Fairy Tales for Our Times

Anyone who shares my interest in fairy tales might want to check out this article. I’ve come across Jack Zipes’s name a few times before. I know he edited a collection of fairy tales through the years (starting with “Cupid and Psyche” and continuing into the twentieth century) that I read (although I can’t remember if I ever finished it), and I seem to recall seeing a mention that he joined the International Wizard of Oz Club the same year I did (1993). The collection included an L. Frank Baum story, “The Queen of Quok,” so he’s presumably a fellow Baum fan.

Picture by AudioErf on DeviantArt

Anyway, Zipes’s mention of how fairy tales have been adapted into multiple media reminds me of another topic I wanted to address, which is whether video games can count as fairy tales. Not all of them, obviously, but many of my favorites are along those lines. Look at the Super Mario Bros. series, for instance. It’s a quest tale with the hero having to battle a monster in order to rescue a princess, and receiving supernatural assistance along the way. The main archetypes are all there. Even Mario and Luigi being plumbers fits with those tales that involve peasants coming up in the world through a series of tasks. I don’t really see the Mario games as addressing any real-life issues, in the way that Zipes points out fairy tales often do, but I don’t know that this is a totally necessary element of the genre anyway. Besides, there are other video game series that really do deal with actual issues, so it’s not like that’s impossible with the game format. It could just be that I’m attracted to games that use that format because I’ve always been interested in fantasy and fairy stories. It’s not like shoot-’em-ups and sports games generally have these elements, and they’ve remained consistently popular throughout the history of electronic games. On the other hand, it’s not like fantasy-based series like Mario and Zelda are at all obscure, either.

So, what do you think of this idea? Roger Ebert has claimed that video games can’t be art, but art is a tricky subject. What about their being fairy tales for the modern generation (roughly speaking)?

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8 Responses to Fairy Tales for Our Times

  1. Totally sharing that article with my friend Kate, the author who’s been posting so much about fairy tales lately (and inspired that one post of mine last week).

    And I don’t see why video games can’t be art. Anything that involves creative expression and skill ought to be able to qualify as art. But now we’re going all Honors-Core here and I don’t know if my brain is that well in shape anymore…

    • Nathan says:

      I’m not sure whether or not something can be considered art is all that important anyway, except maybe if it’s eligible for a federal grant, which I don’t think video games are.

  2. Jared Davis says:

    I think Roger Ebert can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

    My thoughts are, a fairy tale is fantasy. Video games like Mario and Zelda are fantasy, and by a small stretch of imagination, also fairy tales.

  3. vilajunkie says:

    What I find interesting is that most of the popular ones are really fantasy short stories with the Hero’s Journey theme marketed as fairy tales. Simple but powerful language that can be narrated aloud and allows the narrator to put their own inflections and gestures into the storytelling is another key factor. What I mean by the short stories thing is that many popular fairy tales were created by a single author rather than a collection of anonymous storytellers. And even stories that were originally oral narratives rather than written ones often have an “official” version by a respected author or folklorist. Some of the “invented” fairy tales include Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Tin Soldier, and a lot of stories written by French court ladies (such as Madame d’Aulnoy) that aren’t so popular now but were well known to Renaissance and Colonial readers. And now, of course, you have the Disney Company, which has redefined the fairy tales it produced in such a way that to many kids these days, these ARE the “official” versions. (And even within the Disney Company there were variations on the stories, such as the Little Golden Books and read-along books/cassettes).

    Other things to ponder: When is myth a fairy tale and when is a folktale a fairy tale? Do urban legends–complete stories, not just rumors rendered in one sentence–count as modern fairy tales? Are Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz fairy tales (Baum of course claimed his was, but Carroll never did)? Are The Tales of Beedle the Bard fairy tales, even though they’re not even stories of “our” world, but of a fictional wizarding world?

    • Okay, I have to link you to all my above-mentioned friend Kate’s recent fairy tale posts, because you’ll find loads of other people asking and answering those same questions:

      If you love fairy tale retellings, this post will make you DROOL:
      Honk if you still love fairy tales

      This is the post I recently responded to in my own blog (though mine isn’t so much about fairy tales–but there’s a link to my post near the end of this one): Speaking of Fairy Tales… (a look at recent Disney statements)

      And here’s a big old discussion of novel-length retellings:
      Fairy Tales Reimagined

      Other people offer links to MORE discussions in the comments of each of these posts. If you like this subject, prepare to get lost on the internet for awhile.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Awesome! Thank you! I’m sure I’ll get very, very lost in the L-Space with those links… :)

    • Nathan says:

      I don’t know if there’s any real consensus for what counts as a fairy tale. The genre has definitely grown to encompass both traditional folk tales and later stories by single authors that have the same basic style. I suppose folk tales are fairy tales when they’re based in fantasy, but even that leaves a lot of wiggle room.

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