Fables Retold: Traditional or Modern?

Photo Credit: Elsita (Elsa Mora) via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: Elsita (Elsa Mora) via Compfight cc
(There’s a beautiful blog too)

5 responses to “Fables Retold: Traditional or Modern?

  1. You’re absolutely right, traditional and modern re-telling fables both have places on our bookshelves. I agree about both the age appropriateness and the gender aspect. I love it when you can have a bit of fun with a fable, as do the children. There’s so much creative potential to be had, especially for children trying out creative writing.
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    • Thank-you for the comment. Have you tried Mixed-Up Fairy Tales (and Nursery Rhymes)? They are brilliant not only for summarising plots into minimal wording, but hilarious mix-ups, learning to read and creative writing inspiration. I’m a bit of a fan, can you tell?! šŸ˜‰

  2. We mix it up too. “Yummy” by Lucy Cousins is a real favourite despite/because of some extreme pictures – decapitation, anyone?! but we have some very traditional “Read it yourself” versions from my childhood in the 1970s too. I like the old-style Ladybird books of nursery rhymes too and they tend to have more huntin’, shootin’ too than the modern day sanitised Usborne versions. “Revolting Rhymes” was my favourite too – I may still be word perfect for some…I’m enjoying too that little H at 4.5 can appreciate when a version is subverted somewhat too – have you read “Goldie” by Diane Stanley or “Goldilocks and the 3 dinosaurs” by Mo Willems?

  3. I notice a difference between the fairytale stories in my childhood books and the more modern ones. The pictures are definitely darker but so are some of the endings – the wolf survives in our modern versions!

    One of our current favourite modern fairytales is Ella by Alex T. Smith – a retelling of the Cinderella story with a glasses wearing, ladybird heroine and a cast of insects. We think that Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is hilarious too šŸ™‚
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  4. Pingback: Fables and Reflections: 10 Traditional Tales Retold | Child-Led ChaosChild-Led Chaos

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