Will there be any more fairy tales? This is what a friend of mine asked me one night as we were swapping favorite literary classics. It’s an interesting question; I mean, sure, we’ve got countless stories with all the makings of fairy tales– magical lands, talking animals and unreasonably capable children– but when’s the last time we had an original like Peter or Alice or Cindy? Will we never again see penned a real, bona fide fairy tale? The answer is no. No we won’t, and the reason is simple: we’ve forgotten they’re all fake. Care to come down the rabbit hole with me?
Wonderland, Neverland, Oz, The 100 Acre Wood, various other magical kingdoms, you take your pick. Each and all have been reinvented countless times in their respective lifespans. It’s kind of our favorite thing: *excitedly posting on tumblr* ok but what if everyone went back to Neverland but then the Mad Hatter stole Prince Charming’s sword and killed Maleficent with it so then they were stuck in the Emerald City and Dorothy was actually a guy and blah blah insert more Disney crossovers here. Why do we do this? I’ve joined in myself before so I know it’s fun, but so is naked skydiving and all I’m saying is we’re better than that.
My point is that none of the original authors intended their work to be taken this way. And I know you probably just asked your computer screen how I could possibly know what the original authors intended, and usually I’d be on your side of the argument there. But if you’re asking do I know whether or not J.M. Barrie intended for Peter Pan to be the evil father of Rumpelstiltskin, I feel comfortable saying unequivocally no. He most certainly did not. Even beyond the (how shall I put this delicately) marvel of storytelling that is OUAT, however, it really just takes a simple and honest read of the original stories to understand their purpose. For the authors, these stories were never just stories; rather, they were laboratories, isolated environments in which could play out any chosen concoction of human virtues and vices, the idea being that through these works of fiction we might better know ourselves.
Now maybe you see why we haven’t had anything like these since. We’ve forgotten. We’ve ignored the last page of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in which Lewis Carroll reveals his whole intention, choosing instead to hold the Mad Hatter and Red Queen as Wonderland’s sole representatives. We’ve bastardized Neverland so many times it hardly looks like itself anymore. And perhaps most tragic and least noticed of all, with a single children’s cartoon series the philosophical intricacies of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh have been lost to a time before Disney. In the end we’re left with shadows of the stories that once were, good only for network ratings and box office records.
So. No more fairy tales. At least not until we remember how to write them; better yet, why we write them. Because we truly have forgotten. In our culture where a story must allow for escape from reality, we no longer know how to write a work of fantasy as a looking glass for humanity (pun SOOO intended). But what do I know? Maybe someday, and hopefully soon, a mother or father will once again tuck their children in for the night with wild and magical stories about how to be good and strong and clever. Or we can just keep paying Disney to reboot stuff. I’m done ranting now.