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>Princess Delite

>”Speed straight to the happy ending, without stopping to think about the story along the way.” Boston Globe critic Joanna Weiss has a great piece on the contemporary commodification of fairy tales.

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. >This is a bad time to say this I know, but still, I’d l like to leave issues like this to the market for sorting out. Before I had children, I despised the bowdlerizing of any story. After my children arrived I suddenly developed an appreciation for a range of different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk on the library shelf. Let’s have all the versions– the namby-pampy and the wicked dark to choose from according to our individual needs.

    If this means that the older, more violent forms fall by the wayside and are preserved only for scholars, I don’t really care. The need for the wicked and dark can be filled by other books, it doesn’t have to be a fairy-tale that serves the purpose.


  2. >Just remember, what you think is dark, may not even raise a shiver on your kid or will float right over her/his little head. (And you are the “market” since most children aren’t buying books on their own.)

    Raising 4 ,I learned I had some ghouls and some wimps and I let them all be. So they are still ghouls and wimps, but they feel very good about it. 😉

  3. >It’s strange that Joanna Weiss latches on the Disney princesses and never mentions the Barbie movies. (Barbie as Rapunsel, etc.) Talk about changing the story. The Disney movies definitely have scary parts. The woods in Snow White, for example.

    On the other hand, dressing up like a princess does appeal to many, including my granddaughter.

    (Her latest halloween plan calls for mixing several princess outfits to create a completely new character. Arial’s hair/ Cinderella’s dress/ plus Angel wings from last year’s costume.)

    -wendieO, who has been a folk tale fan for fifty years.

  4. >Sure, H, let a thousand Cinderellas bloom. But if you’ve decided you need to get wicked and dark from somewhere, why wish away the fairy tales that do that job so well? In fairy tales such moments and feelings appear not only with with a certain grim glee (Cinderella’s sisters, cutting off ankles to fit feet into shoes, for instance), but also occur with insight and feeling and metaphor. Who else manages it so well?

  5. Monica Edinger says:

    >Gotta say I don’t see anything new in this piece and wish Weiss had checked in with one plain ‘ol teacher (me, I’m here!) to get a perspective. I know Jack Zipes and his work well, but I’ve also used fairy tales in my classroom for decades and have my own take on them. Yes, Disney may have decided to push princesses in 1999, but I was into them in 1959 too. And my progressive-teacher step grandmother, after looking everywhere for a fairy princess wand for my little sister made one for her — a baton with glitter.

    Don’t have time to write more, but the idea that kids do or don’t get the darker side of the tales today as opposed to yore — I don’t buy it.

  6. >My girls positively liked the “proper” versions of fairy tales: especially Rapunzel with its pregnancies and the prince’s eyes being put out when he falls from the tower. My 14 yr old chose to do a modern re-telling of it for an English assignment: the parents being drug addicts and the witch a dealer who takes the baby in exchange for giving the parents a fix. They liked the Step-sisters cutting off their toes in Cinderella too, and the step-mother being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes. (They’re not sadists but they hated the prettified versions we had on the shelves alongside the older versions.)

  7. >anon:10:46

    I’m not wishing anything away. I’m just saying that I am not all hot and bothered that the originals be preserved like flies in amber and presented to children everywhere as if they are indispensable. Bettelheim had this idea that fairy tales feed a deep dark need in children and I think that’s true, but he also thought that no other literature offer the same experience. That’s where I disagree.

    I thought fairy tales were boring, and by the time I was reading independently, I wouldn’t touch them, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t exposed to all those fairy tale elements in different guises. As an older reader, I got my Rapunzel/Sleeping Beauty fix from Margaret Mahy’s Changeover.

    I’m happy to have fairy tales around in any form. But when people ask “Who else manages it so well?” I balk. Different things work for different readers. No one thing manages it “best.”

  8. >I think Weiss is understating the effects of the merchandising of fairy tales. She points out that “The Little Mermaid” is softened by Disney because Andersen has the sea witch cut the mermaid’s tongue out. That isn’t even the half of it. Disney marries Ariel off in a happily ever after romance. Andersen kills her. My students routinely pitch fits when I have them read Andersen because what they love is the “real” Little Mermaid (i.e. Disney).
    I don’t mind the many variations of the fairy tales; I mind a culture that routinely replaces hard choices, conflict, and compromise with false promises or perfect love, physical perfection, and material gain. Andersen imagines a mermaid who will wait for thousands of years and work toward an eternal reward; modern culture gives us one that smiles and flashes her cleavage and “wins” the whole enchilada. Of course Disney’s version is more appealing, but it isn’t very helpful. It isn’t who I want our children to become either–even if it were possible.

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >Monica, I think plenty of kids today can go from preschool through junior high without any Grimm, Perrault or Andersen in their curricula. I don’t think Weiss is claiming that the princess-urge is something new; what’s new is their detachment from the stories that created them. I’m reminded of Margo Lanagan’s story about some future society making hay with a bride’s magazine, ignorant of why all these women wore white in the first place.

  10. >Last night I asked my 7-year-old daughter why girls liked the Disney princesses so much.

    “Well,” she said, watching herself in the mirror as she combed out her Clementine hair, “They’re pretty, everybody likes them … and they all have smooth hair.”

    P.S. Anon 11:28, I hear you. Everytime my kid and her cousin watch Cinderella, I gripe about how Cinderella never raises a hand to save herself, HOPING that they might eventually take my griping to heart. I’m trying….

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