Fairy Tales & Adaptations

NOTE: This is a large-enrollment course that welcomes non-majors and fulfills a DL requirement. For English majors, it is recommended for the Literary Histories and Genres pathway and fulfills breadth requirements.

By focusing on the fairy tale’s complex history, multiple social uses, and transformations into literary fiction and film for adults, this course calls for a critical reconsideration of what we may think we know from childhood memories about this genre. Fairy tales today permeate contemporary culture in various media, and one of our ongoing projects as a class will be to explore why they “stick” and how they’ve changed.

Our focus in the course is on Euro-American fairy-tale and The Arabian Nights traditions, as well as on the cognitive and social possibilities that reading and adapting fairy tales as wonder tales can bring about. When oral tales of magic were first adapted into printed literature in 16th-century Europe they were not literature for children or strictly of European provenance; and the process by which, from the 18th through the 20th century, fairy tales became a popular genre across 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 cultural contexts offered imaginative outlets for desire and social 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 or prejudices as well as how these wondrous tales enable new possibilities.

While exploring popular and not-so-popular fairy-tale plots and themes, the course has historical and cross-cultural breadth: we will be reading English-language translations of early modern Italian and French fairy tales, the popular XIX-century German tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the much older tales of The Arabian Nights; and we will discuss how and to what effects contemporary filmic productions, comics, literary adaptations for adults, and visual art reproduce, revitalize, and question the genre and its associations with magic, wonder, and transformation.

Requirements: assignments include a group presentation, focused in-class activities, quizzes, a short paper, a midterm, and a final examination. Attendance is mandatory.

We will also discuss two or three fairy-tale films, and students are responsible for watching them outside of class.

Required Texts: Christine A. Jones & Jennifer Schacker eds, Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives; Katie O’Neill, Princess Princess Ever After; Kai Cheng Thom, Kai Yun Ching, Wai-Yant Li, From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea; and excerpts from Inviting Interruptions: Wonder Tales in the 21st Century. Other required readings will be available to download and print via Laulima.