Friday, February 5, 2016

Modern Faerie Tales (Part One: The Ones that Stink)

Nowadays when faerie tales are told, either as movies, books, shows, whatever- they are quickly deconstructed and presented as quaint and inherently flawed (don't forget sexist!).

I'm thinking about Frozen, with it's smug rebuttal of the traditional Disney Love at First Sight (it's almost like they looked at their previous films and thought “Screw Uncle Walt! We're Progressive!”). I'm thinking about Once Upon A Time, with it's poor, overdone attempts to make Snow White and Prince Charming interesting and conflicted characters. There's also Shrek (I remember liking the first one, but I admit it fits into the dysfunctional Faerie Tale category), Into the Woods, How to Train Your Dragon, Maleficent (another 'F--- You' from modern Disney to poor Walt) the list goes on and on.

In our cynical society, people are kind of put off by a straight up traditional faerie tale. But I think that that is a side effect of forgetting what the traditional faerie tales actually were.

Way back when, Faerie Tales were mostly a way to scare kids into being good. They were filled with dismemberment, deaths, horrible and graphic jinxes, and not always a happy ending. Or at least, they didn't have the modern definition of a happy ending. Most old western Faerie Tales were influenced by Christianity, which meant that the ultimate happy ending wasn't getting married and ruling a beautiful kingdom full of happy subjects- but dying a good, Christian death and attainting eternal sainthood with God in Heaven.
Most of these postmodern Faerie Tales don't have that kind of ending, of course. Even though their packaging and themes are cynical and deconstructive, you'll be hard pressed to find one with a less than jubilant ending! There's never ever a compromise for the hero, no victory that costs the hero something dear. That's because in a more secular world, death for the hero is the worst thing that can possibly happen.

Postmodern Faerie Tales are usually made up of the following elements.
- A misunderstood hero. They are snubbed by others because they are 'different'- but of course in the end, everyone who hated them is either (rightfully) dead, or worshipping the ground they walk on. BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SPECIAL, ESPECIALLY ME!!!
-The hero who is a total rebel. This is a variation on the above. Here is the hero who is always breaking the rules (because the rules were made by stupid, patriarchal MEN of course!), but once again, in the end said hero is revered precisely because of this rule breaking. Because part of this happy ending is everyone becoming enlightened enough to see the error of their ways. And if they don't, they can get killed off. And that's another thing! How come in modern faerie tales (scratch that, most fiction), people who don't agree with the hero about everything always are demonized? I mean, come on!
-Ahem. Let's not forget the faux-love interest. Here is your typical prince charming- except that he's NOT, and will eventually be revealed to be a total scumbag or worse- a homicidal maniac. DON'T TRUST ANYONE, GIRLS!!!
-Kung Fu Princess! Because women are USELESS when they aren't trying to emulate men! Forget exploring what is special about your femininity, and just be a man in a dress! I'm not against fighting princesses (Merida! Princess Leia!), but when that is all you have to your character- being feisty and good at punching things- you're a boring character. Male or Female.
-If this postmodern faerie tale happens to be a remake or reimagining, characters who were good in the original will either be at best, blundering idiots, or at worst, evil and nutty. I'm not saying this can't be cleverly or interestingly done. I don't like Once Upon a Time, but even (the stone hearted) I couldn't help but be really into the 3rd season with it's maniacal Peter Pan and his Lost Boy cult. You just have to be careful when employing this trope.
So with all that having been said, are there any new, original modern faerie tales that are actually good, and won't make me spit venom like I have been the entire post?
Turns out- yes! Definitely!
But we'll be saving those for the next post, because this one is already long enough!
Stay frosty, my friends.

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