Why Do Fairy Tales Have So Many Strong Female Leads?

Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie
Image of Cinderella from the upcoming movie

Woman’s History Month

The month of March is Woman’s History Month. Usually, this is an event that I completely ignore, but this year due to a series of interesting blog posts around the web, I have become intrigued with the subject of not only women in filmmaking, but also the study of stories with strong female leads. As a result my blogs for the rest of this month will revolve around this emerging topic.

The Situation Today

There is a fascinating blog post over at blcklst.com (Blacklist), where the author, Terry Huang, does a comparison of movies made with female leads to those made with male leads. What is most revealing about this undertaking is that Terry does this at different budget levels and the result is not really very surprising. As the budget for a film increases so does the likelihood that the film will revolve around a central male protagonist. What is surprising here, is how this comparison falls into an almost predictable mathematical curve. For example, at the one million dollar budget level, male films outscore female films by a two-to-one ratio. However, by time one reaches the 200 million dollar budget, this ratio has increased to a 10 to 1 margin.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there were many stories with strong female leads. In that bygone era, the art of storytelling was dominated by the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Gretel. And as in the case of Gretel, not all these characters liked to play nice. Take Gretel for example, who outsmarts the wicked witch that has imprisoned her and her brother and gains freedom for both herself and her less inventive brother, Hansel.

Nowadays, it seems that most of our big budget movies are not made unless there is a storyline that revolves around a strong, male protagonist. Incidentally, some recent movies have returned to the days of the Grimm Brothers to come up with a cinema feature with a strong female lead. If not for the recent releases of Snow White and the Huntsman, Frozen, Hansel and Gretel (Witchhunters) and soon-to-be-seen Cinderella, this picture would be a bit darker.

Still, 50 Shades of Gray leads the 2015 releases with the most sales. With over nine months left in the calendar year, it remains to be seen, if this will still be the case.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)
Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf as pictured in an ad by HADD (Hispanics Against Drunk Driving)

 

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The Modern Day Fairy Tale

Little Red Riding Hood, from wikipedia, im
Little Red Riding Hood, from wikipedia, photo by Krakin

Strange Inspiration

One might think that recent Hollywood feature productions would be the major inspiration for my latest short story, a take on Little Red Riding Hood. But a much more likely influence are the cartoons that I saw as a youth, especially the Fractured Fairy Tales segment occasionally aired on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. For some strange reason unbeknowst to me, fairy tales never seem to lose their timeless qualities.

Other Toons

Growing up in the sixties, I was a great fan of Saturday morning cartoons. In fact so popular was the medium that some animated programs, the Flintstones and the Jetsons come to mind, were shown during prime time hours. However, when dealing with the adaptions of fairy tales to the TV medium, Rocky and Bullwinkle were not the only culprits. Influences from the Grimm Brothers, Hans Chritian Andersen and other folklorists would occasionally appear in other venues as well, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Betty Boop and  etc. And then there were the feature films that Walt Disney made, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which were really forerunners to recent releases like Snow White and The Huntsman and The Brothers Grimm.

Snow White, Then and Now

Snow White as portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin in the ABC series, Once Upon a Time, from wikipedia
Snow White as portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin in the ABC series, Once Upon a Time, from wikipedia

Snow White, the cartoon character

 

My Literary Effort

My literary effort is entitled A Forest Tale and it is free this week at Smashwords. I wrote it for an anthology at Bette Noire that was devoted to the modern retelling of old fairy tales. The story was rejected in the final round, but it did receive a nice letter from one of the reviewers, (a rarity in my literary experience). The story is set in royal China and characters include a lady in red, a big bad wolf, a pompous king, some hunters and a diplomat from a faraway land. So here it is for your own reading enjoyment.

Is Magic Realism Just A Latin American Thing?

“Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”             by Wendy B. Faris and Lois Parkinson Zamora

Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nuts and Bolts of Magic Realism

Nowadays, it is generally believed that anybody can write Magic Realism, not just verbose Latin American authors. Just to prove how widespread this idea is, I will recent a recent article in Writer’s Digest that explains the basis of such a literary task. Among the building blocks of Magic Realism that author Kristin O’Keeffe cites is creating a realistic and mundane world from which your magic elements can spring forth. Miss O’Keefe goes on to say that no logical explanation is needed for those strange things that might occur during the course of your story……they just happen. Still, keep in mind that Magic Realism is not fantasy, for it is always grounded in a real (and often mundane) world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing
The Hummingbird’s Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing

Golden Age of Magic Realism

The Golden Age of Latin American Magic Realism probably occurred during the 40s, 50s and 60s, culminating with the Marquez classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today, the popular genre has been replaced by more realistic historical and political stories about some of the horrendous and tumultuous events that have shaped some Latin American nations in the second half of the 20th century. For example, Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of Butterflies, sounds like it be of the genre. But instead it is basically a historical novel underlining the cruelty and barbarity of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Alvarez’s story may be typical of what is going on among Latin writers today with a movement away from the slightly unreal to the coarse reality of everyday life.

Heart of the Jaguar by Pax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism
Heart of the Jaguar by Jax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism

Magic Realism Abounds Today

Just as authors South of the Border may be moving away from floating and flying characters, numerous other writers from the U.S., Europe and Asia, seem more than ready to embrace the concept. A Magic Realism reading list put forth by Kristin O’Keeffe embraces such literary stars as Toni Morrison, Huruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Karen Russell and Alice Hoffman. The Magic Realism of Folk Tales To my way of thinking, Fairy Tales are a great source of Magical Realism that has been overlooked by this literary discussion. True they do have strong fantasy elements, but for the most part, the stories are grounded in rather real and mundane worlds, especially if you consider the time period, when they were written. What is most important here is the way fairy tales have been re-adapted and re-told by contemporary authors to convey a modern dilemma. With this genre contemporary writing has a rich and fertile ground from which to introduce new elements of magic to readers everywhere.

Taking the Time To Say Thank You

Little_Red_Riding_Hood_WPA_poster
A 1939 WPA poster done by Kenneth Whitley, featuring the image of Little Red Riding Hood encountering the wolf

Almost

A while back I submitted a short story to the Bette Noire Anthology that was publishing a collection of short stories based on fairy tales from the Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm. Though only a select few of the intriguing tales are widely read, this popular 19th century collection features over 200 fascinating fables, collected straight form the hinterlands of Old Germany.

For my submission, I chose one of the most popular, Little Red Riding Hood. My short story ran almost 2500 words and featured a grown-up heroine with a Chinese name living in a vast forest estate owned by a not-so-benevolent king. After many weeks of no response I finally received an e-mail stating that my story had made the final round, but alas it fell short of being included in the anthology.

Many Thanks

Though very disappointed, I was surprised and excited to finally hear from the publisher. Most unexpected was the detailed two paragraph letter that the editor wrote explaining what he did and  didn’t like about the story. Right away, I e-mailed a thank you note but unfortunately that was returned as spam. Since this was my first rejection for the story, I hope to find a place for it somewhere else. Modern take-offs of classic fairy tales are always a good bet, so maybe I can locate a home for it yet….if not it will probably end up on Kindle and/or Smashwords.

Not Fade Away

Does anybody remember the “Fractured Fairy Tales” from the old “Rocky and Bulwinkle Show“. I do because at the time it was one of favorite TV shows. Furthermore, I think that in a subliminal way I was trying to re-create my own fractured fairy tale when I re-wrote the Little Red Riding Hood story.

New Movies

Going back to old classics has always been a valid Hollywood tradition, but most recently, the guys and gals from Southern California seemed to have re-discovered some of the old Classics of European storytelling. This can be easily in such releases as The Brothers Grimm, Beowulf and Snow White and the Huntsman. Perhaps the Snow White story retold as an epic adventure was most successful at the box office and as a result I would expect some more of the same in the near future.

So long for now.

Henri

Charlize Theron as Snow White