Thursday, November 20, 2014

Childhood Subverted

I’ve been noticing a trend that takes beloved stories we’ve grown familiar with, and twisting them in a subversive fashion until we don’t recognize the original message any longer.

I think I first became aware of this after reading the book, which later became the musical, “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire.  Now, we've known different interpretations of the classics such as “The Wiz”, and all the Disneyfications (is that a word?) on the known fairytales. These took liberties with the story to make them more contemporary, yet still kept the original storyline pretty much intact.  But, here was a re-imaging of The Wizard of Oz that told the back-story of how the wicked witch of the West became wicked.  Those we perceived as good guys were in actuality the bad guys and their behavior eventually led to the good witch becoming the wicked witch.

Another example is the re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty in Disney’s “Maleficent”.  Again, the actions of others turned a good spirit into the evil persona, Maleficent, who is misunderstood by everyone.  We are made to feel compassion for a character we’ve always taken to be pure evil. And now, I understand a new retelling of Cinderella is underway at Disney for a 2015 release. 

So, what are the children to think after hearing or watching these stories for the first time, and then seeing these alternative versions?   Is it confusing for them?  Will they learn tolerance from it?  Will they try to be more compassionate and to understand the other persons situation? Or will it cause a feeling of distrust and insecurity where they never know who can be trusted, who is a friend, who is an enemy, what is true and what is false? 

I personally feel children are too immature to understand the complexities of human nature and, just as adults, may never have all the information to reach a fair conclusion.  It's probably why our fairy tales and children's stories are so clearly defined as to who is good and who is bad, so that kids may hopefully have a standard to aim towards.  These shades of gray may be too sophisticated for impressionable minds.

I don’t have an answer, and I suppose it’s up to the parents to talk about these things, although I doubt if parents are even aware or care about this.  
UPDATE:  Here is an article about Neil Gaiman's new book, "The Sleeper and the Spindle", where he talks about the current trend of re-writing fairy-tales:

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