Monday, 27 May 2013


“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” - Confucius

Since ancient times, fairy tales have served a very useful social, developmental and psychological purpose. Every nation in the world has a rich treasury of fairy tales, myths, legends and folk tales that have been handed down since time immemorial from generation to generation as a precious legacy. Fairy tales operate on multiple levels, but their primary purpose is to educate children. Fairy tales acknowledge a child’s daily inner fears, and vocalise many of these in settings that are both familiar and safely distant. By appealing to children’s curiosity, apprehensions and wonderment, they build courage and confidence, so that children are able to cope with the world’s challenges. By offering hope, the fairy tale presents a means by which children can understand the world and themselves.

The film we watched at the weekend is another example of a fairy tale that was reworked in order to become an action fantasy movie, suitable for general consumption – more so as adult fare than children’s. The movie was the Rupert Sanders 2012 “Snow White and the Huntsman" starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron. The screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini uses the bare bones of the Brothers Grimm tale published in 1812 in the first edition of their collection “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”. The tale has become a fantasy adventure, the role of the conventional rescuer/prince having been supplanted by the unconventional huntsman who becomes a trainer/peer to Snow White, eventually replacing the Prince as Snow White’s preferred partner.

The plot is very loosely based on the Grimms’ fairy tale. Snow White is the daughter of a kind and good king, who is a widower. The king falls under the spell of an evil woman who becomes his Queen and kills him immediately after they are married. The evil queen imprisons Snow White and is content to reign in the kingdom, although it becomes blighted and cursed. She consults her magic mirror regularly to reassure herself that she is beautiful. Her beauty however, is dependent on her robbing the youth and beauty of young maidens, which her evil brother supplies. Snow White escapes as the Magic Mirror declares her to be the way in which the evil Queen will gain permanent beauty and immortality. The Queen sends her men, led by a local huntsman, to bring her back from the dark, enchanted forest. When Snow White is captured, the huntsman finds he has been cheated by the Queen and turns against the Queen’s men, saving Snow White in the process. Meanwhile, Snow White’s childhood friend, Prince William, learns that she is alive and sets off to save her. Revolutionary dwarves become involved and Snow White becomes a warrior princess set upon reclaiming her rightful throne and deposing the evil Queen.

An immediate and obvious comparison to the movie “Mirror Mirror” is in order. While “Mirror Mirror” is another retake on Snow White fairy tale, it is light hearted and almost verging on pantomime. The theme of the feisty young woman taking charge of her fate is common to both of these versions of the fairy tale and thus more empowering for girls who may watch these movies. Another comparison would be the classic animated version by Walt Disney, which although quite faithful to the fairy tale is given the Disney make-over in terms of the musical elements and the animated production. The roles are traditional and 1937 certainly subscribed to the model of the meek and powerless princess needing the dashing young prince to rescue her so that they could live happily ever after. The 21st century has given us other social models to satisfy and new gender roles to apply to traditional tales. The two recent movies of the Snow White fairy tale conform to these new desiderata.

Fairy tales will continue to be told to children because to dispense with them, will mean that we rob children of their childhood. Child hood is a transition period in which knowledge, experience and growing responsibility are gained. Fairy tales ensure that instinctive hopes and fears of childhood are disciplined and made to work in a positive manner. Fairy tales amuse, but they also have a moral significance. Children react to the tale, whether it’s distress or humour, and in this way the virtual experience gained help build the character traits of the nascent adult and a direction set to the development of the future personality.

In terms of fairy tales being reprocessed for adult consumption (which seems to be a trend nowadays), it may be a product of our leisure-oriented and hedonistic society. Fairy tales for adults are the intellectual sugar-hit that we are only too ready to consume and derive pleasure from. There is the nostalgia value also, and the way in which we hanker for those pleasant, carefree days of childhood, when the world was simpler and choices coloured a simple black or white. We were in two minds about “Snow White and the Huntsman”. On the one hand it was pure entertainment and a well-produced movie (more or less competently acted for the most part), but why call it “Snow White” – I am sure it would have worked equally well if it were a completely new tale, not relying on the age-old fairy story…

1 comment:

  1. I agree wiht you on many of your points, Nick. But I still liked this movie and enjoyed seeing it.