Fairy Tales & Adaptations

Course Description

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, cultural, and political uses, as well as transformations into literary fiction, film, and beyond 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 and influence over us and individuals and society, as well as how they’ve changed (or have been changed) over time. When oral tales of magic and wonder were first adapted into print in 16th-century Europe, they were not considered literature specifically for children or of European provenance. Moreover, the process by which, from the 18th through 21st 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 for multiple purposes, 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 (well-known) fairy tales, plots, and themes, this course has both historical and cross-cultural breadth: we will read English-language translations of western (European) tales, such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm (Germany), Charles Perrault (France), and written by Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark), and non-western (non-European) cultural tales that are fairy tale-like, although not necessarily considered fairy tales, such as The Arabian Nights and the Polynesian demi-god Māui. We will also discuss how and why contemporary film and TV productions, graphic novels, songs, and literary adaptations for children and adults both reproduce and interrogate the genre. Thus, we will engage in comparative, critical analyses of selected fairy tales and their adaptations across history, cultures, and media.

Course requirements: Exams (midterm, final, quizzes), oral presentation, short paper, final project, regular class attendance and participation (including group discussions and informal presentations). Your final grade is based on these requirements and your overall participation in the class.