I’ve heard it said that there are only six types of story in the world, and everything written is just one of them retold. I doubt this is actually true, or if it is the story base must be very broadly defined; but when it comes to fairy tales / folk tales / traditional tales / fables or whatever classification you give them, the same stories can, and have, been told in countless different ways.
I personally love modern retellings of fables, especially when the characters are aware of their story book origins and interact with the ‘real world’ in some way. But in order to love the re-imaginings, it’s necessary to have some knowledge of the original stories.
There are so many different versions of the stories to choose from too. Take The Three Little Pigs. There are the same elements in each tale: three pigs; houses of straw, sticks and brick; the wolf huffing and puffing. But in some versions the wolf eats the first two pigs, and it others they get away; in some the wolf tries several methods to get the third pig, in others he doesn’t; and in some versions the wolf is killed but in others he gets away and repents.
Which versions of stories should we read to young children? There is a train of thought that children should be protected from bad things therefore many modern retellings will be of the ‘pigs get away’ and ‘wolf repents’ style. There is another train of thought that small children are bloodthirsty little tykes and quite enjoy the wolf being eviscerated by the woodcutter or boiled alive by the remaining little pig! I think it comes down to parenting style and children’s personalities. I’ve read many versions to MG and DG and they enjoy both darker fables and the light. However, when they were toddlers, they preferred the light and fluffy versions so age-appropriateness is key.
Where I prefer modern retellings though, is when it comes to gender stereotyping. I don’t want to feed my children a constant diet of women being saved by men. Little Red Riding Hood can be bright and resourceful enough to defeat the wolf on her own; Cinderella, Beauty, and other princesses need a good reason to fall for their princes – being handsome isn’t much of a character trait; and Goldilocks really shouldn’t get away with breaking and entering just because she’s blonde.
That’s just reminded me, I must find my copy of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes as I suspect that my
bloodthirsty little tykes angelic dears will probably love those now. The pile of fable-related books that we have on our bookshelves is enormous, and it would take a long time to cover them all. In the next post, I’ll review a very small selection of them.
How do you like your fables? Modern or traditional? Light or dark? Please share any of your favourite versions or new classics in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.