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>Nudge nudge wink wink

>Equally inspired and deflated by the imminent release of the third Shrek movie, Time‘s James Poniewozik has an article this week about the fracturing of fairy tales in both movies and books. He’s right about how such twisted retellings can appeal to both children and their accompanying adults (“the Shrek movies have a nigh-scientific formula for the ratio of fart jokes to ask-your-mother jokes”) and right also to wonder about the disappearance of the original tales:

The strange side effect of today’s meta-stories is that kids get exposed to the parodies before, or instead of, the originals. My two sons (ages 2 and 5) love The Three Pigs, a storybook by David Wiesner in which the pigs escape the big bad wolf by physically fleeing their story (they fold a page into a paper airplane to fly off in). It’s a gorgeous, fanciful book. It’s also a kind of recursive meta-fiction that I didn’t encounter before reading John Barth in college. Someday the kids will read the original tale and wonder why the stupid straw-house pig doesn’t just hop onto the next bookshelf.

We certainly see relatively few straightforward folk- and fairytale retellings among new picture books, save for a couple of publishers, like North-South and Barefoot Books, who specialize in them. The glitzy ’80s saw lots of lavishly illustrated traditional retellings of familiar tales, the ’90s brought more cultures into the mix, but the ‘aughts are twisting and turning. Northrop Frye told us this would happen.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. shahairyzad says:

    >The “recursive meta-fiction” versions of our beloved fairy tales may be written for children, but they are coming from the minds of adults who grew up with the unscrambled versions.

    Does that mean the stories no longer work for us? Has it become impossible to take them seriously anymore (either because they are too clicheed, too naive, or the details too far removed from modern life)? Or are the changes more a reflection of the constant push to make things new, improved, different?

    Personally, I don’t mind the transformations. It’s a testament to the power of the original stories that they’re still being worked and re-worked, and that children still find them fascinating, even in altered form.

  2. Monica Edinger says:

    >My current 4th graders take to parody like ducks to water. Right now they are completely smitten with the Marx Brothers. I’m surprised what they get and amused by what they don’t. Today for instanced I watched as Groucho made one of his many (pre Hayes) lewd
    comments and sure enough one kid looked puzzled, but the rest just went for the ride. My guess is something similar happens with Shrek and its ilk. (Or better yet, they use Disney as their point of reference:)

  3. Anonymous says:

    >I hope it wasn’t the cigar comment. Kids today, if so!

  4. Anonymous says:

    >While watching The Seventh Seal as an adult, I was surprised to realize a short movie I had once seen on TV as a kid had in actuality been a spoof on Bergman films. It was called De Duva, and I had enjoyed it at the time having no idea that it was a parody of anything. I watched it with my siblings, and while the sex jokes went over our heads we did go through a long phase of pretending to be Death challenging each other to badminton games.

  5. Andy Laties says:

    >It seems to me that there are still plenty of newly illustrated versions of the classic fairy tales coming from the major publishers. (Andrea Wisniewski’s “Little Red Riding Hood” last season; Jerry Pinkney’s this season)

    The traditional tales, “retold” by an illustrator, function as a mechanism for illustrators to capture the full ten percent royalty, and not have to split it with an separate individual author. Alphabet books and counting books and nursery rhyme books function in this manner for illustrators also.

    That is: The economics are in favor of traditional tales whenever an illustrator has enough clout with a publisher to be given the opportunity to control the entire “marquee” aspect of the marketing of a book.

    Contrariwise, the new, fractured fairy-tales are ways for authors (established, but also, new) to capitalize on the guaranteed marketing power of established “titles,” and collect a royalty for their “original” work.

    This is business. There are shades of nuance that every editor and agent deals with in the development of every author or illustrator’s career.

    There is no bigger financial win than occurs when an author or illustrator creates “the new standard” version of a “classic” text.

  6. rindawriter says:

    >Right on, Andy about the “the new standard version” comment. Right on!

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