts are passed on as well and thus changed albeit their frozen appearance. The cultural and historical changes are expressed in the texts that emerge from the literary tales whenever they are interpreted, edited or adapted, swaying between the poles of continuity and transition. So, every new edition does not only preserve narrative tradition, but represents folk memory as well. Depending on the degree of variation, it is also an individual reshaping that highlights signs of contemporaneity (cf. ibid 41 f.).

Notwithstanding whether artists adapt a fairy tale or a novel, there are always two processes involved: expropriation and appropriation. The one adapting the story first expropriates, literally takes the story away from the original proprietor, after which he turns it into his own work of art, i.e. appropriates it to suit his imagination and re-creation (cf. Zipes 14). Depending on the intended emphasis the ‘new’ storyteller wants to convey, it is the latter’s fair right as an appropriator to change especially the socio-cultural context. Charles Perrault, who wrote down oral fairy tales or variants of already published ones, followed the same motivations, when he adapted them to suite the expectations and quirks of his time, i.e. the seventeenth century, and place, i.e. the royal French court. Michel Ocelot, director and former president of the International Animated Film Association, even demands that nobody should contribute to making adaptations, but creating originals. Even though he is often inspired by anonymous tales, it is him who tells the tale this time. He takes the tale into whichever direction he chooses and thus personalises its contents, but refrains from being too concerned with its origin, for he does not want to be stuck in a specific time or context. “Today […] I do what I want with the heritage” (Aurouet quoted in Zipes 16).

Adapting a fairy tale does not always have to involve changing the context. Even though timelessness is a specific feature of the fairy tale, artists who rely on fixed versions of a tale or use a ‘Kunstmärchen’ as a source, sometimes relate or try to recreate the period in which that specific tale or version of the tale was first published. A large number of adaptations, however, are presented in a complete new livery and surrounding setting, because, once the fairy tale has been expropriated, “it [is] freed to become appropriated in innumerable unimaginable ways up through the present” (Zipes 11).

The fairy tale world is a metaphor for a world that can be painted in black and white. Everything is good or evil, poor or wealthy and so forth and there seems to be nothing in between. In the end, the good will be sufficiently rewarded and the evil punished. In contemporary adaptations however, especially longer lasting productions such as motion pictures, theatre plays or novels, the possibility opens up to fill that grey area. Thus, the prima facie ‘simple’ fairy tale can be turned into a more complex scenario and is able to address and emphasise interpersonal relationships more heavily (as e.g. seen in Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood).

The fairy tale in written or traditional oral form is usually defined as short prose, originally told within a social gathering or as a bedtime story. However, there is nothing short about a film or a play that lasts at least ninety minutes and nothing comforting in the anonymity of a dark theatre. The more connected the audience becomes to fairy tale adaptations shaped by the ever developing technology of new media, the less it remembers specific details from their sources, albeit the fact that they promote awareness of the latter. Eventually, the success and established popularity (traditionally or overnight) of a fairy tale in one medium or another will decide whether a classic tale remains unharmed within the minds of generations or whether it shares its spot of memory with, or is even completely replaced by an adaptation. People who claim to know e.g. the story of The Little Mermaid (1837) by the Danish poet H. C. Andersen may be genuinely convinced of its happy ending. What they actually have in mind is not the written tale itself but Disney’s cinematic love story of red-haired Arielle, who lives happily ever after with the prince she once saved (The Little Mermaid (1989)). They may also believe in the magical kiss between the princess and the frog as the overcoming of her fear and disgust, for one may not sympathise with a woman who, after breaking nearly all of her promises, throws her repugnant future husband against a wall and still gets to marry the handsome prince he has suddenly turned into.

The fairy tale kiss itself can be identified as a ‘disneyfied’ or at least as a modern delusion and romanticised consequence of adapting stories of the fairy tale genre. Slowly but surely, it has become common belief that everybody can be transformed and released from a spell with a kiss. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty, Disney, 1959) will be awakened, and Frog King (Der Froschkönig, ARD, 2008) and Beast (Beastly, CBS Films, 2011) will both turn into handsome princes, once all three have touched their true love’s lips. It is rather ironic that none of the written tales, on which the movies are based, ever mention a true love’s kiss as a spell breaking potion. In fact, physical contact might often be implied, but is generally not explicitly present in the lines of the stories. In truth, Sleeping Beauty awakes because, on the day the prince arrives, her century of enforced sleep has passed, and the lucky young man might just happen to be at the right place at the right time. The Frog King, as mentioned earlier, gets slammed against a wall by the snobbish princess which triggers his transformation and the Beast’s fragile heart simply knows when it has finally been touched by love.

Even though not all fairy tales end with a happily ever after, it has become one of the most recognised features of this genre. So, whenever stories, films or even songs (not having to be particularly categorised as a fairy tale or a fairy tale adaptation) are completed with a too-satisfying ‘fairy tale like’ happy ending, a common reaction towards this final turn of events is incredibility. The critical audience usually relates such happy endings to a dreamlike state, as unreal and untouchable as the fantastic elements of the fairy tale itself. However, the purpose of these stories is to allow and not deny oneself the implied hope that potentials can be reached and that the unrealistic can become very real indeed. Joe Wright, director of the acclaimed cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007) adds that

“wish fulfilment serves a purpose. A lot of people consider it a cop out or a cynical act, but I think wish fulfilment is really important in drama. And it’s important for the people who watch it and the people who make it. We need to have something to reach for – to not settle for less.” (Pride & Prejudice, Director’s commentary, 01:49:10).

Fabienne Liptay concludes that every fairy tale adaptation has to be considered a “Individualisierung des Allgemeinen” (Liptay 45), in which artistic-aesthetic and biographical, ideological, cultural as well as socio-political, national and epochal backgrounds are reflected. According to her, this should be regarded as the true motivation for contemporary adaptation and realisation of fairy tales instead of a deficiency. So, even though their themes are considered timeless, the fairy tale around it does change with each time-bound perception. This gives especially the medium of film the opportunity to show and actually demonstrate the above-mentioned changes right in front of the audience’s eyes (cf. ibid).

Adapting from different Media

The process of adapting is not limited to referring to the genre of novels, or to literature in general, as a source material, even though it appears to be the most frequent means. Short stories like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald or stage plays such as Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1944) have been repeatedly adapted throughout the past decades. Biographies, poems, prose, parodies and even articles as well as other films can and have been adjusted to fit screens, stages or exhibitions, only to name a few, in numerable examples. Adapted comics, especially those featuring the superheroes of Marvel and DC Comics, along with Japanese manga frequently appear in TV shows and movies alike. Even computer games, in which the storyline is often regarded as subordinate, are likely to be adjusted to the big screen, as seen in the recent film version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). In fact, the Walt Disney Company successfully adapted their own theme park attraction and turned it into the box-office hit The Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2011). Yet they all share the underlying concept of a story (even regarding Disney’s theme park) that induces inspiration to take the written wor(l)d even further.

Origins of Beauty and the Beast can be found in Lucius Apuleius’ tale of Cupid and Psyche (second century AD). Similar themed versions by French writers Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont of the seventeenth century contributed to the popularity of the fairy tale, which exists in different variants around the world. In 1946, French director Jean Cocteau turned it into the romantic black and white fantasy film La Belle et la Bête. It is followed by Walt Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast (1991, which in turn adapted various motifs, like the candelabra and the added subplot that includes Belle’s malevolent suitor, from Cocteau’s movie. Due to its success and its rising popularity, the animated film was transferred to the stage and rewritten as a musical in 1994. Over a decade later, American novelist Alex Flinn retold the classic tale as a contemporary love story between two teenagers (2007), a story that has recently been adapted to the cinematic screen (2011). Both versions are called Beastly. Phenomenally enough, this little excursion barely covers today’s best-known adaptations of Beauty and the Beast. Numerous other versions were realised among different types of media and in various parts of the world, especially when the aspect of recycling the tale, its characters or themes, is included in the count.

As Stam points out, “[t]he ‘original’ always turns out to be partially ‘copied’ from something earlier: The Odyssey goes back to anonymous oral formulaic stories, Don Quixote goes back to chivalric romances, Robinson Crusoe goes back to travel journalism, and so on ad infinitum” (Stam 8). The same Derridean deconstruction applies to the authors of collected fairy tales, including those of Perrault and the brothers Grimm (ibid).

Adapting to different Media

German philosopher Ernst Bloch calls the element of hope in fairy tales the “anticipatory illumination” (quoted in Zipes 1), emphasising their utopian and inalienable appeal. He further argues that the maxims of fairy tales do not belong in the past but remain until today in the form of “modern fairy tales” (Zipes 4), whether they come in the form of movies, modern romances, comics and the like. Fairy tales lead their audience and readers to believe that they are entitled to happiness, that they can consider themselves born free, that they should not be afraid to use their own mind and that they can look positively into the future (ibid).

The print culture has manifested the oral tradition and yet the transformation of the print culture towards new media technologies results in the phenomenon that younger generations have already gained knowledge about certain fairy tales via the internet, the TV or theatre screen before they have been introduced to the written sources (cf. Zipes 10). Today the former appears to dominate the contemporary popular culture, even though the annual amount of published literary adaptations of fairy tales is not to be underestimated either. Stage productions that feature altered tales in the form of plays, the oldest form of visualising imagination, ballets or musicals and the like, naturally belong to this category as well. Shorter versions of screen or other illustrative adaptations can even be occasionally observed in the advertising sector.

Nevertheless, the antagonism of word and image, or abstractness and visualisation still remains, levelling the foundation for a complicated, yet interdependent relationship.

Adapting to the Screen

“A fairy-tale film is any kind of cinematic representation recorded on film, on videotape, or in digital form that employs motifs, characters, and plots generally found in the oral and literary genre of the fairy tale, to re-create a known tale” (Zipes, The Enchanted Screen, 8)

“Film, we are reminded, is a form of writing that borrows from other forms of writing.” (Stam 1).

Syd Field further claims that the trick of adapting original work is not to be true to the original. In the past, many a film adaptation shattered under the heavy weight of a story that tried to be too faithful to its source, presented in a different medium that includes every subplot or secondary character (cf. Field 97). Fellow screenwriter Christopher Keane advises to omit the term original work completely and to regard the latter only as research material for the adaptation that has now become the original work (cf. Keane 198). In the end, however, the former original work always sets the standards for or against the altered and adapted version in the eyes of the critics.

Raised interest in visual entertainment and art eventually included the genre of fairy tales in this art of transformation, even though said genre takes a different position. According to Liptay, a cinematic fairy tale adaptation is not automatically a fairy tale movie. The designation can only be applied when the link to the traditional material or roots become perceptible (cf. Liptay 130). The required sources are technically speaking often oral ones, so it becomes necessary to state that most fairy tale adaptations do not share the classic rules of adaptation. However, fairy tales do not only provide recognisable archetypes, but also themes and stories which principally address the inner fears of human beings, which may turn out as basic key constellations for film scripts. During the attempt to create something new, instead of simply doing a remake, the focus lies on extracting the meaning and the symbolic value of certain elements and functions of the fairy tale. This means that, e.g. supernatural elements do not have to literally appear in the final version of the adaptation, but may be translated into something else entirely, as long as both actions amount to similar or equal purposes. Even Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928) can be transferred to the film genre in a broader sense (cf. Kallas, Kreatives Drehbuchschreiben (2007), 141 f.). His structural analysis of folktales and his dissection thereof into archetypical characters and functions turns out to be applicable to innumerable screenings, which shows just how much impact the ‘ancient’ oral tradition of narration still has on modern pop culture. Kallas further reveals a technique called intentional mistake, when dealing with a fairy tale as a source text. Anticipated behaviour of a character or renowned elements of the tale are therefore occasionally inverted, exchanged or completely omitted in order to give the plot a new or more exciting twist (ibid). The animated film adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood called Hoodwinked! (2005) functions as an example. Here, the audience meets a tough Karateka who listens to the name Red, a naive wolf, a huntsman turned cowboy and a rather hazardous Granny.

A script is a story told in pictures, a visual experience true to the spirit of the source text (cf. Field 93 f.). Dramaturgical necessity has priority over the source material for the latter is only the point of departure but not the final station of the script. However, this does not change the fact that creating a film means creating a story, told by screenwriters, actors and directors; it is storytelling. The cinematic adaptation is about events and anecdotes combined with thoughts and feelings expressed in fast moving pictures. Unless a film or TV format features inner monologues or narrative voices, the reader is not able to ‘see’ inside a character’s head anymore, as it is the case in stories that feature a first-person narrator. Hence, intellectual brilliancy of the mind becomes irrelevant. Words not spoken out loud in a book need to be translated into dialogues, if not actions, limited to those that will actually move the storyline forward. Watching an adaptation of a novel sometimes feels like being served the fast food version of what was once a full four-course meal. Reading a novel usually takes longer than ninety minutes. But unlike the comparably slow building arch of suspense in a book, it is exactly the opposite that makes up pace and tension in a movie: time pressure (Keane 198 f.). In contrast to this popular philosophy based on necessity, stands the BBC, which frequently produces TV adaptations of well-known classics such as Jane Austen’s Emma (2009) or Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008). In their aim to be as authentic as possible, their productions are often presented in more than one episode, for the whole format greatly exceeds the usual running time of 90 to 120 minutes and thus the pleasurable concentration span of the audience. Eventually this concept, with its eager eye for detail, has proven successful for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Another common approach to adapting literary sources is the ‘modernisation’ of classics. In 1995, the main themes of nineteenth century Emma were outlined in the contemporary comedy Clueless. The movie revolves around the high school student Cher who plays Cupid around her friends, even though she is unaware that her own future boyfriend has always been right in front of her. Both productions of the BBC and Paramount Pictures have earned their share of recognition for their very different approaches (and thus different anticipated audiences), whilst using the same source text. Yet what they do have in common is that they actualised or rather updated the collective memory. Fairy tales need to be remembered as well, so they will not eventually slip our collective mind one day. The medium of film (for TV and cinema) is therefore a means to ensure the continuity of collected memories. They are expressed in a different volume, which is likely to turn out to be the preferred medium of younger generations that will soon pass their memories on to the next generations. The only condition for a beneficial symbiosis between film and original script is the mediation of awareness of the film’s origins towards the audience.

Unlike in classic novels, the question of compromising the story’s content for the benefit of the audience or the finished product is generally irrelevant regarding fairy tales. Because of the tale’s traditional short and tight structure, it is more a question of what or whom to add to the plot in order to fill at least ninety minutes of running time. In the 2005 film version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice we see only one of Charles Bingley’s two sisters on screen. Yet, Caroline Bingley occasionally shows characteristic traits of both sisters combined. Reducing characters or merging two or more into one is a popular technique in order to keep part of the original atmosphere. Again, this is handled the other way around in movies that call fairy tales their origin. The tale’s archetypal characters leave the screenwriters a lot of room for developing unique personalities, albeit limiting the possibility for broad identification at the same time.

Jack Zipes agrees that the common definitions of adapting stories to the screen do not entirely apply to the art of “[using] and [recreating] fairy tales and folk tales for the cinema” (Zipes 7). It often happens that adaptations of fairy tales rely on more than one source text, since their origins may vary (excluding the literary fairy tale). In addition to that, the people who are involved in the realisation of the movie might also recall different versions of the story, so that the pre-text is not a fixed source material but a more “flexible or fluid text, or it consist of several variants of a tale type” (ibid 8). This also means that, even though the Walt Disney Company based their movie Tangled on the Rapunzel tale by the brothers Grimm, it is not the ‘urtext’, as the Grimm’s version is already an adaptation itself.

It is often claimed, especially within the educational sector, that today, children do not seem to need books anymore in order to be introduced to the art of storytelling. The negative connotations that swing along in this statement cannot be missed. However, Michael Sahr argues that children need movies as well, even if they merely function as a means to learn how to bring the manifold pictures into order, to understand the story underneath (cf. Sahr, Verfilmte Kinder- und Jugendliteratur (2004) 23). Stam underscores this message while disempowering the popular cliché that


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A Literary and Multi-Medial Analysis of Selected Fairy Tales and Adaptations
Or: How Fairy Tales live Happily Ever After
University of Flensburg  (Kultur-Sprache-Medien)
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maerchen, fairy tales, adaption, adaptation, maerchen adaption, maerchenfilm, analyse maerchen, rapunzel, tangled, rotkaeppchen, red riding hood, fairy tale adaptation, fairy tale film, film literature, analysing fairy tales, modern fairy tales, moderne maerchen, maerchen analyse, multimediale analyse, collective memory, kollektive gedaechtnis
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M. A. Conny Eisfeld (Author), 2012, A Literary and Multi-Medial Analysis of Selected Fairy Tales and Adaptations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/208851


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