Date of Award
Dr. Amy Sonheim
Dr. Johnny Wink
Professor Sarah Smith
If anyone had seen me binge-watching ABC's Once Upon a Time (a television adaptation of Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and more) during my freshman year of college, they undoubtedly would have said I was wasting my time. In fact, I probably would have agreed with them--there were far better things for a busy English and mass communications double major to do in her free time. I didn't realize then that I was actually in the process of developing what would become my research passion for the next four years.
For my final research essay in Composition 1, my professor, Dr. Johnny Wink, had us choose a topic from a long list he created. I chose "The Disneyization of Fairy Tales." I had grown up loving Disney, and thought I might as well tie my essay into one of my favorite television shows. My essay focused on Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Frog, and Frozen, comparing the Disney movies to the original stories. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about fairy tales and got my paper back with a near-perfect score. When it came time to choose my honors directed study--in essence, a semester-long research project--I thought back to that essay and knew I wanted to learn more about fairy tales and adaptations. A year later, this thesis grew out of my directed study. I think it safe to say that my thesis would never have come about had I not decided to watch a cheesy television series.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved Disney's adaptations of fairy tales. Something about the magic and the messages has continued to capture my imagination and stick with me through the present day. However, as people grow older, they tend to start regarding fairy tales as trivial, childish, or unrealistic. Some readers focus only on similar plot points and fail to realize the importance of deviations among adaptations. Other people assume that fairy tales are not applicable to modem readers. Still others think that because we tell fairy tales to children, adults have nothing to learn from them.
We all know the stereotypical outline: Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived a prince. He goes on adventures and falls in love with a girl--a beautiful girl, the girl of his dreams. He brings her home and they have the most magnificent wedding the land has ever seen. Isn't that how these stories always go? Boy and girl meet, their lives change as they find true love, and that's the end of that. The world carries on and nothing much changes. Surely there is no deep, underlying value.
Why have fairy tales existed for hundreds of years, then? Why do people cling to them, passing them down for generations? Why does Disney keep basing films on fairy tales? I would argue that fairy tales are crucial for the human spirit, rather than frivolous stories for children. They teach us the necessity of diligence, the importance of empathy, and the value of love. Perhaps most importantly, they teach us that good really will triumph over evil someday. They give us hope.
In order to grasp the importance and the impact of fairy tales, we must also understand how adaptations work. Many of the stories we know so well have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Susan Ohmer claims that the story of Cinderella dates back to ninth-century China (231). Because people adapt tales that have already seen countless adaptations, readers must understand that adaptations are their own entity rather than corruptions of the originals.
In this thesis, I will discuss the various ways in which people adapt stories, as well as the implications that these adaptations have. As fairy tales travel across time and place, people adapt them to their own cultural needs. That fact makes it worthwhile to examine what different fairy tales mean to different cultures. These stories seem like they could take place anywhere at any time, but their authors actually had specific locations in mind. If the tales are specific, they have a specific meaning. Fairy tales gain approval from each audience. ln studying their meanings, we can come to understand the value fairy tales had for their particular audiences and what modern readers can learn from them. My title "Twice Upon a Time" suggests that these adaptations enable each original tale to speak cross-culturally to all audiences.
Howard, Morgan, "Twice Upon a Time: The Retellings of Fairy Tales for Contemporary Audiences" (2018). Honors Theses. 640.