Why are fairy tales popular? In the selected readings for Fairy Tales for the 21st Century this week, Bettelheim and Zipes take three different approaches to answer this question. Bettelheim answers the question from a psychological perspective, and Zipes looks at the history of their dissemination as well as why fairy tales are still relevant today.
I was not a fan of these readings, however. They were extremely Eurocentric and never addressed this. Out of necessity, the history portion could not include the whole world, but when discussing tales like the Native American fable, The Turkey Girl, this should be noted. Why do non-western variations on Cinderella get published, when they are often a minor and local folktale in the cultures they supposedly represent? Why don’t we learn about the folktales that are actually popular and important to their cultural identity?
Additionally, the readings did not address the modern mass media’s role in spreading fairy tales, or fairy tale-like stories. Because of Disney movies and their associated merchandising, many people interpret Mulan as a fairy tale, but she was a living historical figure and the fantastical elements of the movie were merely tacked on. Is it disrespectful to group such a story with the other Disney princesses, who often lack agency and character?
As Disney continues to reinterpret and adapt stories from different cultures, these questions will continue to be on my mind.
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