“Once upon a time…” When I say those words to my child at bedtime, his eyes automatically light up. He knows he is about to be transported to some faraway place where reluctant heroes are made Kings and the bad guys are punished for their heinous deeds. It seems like only yesterday, that I was the one in my superhero pajamas with big goo-goo eyes as my parents read such stories (okay, in all fairness, he has the superhero pajamas, I was probably in Barbie pajamas) so the fact that I get to pass on that tradition to my child just make my little nerd heart jump for joy.
As I was reading him the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I thought about the connection between Folklore, Fairy tales, and the Science Fiction/Fantasy genres in general. What’s fascinating to me is how those stories still bleed in to today. Disney often revamps them, for instance when Rapunzel becomes Tangled or The Snow Queen becomes Frozen.
The core to them is somewhat the same, but the characters and events are modernized in order to relate to the younger generation. Still, the influence of Folklore and Fantasy doesn’t just stop with our kids’ generation. Adults are influenced too. There’s ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which stars several fairy tale characters, but contains secret plot twists and stories where these characters are allowed to intersect each other’s lives. There’s Thor from The Avengers, who although he is a character from comic books, originally was a Norse God in Mythology.
So what connects these different genres? What do they have in common? Fairy tales and Folklore were originally told verbally. The adults would gather children around primitive campfires and tell stories where bad children were punished for their bad actions or good children were rewarded for their kindness or bravery. The point was to scare these children into behaving well. They would also teach the children morals-meaning that they needed to always try to do the right thing. We all probably know a story that we learned from our childhoods. For instance, my mother told me that when she was a child, she was told not to eat the seeds of watermelons-otherwise they would grow in her belly. She was also told not to touch butterfly’s wings because then if she touched her own eyes, she would go blind. Although these tales might seem far fetched to us adults, in the eyes of a child, anything could happen. These stories, and my mother’s, all contain believable situations which “bloom” into unexpected circumstances. In the fairy tale world, a watermelon could have very well grown in her stomach and she might have very well gone blind from a butterfly’s wings.
I would like to think that another commonality in all of these genres is that heroes emerge. The hero is meant to represent all of the goodness in the world. They are the compass that allows the rest of us to make sense. Also, where there is a good guy, there is more often than not a bad guy. That person is usually evil (although in today’s writing, they may have a little bit of goodness in them-which I think is more interesting) and only want to destroy the hero.
The Fairy tale and Folklore world hasn’t just shaped comic books and television, it has also influenced books. For instance, the Cinder series is based on the tale of Cinderella…except that Cinder (Cinderella) is a cyborg. I’ve read it and it’s actually better than it sounds. Although there is an evil stepmother and evil stepsister, the author chose to incorporate new elements, such as the fact that Cinder’s best friend is a robot and that her other stepsister is also one of her best friends. Also, the world she lives in takes place in a rundown futuristic time.
I know I’m a grown up, but I never get tired of fairy tales. The Little Mermaid (the original where she turns to sea foam), Rapunzel, Thumbelina, and The Frog Prince are among some of my favorites and truthfully, I do think stories likes these influence the way I write.
I like heroes, faraway lands, and magic. Sure, happy endings are nice, but I think the definition of what constitutes a happy ending has changed-would it be riches? A prince and a princess? Or just food on the table? Another reason these themes continue to remain in existence is because I think we all want more than just an ordinary life. When you start believing in the unexpected, it suddenly becomes possible.
Hey Geeks-I know that there are probably some more influential TV shows, books, or movies that are based on Fairy tales and Folklore. Feel free to contribute to the conversation and let me know about those I missed!