Fairy Tales & Adaptations

The western “fairy tale” is a genre we may think we know from childhood memories, but this course is an introduction to its complex history, multiple social uses, and transformations into literary fiction and film for children and adults. Fairy tales today permeate contemporary culture in various media, and one of our ongoing projects as a class will be to explore why they have such long-term power over us as well as how they’ve changed (or have been changed) over time. When oral tales of magic and wonder were first adapted into printed literature in 16th-century Europe, they were not literature for children or strictly of European provenance. Moreover, the process by which, from the 18th through the 20th centuries, fairy tales became a popular genre crossing national boundaries in the modern world is hardly linear or ideologically monolithic. Rather, while maintaining a strong grip on ordinary social life, fairy tales have, over the centuries and in different social contexts, offered imaginative outlets for desire and change. Approaching fairy tales as socializing narratives that are continuously adapted, we will focus on how they encourage and discourage specific gendered and other cultural behaviors as well as how they enable new possibilities.


Organized around popular (i.e. well-known) fairy tales, plots and themes, this course has both historical and cross-cultural breadth: we will read English-language translations of non-western cultures that are fairy-tale like (although not necessarily considered fairy tales) such as The Arabian Nights, Pacific-based tales such as Māui(tikitikiataranga); we will also read western European stories such as the popular 19th century German tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the Danish creations of Hans Christian Andersen. We will also discuss how and why contemporary film productions, graphic novels, and literary adaptations for children and adults both reproduce and interrogate the genre.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: 1 formal short paper, 1 final project, 1 oral group presentation, reading quizzes, class participation (regular attendance, informal group discussions).


Dokey, Cameron. The Wild Orchid. Simon Pulse, 2009.

Maguire, Gregory. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. William Morrow, 2010.

Tarnowska, Wafa. The Arabian Nights. Barefoot Books, 2009.

Tatar, Maria, ed. The Classic Fairy Tales. Norton, 1999.

Wilmington, Bill. Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall. Vertigo, 2008.

Miscellaneous readings and handouts posted on Laulima.