FAIRY TALE AS MYTH
MYTH AS FAIRY TALE
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY
List of Illustrations ix
1. The Origins of the Fairy Tale 17
2. Rumpelstiltskin and the Decline
of Female Productivity 49
3. Breaking the Disney Spell 72
4. Spreading Myths about Iron John 96
5. Oz as American Myth 119
6. The Contemporary American Fairy Tale 139
Attached, almost as an afterthought, to the end of Mircea Eliade's book Myth and Reality is a highly stimulating essay entitled "Myths and Fairy Tales." First published as a review of a book that dealt with the relationship of the fairy tale to the heroic legend and myth Eliade's essay was concerned not only with demonstrating the differences between myth and fairy tale but also with elaborating their extraordinary symbiotic connection.
It is well known that Eliade, one of the great scholars of religion and myth, believed that "myth narrates a sacred it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the 'beginnings.' In other words, myth tells us how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality—an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution." Since myth narrates the deeds of supernatural beings, it sets examples for human beings that enable them to codify and order their lives. By enacting and myths in their daily lives, humans are able to have a genuine religious experience. Indeed, it is through recalling and bringing back the gods of the past into the present that one becomes their contemporary and at the same time is transported into primordial or sacred time. This transportation is also a connection, for a mortal can gain a sense of his or her origins and feel the process of history in the present and time as divine.
In contrast to the myth—and here Eliade often conflates the genre of the oral folk tale with the literary fairy !tale—he argues that "we never find in folk tales an accurate memory of a particular stage of culture; cultural styles and
historical cycles are telescoped in them. All that remains is the structure of an exemplary behavior.' However, this does not mean that oral folk tales and literary fairy tales are desacralized narratives. On the contrary—and this is Eliade's point—they continue to convey mythic notions and motifs that are camouflaged. In one key passage of his essay, Eliade states that, "though in the West the tale has long since become a literature of diversion (for children and peasants) or of escape (for city dwellers), it still presents the structure of an infinitely serious and responsible adventure, for in the last analysis it is reducible to initiatory scenano: again and again we find initiatory ordeals (battles with the monster, apparently insurmountable obstacles, riddles to be solved, impossible tasks, etc.), the descent to Hades or the ascent to Heaven (or what amounts to the same thing—death and resurrection), marrying the princess."' All of this becomes camouflaged, according to Eliade, when the tale abandons its clear religious "initiatory" responsibility, but appropriates the scenario and certain motifs, and one of the intriguing questions for folklorists and those scholars interested in myths and fairy tales is to determine why and when all this took place.
Eliade believes it may have occurred when the traditional fires and secrets of cults were no longer practiced and when it was no longer taboo to reveal and tell the "mysteries" of the religious practices. Whatever the case may be, it is clear to Eliade that the myth preceded the folk and fairy tale and that it had a more sacred function in communities and societies than the secular narratives.
Of course, there have been great debates among scholars about whether the myth preceded the oral folk tale and whether it is a higher form of art because it encompasses the religious experience of people. But this debate is not what interests me with regard to Eliade's essay, rather it is the manner in which he almost equates the religious myth with the secular fairy tale. That is, he tends to regard the folk tale as the profane conveyor of the religious experience.
"The tale takes up and continues' initiation' on the level of the imaginary," he says. "All unwittingly, and indeed believing that he is merely amusing himself or escaping, the man of modern societies still benefits from the imaginary initiation supplied by tales. That being so, one may wonder if the fairy tale did not very early become an 'easy doublet' for the initiation myth and rites, if it did not have the role of recreating the 'initiatory ordeals' on the plane of imagination and dream."
The fairy tale or, to be more specific, the folk tale, as an "easy doublet for the initiation myth." That is an astonishing idea. It could mean that, from the beginning, individual imaginations were countering the codified myths of a tribe or society that celebrated the power of gods with other non-authoritative" tales of their own that called upon and transformed the supernatural into magical and mysterious forces which could change their lives. Certainly, myths and folk tales blended very early in the oral tradition, and in many modern oral and literary narratives it is very difficult to tell them apart. They seem to be invested with an extraordinary mystical power so that we collapse the distinctions and feel compelled to return to them time and again for counsel and guidance, for hope that there is some divine order and sense to a chaotic world.
Myths and fairy tales seem to know something that we do not know. They also appear to hold our attention, to keep us in their sway, to enchant our lives. We keep returning to them for answers. We use them in diverse ways as private sacred myths or as public commercial advertisements to sell something. We refer to myths and fairy tales as lies by saying, "oh, that's just a fairy tale," or "that's just myth." But these lies are often the lies that govern our lives.
Over the centuries we have transformed the ancient myths and folk tales and made them into the fabric of our lives. Consciously and unconsciously we weave the narratives of myth and folk tale into our daily existence.
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It is impossible to grasp the history of the fairy tale and the relationship of the fairy tale to myth without taking into consideration the manner in which tales have been revised and duplicated. To be more precise, the evolution of the fairy tale as a literary genre is marked by a process of dialectical appropriation involving duplication and revision that set the cultural conditions for its mythicization, institutionalization, and expansion as a mass-mediated form through radio, film, and television. Fairy tales were first told by gifted tellers and were based on rituals intended to endow meaning to the daily lives of members of a tribe. As oral folk tales, they were intended to explain natural occurrences such as the change of the seasons and shifts in the weather or to celebrate the rites of harvesting, hunting, marriage, and conquest. The emphasis in most folk tales was on communal harmony. A narrator or narrators told tales to bring members of a group or tribe closer together and to provide them with a sense of mission, a telos. The tales themselves assumed a generic quality based on the function that they were to fulfill for the community or the incidents that they were to report, describe, and explain. Consequently, there were tales of initiation, worship, warning, and indoctrination. Whatever the type may have been, the voice of the narrator was known. The tale came directly from common experiences and beliefs. Told in person, directly, fact to face, they were altered as the beliefs and behaviors of the members of a particular group changed.
With the rise of literacy and the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, the oral tradition of storytelling underwent an immense revolution. The oral tales were
taken over by a different social class, and the form, themes, production, and reception of the tales were transformed. This change did not happen overnight, but it did foster discrimination among writers and their audiences almost immediately so that distinct genres were recognized and approved for certain occasions and functions within polite society or cultivated circles of readers. In the case of folk tales, they were gradually categorized as legends, myths, fables, comical anecdotes, and, of course, fairy tales.
What we today consider fairy tales were actually just one type of the folk-tale tradition, namely the Zaubermarchen or the magic tale, which has many subgenres. The French writers of the late seventeenth century called these tales contes de fees (fairy tales) to distinguish them from other kinds of contes populaires (popular tales), and what really distinguished a conte de fee, based on the oral Zaubernarchen, was its transformation into a literary tale that addressed the concerns, tastes, and functions of court society. The fairy tale had to fit into the French salons, parlors, and courts of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie if it was to establish itself as a genre. The writers, Madame D'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault, Mademoiselle L"Heritier, Mademoiselle de La Force, and many others knew and expanded upon oral and literary tales. They were not, however, the initiators of the literary fairy-tale tradition in Europe. Two Italian writers, Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile, had already set an example for what the French were accomplishing. But the French writers created an institution; that is, the genre of the literary fairy tale was institutionalized as an aesthetic and social means through which questions and issues of civility, proper behavior and demeanor in all types of situations, were mapped out as narrative strategies for literary socialization, and in many cases, as symbolical gestures of subversion to question the ruling standards of taste and behavior.
While the literary fairy tale was being institutionalized
at the end of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth century in France, the oral tradition did not disappear, nor was it subsumed by the new literary genre. Rather, the oral tradition continued to feed the writers with material and was now also influenced by the literary tradition itself. The early chapbooks or (cheap books) that were carried by peddlers or colporteurs to the villages throughout France known as the Bibliothoique Bleue contained numerous abbreviated and truncated versions of the literary tales, and these were in turn told once again in these communities. In some cases, the literary tales presented new material that was transformed through the oral tradition and returned later to literature by a writer who remembered hearing a particular story.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Brothers Grimm set about to celebrate German culture through their country's folk tales, the literary fairy tale had long since been institutionalized, and they, along with Hans Christian Andersen, Collodi, Ludwig Bechstein, and a host of Victorian writers from George MacDonald to Oscar Wilde, assumed different ideological and aesthetic positions within this institutionalization. These writers put the finishing touches on the fairy tale genre at a time when nationstates were assuming their modern form and cultivating particular forms of literature as commensurate expressions of national cultures. What were the major prescriptions, expectations, and standards of the literary fairy tale by the end of the nineteenth century?
Here it is important first to make some general remarks about the "violent" shift from the oral to the literary tradition and not just talk about the appropriation of the magic folk tale as a dialectical process. Appropriation does not occur without violence to the rhetorical text created in the oral tales. Such violation of oral storytelling was crucial and necessary for the establishment of the bourgeoisie because
it concerned thecontrol of desire and imagination within the symbolical order of western culture.
Unlike the oral tradition, the literary tale was written down to be read in private, although, in some cases, the fairy tales were read aloud in parlors. However, the book form enabled the reader to withdraw from his or her society and to be alone with a tale. This privatization violated the communal aspects of the folk tale, but the very printing of a fairy tale was already a violation since it was based on separation of social classes. Extremely few people could read, and the fairy tale in form and content furthered notions of elitism and separation. In fact, the French fairy tales heightened the aspect of the chosen aristocratic elite who were always placed at the center of the seventeenth and eighteenth century narratives. They were part and parcel of the class struggles in the discourses of that period. To a certain extent, the fairy tales were the outcome of violent "civilized" struggles, material representations of struggles for hegemony. As Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse have suggested, "a class of people cannot produce themselves as a ruling class without setting themselves off against certain Others. Their hegemony entails possession of the key cultural terms determining what are the right and wrong ways to be a human being." No matter where the literary tale took root and established itself—France, Germany, England—it was written in a standard "high" language that the folk could not read, and it was written as a form of entertainment and education for members of the ruling classes. Indeed, only the well-to-do could purchase the books and read them. In short-, by institutionalizing the literary fairy tale, writers and publishers violated the forms and concerns of nonliterate, essentially peasant communities and set new standards of taste, production, and reception through the discourse of the fairy tale.
The literary fairy tales tended to exclude the majority of people who could not read while the folk tales were open to everyone. Indeed, the literary narratives were individualistic
and unique in form and exalted the power of those chosen to rule. In contrast, the oral tales had themes and characters that were readily recognizable and reflected common wishfulfillments. Of course, one had to know the dialect in which they were told. From a philological standpoint, the literary fairy tale elevated the oral tale through the standard practice of printing and setting grammatical rules in "high French" or "high German." The process of violation is not one of total negation and should not be studied as onedimensional, for the print culture enabled the tales to be preserved and cultivated, and the texts created a new realm of pleasurable reading that allowed for greater reflection on the part of the reader than an oral performance of a tale could do. At the beginning, the literary fairy tales were written and published for adults, and though they were intended to reinforce the mores and values of French civility, they were so symbolical and could be read on so many different levels that they were considered somewhat dangerous: social behavior could not be totally dictated, prescribed, and controlled through the fairy tale, and there were subversive features in language and theme. This is one of the reasons
that fairy tales were not particularly approved for children. In most European countries it was not until the end of the eighteenth and early pan of the nineteenth centuries that fairy tales were published for children, and even then begrudgingly, because their "vulgar" origins in the lower classes were suspect.
Of course, the fairy tales for children were sanitized and expurgated versions of the fairy tales for adults, or they were new moralistic tales that were aimed at the domestication of the imagination, as Rudiger Steinlein has demonstrated in his significant study. The form and structure of the fairy tale for children were carefully regulated in the nineteenth century so that improper thoughts and ideas would not be stimulated in the minds of the young. If one looks carefully at the major writers of fairy tales for children
who became classical and popular in the nineteenth century, it is clear that they themselves exercised self-censorship and restraint in conceiving and writing down tales for children.
This is not to argue that the literary fairy tale as institution became one in which the imagination was totally domesticated. On the contrary, by the end of the nineteenth century the genre served different functions. As a whole, it formed amulti-vocal network of discourses through which writers used familiar motifs, topoi, protagonists, and plots symbolically tocomment on the civilizing process and socialization in their respective countries. These tales did not represent communal values but rather the values of a particular writer. Therefore, if the writer subscribed to the hegemonic value system of his or her society and respected the canonical ideology of Perrault, the Grimms, and Andersen, he/she would write a conventional tale with conservative values, whether for adults or children. On the other hand, many writers would parody, mock, question, and undermine the classical literary tradition and produce original and subversive tales that were part and parcel of the institution itself.
The so-called original and subversive tales kept and keep the dynamic quality of the dialectical appropriation alive, for there was and is always a danger that the written word, in contrast to the spoken word, will fix a structure, image, metaphor, plot, and value as sacrosanct, thereby lending it mythic proportions. For instance, for some people the Grimms' fairy tales are holy, or fairy tales are considered holy and not to be touched. How did this'notion emanate?
This establishment through the violation of the oral practices was the great revolution and transformation of the fairy tale, and led to mythicization of key classical fairy tales. It is the fairy tale as myth that has extraordinary power in our daily lives, and its guises are manifold, its transformations astonishing. We often forget or are unaware of how tlmythic" and "changeable" fairy tales are. This book seeks to explore why we ignore and yet are captivated by the fairy tale as myth and the myth as fairy tale.
1. ORIGINS OF THE FAIRY TALE
In the case of the literary fairy tale, though one cannot fix the exact date that it became an acceptable game, we know that there are various references to it toward the end of the seventeenth century and that it emanated out of the "jeux d'esprit" in the salons. The women would refer to folk tales and use certain motifs spontaneously In their conversations. Eventually, women began telling the tales as a literary divertimento, intermezzo, or as a kind of dessert that one would invent to amuse other listeners. This social function of amusement was complemented by another purpose, namely, that of self-portrayal and representation of proper aristocratic manners. The telling of fairy tales enabled women to picture themselves, social manners, and relations in a manner that represented their interests and those of the aristocracy. Thus, they placed great emphasis on certain rules of oration such as naturalness and formlessness. The teller of the tale was to make it "seem" as though the tale were made up on the spot and did not follow prescribed rules. Embellishment, improvisation, and experimentation with known folk or literary motifs were stressed. The procedure of telling a tale as "bagatelle" would work as follows: the narrator would be requested to think up a tale based on a particular motif; the adroitness of the narrator would be measured by the degree with which she/he was inventive and natural; the audience would respond politely with a compliment; then another member of the audience would be requested to tell a tale, not in direct competition with the other teller, but in order to continue
the game and vary the possibilities for linguistic expression.
By the 1690s the salon fairy tale became so acceptable that women and men began writing their tales down to publish them. The most notable writers gathered In the salons or homes of Madame D'Aulnoy, Perrault, Madame de Murat, Mademoiselle L'Heritier, or Mademoiselle de La Force, all of whom were in some part responsible for the great mode of literary fairy tales that developed between 1697 and 1789 in France.
The aesthetics developed in the conversational games and in the written tales had a serious side: though the tales differed in style and content, they were all anticlassical and were implicitly told and written in opposition to Nicolas Boileau, who was championing Greek and Roman literature as the models for French writers to follow at that time. In addition, since the majority of the writers and tellers of fairy tales were women, there is a definite distinction to be made between their tales and those written and told by men. As Renate Baader has commented:
While Perrault's bourgeois and male tales with happy ends had pledged themselves to a moral that called for Griseldis to serve as a model for women, the women writers had to make an effort to defend the insights that had been gained in the past decades. Mlle Scud6ry's novels and novellas stood as examples for them and taught them how to redeem their own wish reality in the fairy tale. They probably remembered how feminine faults had been revalorized by men and how the aristocratic women had responded to this in their self-portraits. Those aristocratic women had commonly refused to place themselves in the service of social mobility. Instead they put forward their demand for moral, intellectual, and psychological self-determination. As an analogy to this, the fairy tales of the women made it expected that the imagination in the tales was truly to be let loose in any kind of arbitrary way that had been considered a female danger up until that time. After the utopia of the "royaume de tendre," which had tied fairy-tale salvation of the sexes to a previous ascetic and enlight
ened practice of virtues and the guidance of feelings, them was now an unleashed imagination that could invent a fairy-tale realm and embellish it so that reason and will were set out of commission.
If we were to take the major literary fairy tales produced at the end of the seventeenth century-Madame D'Aulnoy, Les Contes des Fies (1697-98), Mademoiselle La Force, Les Contes des Contes (1697), Mademoiselle L'Heritier, Oeuvres meslees (1696), Chevalier de Mailly, Les Illustres Fees (1698), Madame de Murat, Contes de Fees (1698), Charles Perrault, Histoires ou Contes du temps passe (1697), and Jean de Prechac, Contes moins cntes que les autres (1698)—one can ascertain remarkable differences in their social attitudes, especially in terms of gender and class differences. However, all the fairy tales have one thing in common that literary historians have failed to take into account: they were not told or written for children. Even the tales of Perrault. In other words, it is absurd to date the origin of the literary fairy tale for children with the publication of Perrault's tales. Certainly, his tales were popularized and used with children later in the eighteenth century, but it was not because of his tales themselves as individual works of art. Rather, it was because of certain changes in the institution of the literary fairy tale itself.
Up through 1700, there was no literary fairy tale for children. On the contrary, children like their parents heard oral tales from their governesses, servants, and peers. The institiltionalizing of the literary fairy tale, begun in the salons during the seventeenth century, was for adults and arose out of a need by aristocratic women to elaborate and conceive other alternatives in society than those prescribed for them by men. The fairy tale was used in refined discourse as a means through which women imagined their lives might be improved. As this discourse became regularized and accepted among women and slowly by men, it served as the basis for a
literary mode that was received largely by members of the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie. This reception was collective and social, and gradually the tales were changed to introduce morals to children that emphasized the enforcement of a patriarchal code of civilize to the detriment of women, even though women were originally the major writers of the tales. This code was also intended to be learned first and foremost by children of the upper classes, for the literary fairy tale's functional excluded the majority of children who could not read and were dependent on oral transmission of tales.
Most scholars generally agree that the literary development of the children's fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, conceived by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont in 1756 as part of Le Magasin des Enfants, translated into English in 1761 as The Young Misses Magazine Containing Dialogues between a Governess and Several Young Ladies of Quality, Her Scholars,
owes its origins to the Roman writer Apulelus, wh published the tale of Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass in the middle of the second century A.D. It Is also clear that, in the system used by most folklorists to distinguish different types of tales, the oral folk tale type 42SA, the beast bridegroom, played a major role in the literary development. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Cupid and Psyche tradition was revived in France with a separate publication of Apulelus's tale in 1648 and led La Fontaine to write his long story Amours de Psyche et de Cupidon (1669) and Corneille and Moliere to produce their tragedie-ballet Psyche (1671). The focus in La Fontaine's narrative and the play by Moliere and Comeille is on the mistaken curiosity of Psyche. Her desire to know who her lover is almost destroys Cupid, and she must pay for her "crime" before she is reunited with Cupid. These two versions do not alter the main plot of Apulelus's tale and project an image of women who are either too curious (Psyche) or vengeful (Venus), and their lives must ultimately be ordered by Jove.
All this was changed by Madame D'Aulnoy, who was evidently familiar with different types of beast/ bridegroom folk tales and was literally obsessed by the theme of Psyche and Cupid and reworked it or mentioned it in several fairy tales: Le Mouton (The Ram, 1697). La Grenouille bienfaisante (The Beneficent Frog, 1698). and Serpentin Vert (The Green Serpent, 1697), Gracieuse et Percinet (Gracieuse and Percinet, 1697), Le Prince Latin (Prince Lutin, 1697), La Princesse Felicite et le Prince Adolphe (Princess Felicity and Prince Adolph, 1690). The two most important versions are The Ram and The Green Serpent, and it is worthwhile examining some of the basic changes in the motifs and plot that break radically from the male tradition of Psyche and Cupid. I must first emphasize that it was Madame D'Aulnoy who prepared the way for the literary version of Beauty and the Beast, not Perrault.
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With regard to the origins of the fairy tale for children, it is practically impossible to give an exact date, but it is more than likely that, given the shifts in the institution of the fairy tale itself, the fairy tale for children arose in the 1720s and 1730s through the distribution of chapbooks for a broad audience including children. Madame Le Prince de Beaumont's tale was highly unusual because it was one of the first fairy tales, if not the first, written expressly for children, and we must not forget that it was also first published within a book that has a governess tell different kinds of lessons and tales to a group of girls in her charge. Madame Le Prince de Beaumont herself was a governess in
London during the time she wrote her book, and she based its structure on the way she organized the day that she spent with her wards. As Patricia Clancy has pointed out, she put into practice and perfected many of Fenelon's recommendations on leaching girls. But Fenelon never realised the connection between moral and intellectual education, and mine de Beaumont was thus more ambitious for their minds than he. The lessons were pleasantly interspersed with a good deal of teataking and the atmosphere was friendly, even intimate. Her method of teaching was based on free debate and gentle persuasion, which nevertheless did not always avoid some clash of wills. They usually began with one of her fairy tales from which she extrapolated a moral through elaboration and questions, then proceeded to a practical demonstration of physics, history, or geography, or else a commentary on a passage from the Old Testament.
Clearly, there is a shift in the social function of the literary fairy tale as it began to be scripted for children: it was to instruct in an amusing way and was now received by children of the upperclasses in the home where lessons were taught by private tutors or by govemesses. Moreover, some of the fairy tales were evidently used in schools or in schooling the children of the upper classes. That boys were to betreated differently than girls is apparent from the structure and contents of Madame de Beaumont's book, or in other words, Beauty and the Beast originated as a sex-specific tale intended to inculcate a sense of good manners in little girls.
What is this good sense?The sense to sacrifice one's life for the mistakes of one's father, learn to love an ugly beastman if he is kind and has manners, keep one's pledge to a beast, no matter what the consequences may be. When confronted by her sisters, who accuse her for not being concerned about her father who is sentenced to death for picking a rose, Beauty responds: "Why should I lament my father's death when he is not going to perish? Since the
monster is willing to accept one of his daughters, I intend to offer myself to placate his fury, and I feel very fortunate to be in a position to save my father and prove my affection for him."
Beauty is selfless, and perhaps that is why site has no name. She is nameless. All girls ate supposed to become "beauties," i.e., selfless and nameless. There is a false power attributed to Beauty as a virtue. By sacrificing oneself, it is demonstrated, the powers that be, here the fairies, will reward her with a perfect husband. The most important thing is to learn to obey and worship one's father (authority) and to fulfill one's promises even though they are made tinder duress. Ugliness is associated with bad manners like those of her sisters. _"he beast is not ugly because his manners are perfect. Beauty and the Beast are suited for one another because they live according to the code of civility. They subscribe to prescriptions that maintain the power of an elite class and patriarchal role.
Madame Le Prince de Beaumont's classic fairy tale enables us to see key features of how the fairy tale was institutionalized for children. The framing conditions of this institutionalization are: (1) the social function of the fairy tale must be didactic and teach a lesson that corroborates the code of civility as it was being developed at that time; (2) it must be short so that children can remember and memorize it and so that both adults and children can repeat it orally; this was the way that many written tales worked their way back into the oral tradition; (3) it must pass the censorship of adults so that it can be easily circulated; (4) it must address social issues such as obligation, sex roles, class differences, power, and decorum so that it will appeal to adults, especially those who publish and publicize the tales; (5) It must be suitable to be used with children in a 'schooling situation; and (6) it must reinforce a notion of power within the children of the upper classes and suggest ways for them to maintain power.
Of course, there is a more positive reading of Beauty and the Beast and the role it played in the institutionalization of the fairy tale. In her day, Madame Le Prince de Beaumont was a progressive thinker who contributed a great deal to raising the esteem of girls and women in England and Fran ce. Patricia Clancy explains that "Mme le Prince de Beaumont would by no means have been considered a radical In her own country, yet what she saw and experienced in England fired her with a reforming zeal for both the status and the education of women in society. With her as with most other feminist reformers, the two went hand in hand, and she never ceased to deplore the fact that men denied women education which would make them virtuous, then reviled them for their moral shortcomings."" Her primary goal in writing Beauty and the Beast was to celebrate the virtuous behavior of her heroine, who courageously chooses to sacrifice herself for the sake of her father. But Beauty's actions give rise to a certain ambivalence that undermines the intentions of Madame Le Prince de Beaumont: Beauty can be admired for her courage and simultaneously deprecated for submitting to the will of two men, her father and the beast. It would seem that she actually seeks to be dominated and to be praised for her submission as a virtuous and courageous act.
Beauty's ambivalent position can be attributed to Madame Le Prince de Beaumont's own ambivalence as reformer who did not want to alter the structure of the family or society and yet wanted to improve the status of women. Therefore, Madame Le Prince de Beaumont rationalized her own compromising role and the submission of women as female desire in her fairy tale. This rationalization of desire is what makes Beauty and the Beast so powerful and explains how her version assumed mythic proportions in the eighteenth century and continues to exercise such a compelling appeal up to the present.
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6. THE CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN FAIRY TALE
You can always tell when Christmas is approaching in America. Sometime in November the bookstores begin displaying glossy fairy-tale books with attractive colors and startling designs in their windows. It is almost like magic, and the store windows appear to be enchanted by these marvelous books. Of course, there is really nothing magical about this phenomenon. It is absolutely predictable: storeowners and publishers are in collusion, seeking to entice both children and parents to buy as many books as possible during the holiday season. In most cases, it does not matter if the contents of the books are vapid. It is the fluff that counts, the ornament, the diverting cover designs that promise a wonderful world of pleasure and take the onlooker away from the harsh realities of the present. In the bookstore window there is the glow of difference and the promise of pleasure. In the fairy-tale books there is hope for a world distinctly more exciting and rewarding than the everyday world in the here and now.
But is there any basis for such hope? Are the fairy tales in America mere commodities that compensate for the technological evolution that has narrowed the range of possibilities for developing the imagination and humane relationships in reality? What socio-cultural function do fairy tales have in an American society, in which the most extreme
fantasies and nightmares have been coolly and brutally realized so that little is left for the imagination?
In a significant study of the historical development of the literary fairy tale, Friedmar Apel has argued that, from its origins, the central theme of the fairy tale has always concerned the struggle of the imagination (representing the spiritual side of humanity) against the hard reality of exploitation and reification (representing the rise of inhumane technology). Whereas the earlier fairy tales of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could optimistically project a harmony of soul and reality brought about by magic or a fantastic element that seemed commensurate with progress in the world, Apel has claimed that the modem temper is stamped by our conscious recognition that such harmony can never be achieved and thus the very basis of the fairy tale is no longer relevant and can never again be valid, unless its formal characteristics totally change. As he states:
While other genres (i.e., the novel, lyric poetry) have been able to maintain themselves only by depicting the impossibility of the unity of the world and soul, the fairy tale requires the possibility of conceptualizing this unity as a starting point, no matter how relativized it becomes. Without this possibility, the fairy tale must give up its formal function of depicting the marvelous (das Wunderbare), unless it wants to degenerate into mere entertainment literature by feigning harmony and thus losing all connection to actual life.... all new endeavors to portray the marvelous with the traditional means of the fairy tale and other fantastic stories only serve to amuse the imagination and can no longer fulfill the old functions of conveying a sublime interpretation of life and a way of putting the meaning into practice.'
In short, Apel dismisses the profound utopian value, which the fairy tale, either as oral or literary product, once had, and he asserts that it is impossible in the twentieth century for it to be anything more than divertissement, escape literature, a cultural commodity that is part of the entertainment
business. His position is obviously a radical one and must be qualified, if we are to understand the development and the present function of the literary fairy tale in the West, and more specifically in America. Certainly, if we look at the Walt Disney industry and the vast distribution of bowdlerized and sanitized versions of fairy tales by Perrault, the Grimms, Bechstein, Collodi, and other classical authors, it is apparent that they have been incorporated into the western culture industry mainly to amuse children and adults alike.
Yet, amusement is not to be taken lightly, for distraction and divertissement have an important ideological function: almost all the major classical fairy tales that have achieved prominence and arc to be enjoyed in the United States can be considered as products that reinforce a patriarchal and middle-class social code. Their meaning is not limited to this ideological function. For instance, even if their purpose is to amuse and pacify the rebellious instincts of readers, they are received by the public in different and unpredictable ways. Although a text may contain directives within it, it cannot prescribe its effect. Meaning shifts with the individual in history. And, if the more serious fairy tales of the twentieth century and specifically contemporary American fairy tales arc to have any meaning today, then we must begin at first in the production phase with the proposition that many authors believe that the classical works are indeed patriarchal and anachronistic and have served an ideological function that needs to be replaced, or, at the very least, to be revised in light of the major socio-political changes since World War II.