Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves in the World
A College Seminar Course at Bryn Mawr College

Forum 3 - Does One Need Fairy God-Mothers/Princes/Witches/Wizards for a Fairy Tale?

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  To think/write about ...
Date:  2003-09-15 15:23:51
Message Id:  6482
Did you include a fairy god-mother, prince, witch, or wizard in your fairy tale? Whether you did or not, it seemed to Anne and me that such characters are so frequent in fairy tales that one can't help but wonder why. What do you think? Why do almost all fairy tales have at least one of these character types in them? Is there anything the characters have in common that would make it hard to conceive of something as a fairy tale that didn't have at least one of them in it?
Name:  Alicia Jones
Subject:  Strong, powerful characters in fairy tales
Date:  2003-09-15 22:15:44
Message Id:  6486
Good question. Humm...

My fairy tale has a combination "shero," magical/mystical/super natural, African princess in it as the main character because I wanted her to have powers that were unique and extraordinary. She ends up as an "inner child" for someone and I had to give her a marvelous and powerful life before she got to that mission.

I think fairy tales have to have something magical about them. Its a part of the make believe and it sets the person who usually does something good or spectacular apart from those that might not be so kind. It gives the story that feel good setting and opens the door for the moral of the story.

Unfortunately, most of the old traditional fairy tales use characters like witches and "evil-doers" (I cannot believe I used W's word) to take power away from women. Remember, that a lot of fairy tales were written around or after the witch hunts in Europe and here. Before those awful events common women were the healers of the land and their power lay in the fact that they knew a lot about potions and herbal/medicinal concotions that were used as cures for ailments. They also were usually the midwives of the villages. After the witch burnings any woman who could "lay hands" on someone in an attempt to heal was immediately suspected of witchery and a lot of them were older women, thus, the image of the withered up old witch as the bad person.

I guess that "good vs evil" stream of consciousness is what brought about the "fairy GODmother" character because she is a good woman with power. The prince character is part of the "women in distress need to be rescued by a good strong man" adage, however, all of this is just my humble opinion.


Name:  Flicka
Subject:  Characters in Fairy Tales
Date:  2003-09-16 12:34:24
Message Id:  6492
I believe that the characters in fairy tales such as witches, wizards, and fairy god-mothers, are an essential aspects of them . There has to be something "magical" about fairy tales that gives the story a dreamy tone to it and there has to be something or someone that puts the "fairy" in fairy tale. Witches and wizards give fairy tales a sense of unreality: a place where magic apples grow on trees, and witches curse princesses, and princes run to recsue them on white horses. These are stories that fill the heads of children and allow them to open their imaginations. It also allows them to explore the possibilities between good and evil, and right and wrong.
I think that although magic-like characters are not the main point of fairy tales, they are an absolute neccesity in order to define a story as a fairy tale. For example, you have a girl who is sad because she isn't pretty and all the other girls at school are. So, her mother buys her some make-up at the mall, she goes back to school feeling beautiful, and she gets a date for the prom. Not a fairy tale. However, there is a princess who is saddened because she feels she is not beautiful externally. She is a good person inside, but no one sees that because of her ugly appearance. One day, she meets an old, ugly woman in the forest who needs help walking. The girl helps the old woman despite her appearances, and the old woman turns into a beautiful fairy. The fairy rewards the girl for her kindness by making her extraordinary beautiful, and the princess lives happily ever after as a beautiful person, inside and out.
Now why is this a fairy tale, and the first story wasn't? The first story was about a normal girl, who went to a normal school, and had normal image problems, and who solved them by going to the mall with her mom. The second story involved a PRINCESS who became beautiful by a MAGICAL FAIRY, and it taught a lesson: Do not judge a person by what they look like, but by what kind of person they are. I grant you that not all fairy tales are exactly like this one, and not all fairy tales teach a lessson, but do you undersand my point? The princess and the fairy and the magic, are what make the story a fairy tale.
Name:  Kristin Black
Subject:  Fairy godmothers and such
Date:  2003-09-17 18:07:30
Message Id:  6516
When I think of the characters of fairy godmothers, wizards, princes and witches, I think of characters who do something beyond the normal scope of human potential. For example, Cinderella is unable to better her position, so (in Disney's version) a fairy godmother comes to do for her what she is unable to do for herself. I think the same principle can be applied to Snow White and her prince...she was unable to get the apple out of her own throat, so she needed him to help her, albeit inadvertently. Similarly, while it's beyond question that people are capable of being cruel and evil all on their own, it seems that characters such as witches and wizards appear in order to do damage that humans are incapable of. I'm not sure what these characters bring to a fairy tale beyond the fantastic, magical feeling that everyone else seems to think necessary to such a story...perhaps that is their only purpose. I'm not quite sure.
Name:  Karen Delnasheen
Date:  2003-09-17 19:49:55
Message Id:  6519
Fairy tales are a phenomena worth exploring, they're just plain fun. I did a search on google, there are strange similarities in fairy tales (or like stories) amongst cultures that are physically or socially separate/different. For example, many Indian fairy tales, like European fairy tales, have evil stepmothers, princes, witches, and supernatural beings (like jinnis or fairies). Even Mayan fairy tales hold similar characteristics to those of the rest of the world; however, Maya was physically cut off from any form of outer influence.
Maybe the cause for the likeness is an underlying truth in the fairy tales. Perhaps olden days' stories are nothing more than stories to people now because we've technologically progressed so much that we've regressed in our ability to believe in things we cannot explain. Where as a thousand years ago, people could not understand or explain rain, but it happened nonetheless.
Name:  Jenny Barr
Subject:  The Good, the Bad, and the Magical
Date:  2003-09-17 20:05:06
Message Id:  6520
For me, what stands out is the extreme goodness and badness of these characters. Most fairytales aren't there to give us a nuanced story, where the heroine is a bit flawed and the villain is a bit sympathetic.
They give us a framework of the extremes -- good and bad. Then, when we
experience the people and things in real life that don't fit into either category, we have something to measure them by -- we can hang them somewhere on our framework. This coworker is a creep -- he falls closer to the villain end of things (at least today, he does, tomorrow he'll land somewhere else in the spectrum).

I also think there's something kind of comforting about having things categorized that way (mind you, I don't think it's a healthy, well-adjusted way to approach the world). But I kind of feel like it's reassuring to step into a world where things are clear and easy to identify. In the fairytale, you don't have to say "Yeah, sure this coworker is a creep, but his parents were neglectful and this morning he had a terrible fight with the milkman." You can just call him a creep and let it go at that.

As for the magical aspect of most of these characters, maybe it's a hyperbolic extension of the good and bad. So good or bad as to be entirely outside the realm of human goodness or evil, therefore endowed with super-human capabilities (and motivations -- what's in it for the fairy godmother, anyway?).

Name:  Christine Lipuma
Date:  2003-09-17 22:01:42
Message Id:  6522
When I think of a Fairy Tale, it puts a certain atmosphere into my head. There are castles and magic and scenes from an old world. There are also witches and princes and fairy-godmothers. I think this is because of the time that fairy tales were made in and the reason behind fairy tales. In those days, the greatest position to be in was royalty. So if the someone could use their imagination, this would be an ideal fantasy. For a common young girl, marrying a prince would be the way to become royalty. The handsome prince figure is also one that is exciting but beyond reality for most people. This could also be true about witches in fairy tales. A tax-collecter would be someone who a person might think of in a bad way, but not some who is horrible or awe-inspiring. The witch is a character who is obviously bad but who is also capable of black magic which makes the story more interesting. As for fairy-godmothers, they show you that if you are good but are having a problem, there is someone there for you. Since they are magical, they can help people in ways that no one else could.
Name:  Olivia Spradlin
Subject:  fairy tales
Date:  2003-09-18 09:10:19
Message Id:  6524
Not only fairy tales serve his suggested purpose. Winnie-the-Pooh, The Little Prince, and what about books in which the character has the same name as the child? he also suggests that the hero is the most attractive figure to the child, wouldn't different children find different figures attractive, as a simple matter of taste? My brother and I never agreed on what fairy tale characters were our favorites (given, it always was a good character).
Name:  Olivia Spradlin
Subject:  other fairy tale
Date:  2003-09-18 09:20:36
Message Id:  6525
As for the actual posted question. I don't recall there being one of those in The Ugly Duckling. I think the inclusion of characters might come from a time when such archtypes were believed to exist. It also helps the asthetic value of the fairy tale, provides a reason for bad and good. For people who are kind of down on their luck the fairy godmother is inspiring, and so is the evil stepmother, but because she causes the bad.

More about the article: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (though that brings up whole other issues)?
We didn't discuss at all the amoral aspect...any thoughts on that because I know I hadn't really considered it before.

Name:  Danielle
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  fairy tales
Date:  2003-09-18 09:21:23
Message Id:  6526
My story did not have any superheroes in it; however, I don't think that it falls into the category of being a true fairy tale. According to Bettelheim's definition, a "love gift to a child", my story is far from being a fairy tale. Maybe this is true because it has no superheroes- no one comes to save the day. My "fairy tale" is too true to life to ever be denoted as such. Could true life, forever stripped of fairy god mothers, ever be a "love gift to a child"?
Name:  Steph Hunt
Date:  2003-09-18 09:45:57
Message Id:  6527
Fairy tales are for amusement and developing the imagination. I didn't like that the Bettleheim article tried to read too deeply into fairy tales, I think it almost ruined the whole concept of them. Fairy tales are just supposed to be fun for people of all ages; whether someone learns something consciously or unconsciously or not. The discussion about the specific stories such as "The Little Engine that Could" made me really angry because I don't think children (except maybe in the specific case) feel defeated. Most kids probably realize that the story only applies to certain aspects; like if you were running, you shouldn't give up, but if you're trying to do an impossible task, the story doesn't apply. I don't understand how Bettleheim can say that children need hope and then discourage stories like "The Little Engine that Could."

As for my fairy tale, mine did include a witch and prince and princess-like characters. I think that they are commonly good because princesses and princes generally represent goodness and piouty and witches represent evil. Therefore, fairy tales depict a struggle between good and evil and generally, good wins. I think this gives people hope that good will usually triumph over evil and for some people, that type of faith is very important.

Name:  Tamiyo Britton
Subject:  tiny thought
Date:  2003-09-18 10:53:48
Message Id:  6528
I was having a hard time putting my thoughts about the charcters in fairy tale. Jenny and Kristin's thoughts helped me to think about the kind of role the characters are playing in fairy tale and I think it is o.k. to say that their obsevation of the charcter go with Bettelehim's commentary.
As much as we want to identify ourselves with "good," "cruel and evil"(Kristine) part of ourselves are expressed by the charcter who plays a role in "exterme badness."(Jenny)
Name:  Flicka Michaels
Subject:  Bettelheim's psychology
Date:  2003-09-19 17:58:15
Message Id:  6540
I agree that Bettelheim had some very good points when he analyzed fairy tales. However, some of the points he made contradicted other points, and sometimes he went so far into the depth of the meaning of fairy tales, that he completely confused himself and the reader to what he actually meant to say. For example, Bettelheim makes a big point of saying that fairy tales are just for entertainment and that they really do not have any didactic aspect to them. That's an ok point to make, and I agree with it. However, he goes on and on in the article talking about how much meaning kids get out of fairy tales. He says, " These stories tell him that by forming a true interpersonal relation, one escapes separation anxiety." Bettelheim also says, "The fairy tale is future-oriented and guides the child... to relinguish his infantile wishes for dependancy and to acheive an independent existence." WHAT? I never got that from hearing a fairy tale, did you? I never remember at any time as a child thinking about "achieveing an independent existence" while watching Cinderella.
Another example of Bettelheim's points is that fairy tales are actually a shared experience between the adult and the child. While this may be true for many stories besides fairy tales, I dont necessarily think it true for fairy tales. I always read a lot as a kid, and most of the fairy tales that I know today come from reading them as a child. If I was too young to read, I would watch the movies. It wasn't the fact that fairy tales were read to me which made it so special; it was the fairy tale itself that made me love it and enjoy it. And while my mother may have been truly happy for my enjoyment of the book/film, I don't think it is a necessary part of my experience of fairy tales. Besides, your parents read all kinds of stories to you when you are a child, not just fairy tales, and although it is nice to have that, it is not a necessary part of a child's enjoyment of the fairy tales.
Name:  Ginny Costello
Subject:  Fairy Tales
Date:  2003-09-20 11:34:11
Message Id:  6547
When I first began the "Fairy Tale" exercise I thought of fairy tales as just stories for children with a moral to them. Now, after reading them, then writing my own story, and analyzing it, I realize that fairy tales can be an important instructional tool. I have learned something important about myself through this exercise.

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