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The tales have evolved in response to changes in the environment, its own linguistic properties and potential, and the particular social institutions of diverse cultural groups through- out the world. To a certain extent, it is impossible nowadays to speak about the fairy tale, especially a canonical tale, narrowly as a printed text, for it has transcended both the oral and literary in iconic forma- tions that depend on the technology of the radio, cinema, advertising, Internet, and so on.

Fairytales are not just harmless, innocent fun. They need to be interrogated

Canonical fairy tales are complex memes that are a result of the conlicting forces of cultural production. They are special and relevant because we cultivate them as special and relevant in our speech and in our writings and images. Very few folklorists and critics have examined fairy tales from an evolutionary psychological perspective, despite the fact that fairy tales deal opulently with evolution of the human species under particular cultural conditions that often engender crises.

All of these situations incite similar questions: What must an individual do to adapt to a new and unexpected situation? Does a person become heroic through a special kind of adaptation? How will the heroine or hero survive? What does a person have to do to maintain power so that she or he can survive? How must one protect oneself in a dog-eat-dog world? Are there alternative ways of living and reproducing the species that do not involve the transgression of other bodies?

Cinderella as masochist, Red Riding Hood as trickster: new book resurrects 'troubling' fairytales

In some respects I believe that we have been attracted to fairy tales because they are survival stories with hope. They alert us to dangerous situations, instruct us, guide us, give us counsel, and reveal what might happen if we take advantage of helpful instruments or agents, or what might happen if we do not. They communicate the need to be oppor- tunistic, to exploit opportunities, to be selish so we can survive. They have arisen out of a need to adapt to unusual situations, and many of these situations are similar the world over so that many of the same types of tales have arisen and been disseminated and transformed so that new generations will learn to adjust to similar situations in chang- ing environments.

All tales want to stay alive in us, and they compete for our attention.


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We choose a particular metaphorical tale to be more precise and effective in what we want to express. Yet, each tale in its mutated form must articulate why it is still necessary and relevant in a changed environment and whether its impact is positive or negative. It is a tale about predators and how to deal with them. In my book The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, I demonstrated that the origin of the literary fairy tale can be traced to male fantasies about women and sexuality and to conlicting versions with regard to the responsibility for the violation in the tale.

In particular, I showed how Charles Perrault and the Grimm Broth- ers transformed an oral folk tale about the social initiation of a young woman into a narrative about rape in which the heroine is obliged to bear the responsibility for sexual violation. Such a radical literary transformation is highly signiicant because the male-cultivated liter- ary versions became dominant in both the oral and literary traditions of nations such as Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States, nations that exercise cultural hegemony in the West.

Indeed, the Per- rault and Grimm versions became so crucial in the socialization process of these countries that they generated a literary discourse about sexual roles and behavior, a discourse whose fascinating antagonistic perspec- tives shed light on different phases of social and cultural change. In discussing this development, however, I did not examine how it might be a linguistic and memetic form related to evolutionary theories about instincts, adaptation, and survival.

Therefore, I should like once more to summarize my arguments about the sociopsychological implications of the changes made by Perrault and the Grimm Brothers and conclude by considering how the tale has evolved up to the present and why it is still so popular. None of these motifs, it must be borne in mind, are particular to the times of Perrault and the Grimms, or to our very own times of rabid violence and violation.

The tally of Red Riding Hood tales is quite impressive. Thanks to his exhaustive study of tales and motifs in the ancient world, however, we now have a much more comprehensive grasp of the memetic and epi- demiological formation of canonical fairy tales. If we accept the latter premise, then we can accept the hypothesis of widespread diffusion of folktale, with deviant and misrecollected ver- sions by forgetful or inaccurate storytellers easily corrected by those with better memories.

What we should guard against is the idea that tales will be reinvented in more or less identical form by different societies as they proceed through progressive stages of civilization, a fantasy of nine- teenth-century proto-anthropology, or that because a large number of popular tales use a inite number of motifs, then oral storytellers simply shufle the motifs around to make new tales.

There are indeed instances where two convergent tales can become confused, or where one tale seems to borrow from another, but on the whole[,] hybrids, common as they are, still remain marginal in the process of diffusion of tales.


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The more examples of any given international tale-type we study, the more clearly we can see the integrity and logic of the tale. They gradually had to be congealed in a stable form to become canonical, so to speak, and though one cannot precisely detect each step in the formation of a classical literary tale, the more information we gather about the spread of the motifs the more light we will shed on why and how a tale becomes memetic. In it he incorporated many Latin translations of vernacular prov- erbs. Because many of the proverbs originated among the uneducated countryfolk, Sigebert of Gembloux ca.

The challenge of retelling Grimms' fairy tales | Books | The Guardian

A certain man took up a girl from the sacred font, and gave her a tunic woven of red wool; sacred Pentecost was [the day] of her baptism. The girl, now ive years old, goes out at sunrise, footloose and heedless of her peril. A wolf attacked her, went to its woodland lair, took her as booty to its cubs, and left her to be eaten. They approached her at once and, since they were unable to harm her, began, free from all their ferocity, to caress her head. If Egbert imposed Christian features in this fashion, then the redness in the story told by the common people could have had a general apotropaic signiicance that the Latin poet particularized with a religious dimension when he appropriated it.

When a tale evolves through the discursive appropriation of oral and literary transmission, this germ remains and is at the heart of its memetic appeal. It is the constant interaction between what Bakhtin called primary and secondary speech genres that constituted the epidemiological dissemination of this canonical fairy tale and all the other canonical narratives. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door. Take some of the meat which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf.

Let me go outside.


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When the little girl was outside, she tied the end of the rope to a plum tree in the courtyard. Are you making a load? He followed her but arrived at her house just at the moment she entered. She is shrewd, brave, tough, and indepen- dent. Evidence indicates she was probably undergoing a social ritual connected to sewing communities the maturing young woman proves she can handle needles, replace an older woman, and contend with the opposite sex.

In some of the tales, however, she loses the contest with the male predator and is devoured by him.

There is no absolute proof that the above synthetic tale pieced together by the astute French folklorist Paul Delarue was told in the exact same form in which he published it. Perrault revised some kind of oral tale that featured a young girl endangered by a predatory wolf to make it the literary standard-bearer for good Christian upbringing in a much more sophisticated manner than Egbert or oral storytellers.

Moreover, his fear of women and his own sexual drives are incorporated in his new literary version, which also relects general male attitudes about women portrayed as eager to be seduced or raped. In this regard, Perrault began a series of literary transformations that have caused nothing but trouble for the female object of male desire and have also relected the crippling aspect of male desire itself.

What are the signiicant changes he made? First, she is donned with a red hat, a chaperon,56 making her into a type of bourgeois girl tainted with sin since red, like the scarlet letter A, recalls the devil and heresy. Second, she is spoiled, negligent, and naive. Third, she speaks to a wolf in the woods—rather dumb on her part—and makes a type of contract with him: she accepts a wager, which, it is implied, she wants to lose.

Fifth, she is swallowed or raped like her grandmother. Sixth, there is no salvation, simply an ironic moral in verse that warns little girls to beware of strangers, otherwise they will deservedly suffer the conse- quences. Sex is obviously sinful. It was translated into English by Robert Samber in and into other European languages.

The Grimms made further alterations worth noting. Here the mother plays a more signiicant role by warning Little Red Riding Hood not to stray from the path through the woods. Little Red Riding Hood is more or less incited by the wolf to enjoy nature and to pick lowers. Instead of being raped to death, both grandma and granddaughter are saved by a male hunter or gamekeeper who polices the woods. Only a strong male igure can rescue a girl from herself and her lustful desires. What constituted its memetic quality?

If memes are selish, as Dawkins has declared, the persistence of a story that presents rape relevantly in a discursive form to indicate the girl asked to be raped, or contributed to her own rape, can be attrib- uted to the struggle among competing memes within patriarchal soci- eties that tend to view rape from a male viewpoint that rationalizes the aggressive male sexual behavior. Yet, it is not entirely negative as a meme, and it is a meme that has mutated, especially in the past thirty-ive years, under strong ideo- logical inluences of the feminist movement.

Perrault did not dispute the fact that men tend to be predatory, but he shifted the respon- sibility of physical violence and the violation of the body to the female, and since his communication it the dominant ideology of his times shared by many women and perhaps ours , his story competed with all others and became the dominant meme and remains so to this day.

As dominant meme, it does not simply convey the notion that women are responsible for their own rape, but it also conveys a warning about strangers in the woods, the danger of violation, and an extreme moral lesson: kill the rapist or be killed. Used or transformed as a warning tale, it reveals that the tale is open to multiple interpretations and also has a positive cultural function.

Certainly, it is very dificult to change sexual behavior. At times, Pinker minimizes the connection between sexual drives, social reinforcements, and social power that still enable males to exercise their domination in various ways, but he also fortunately recognizes the sig- niicance of the feminist challenge to the way rape is displayed, trans- mitted, and narrated in Western society. If we have to acknowledge that sexuality can be a source of conlict and not just wholesome mutual pleasure, we will have rediscovered a truth that observers of the human condition have noted throughout history.

The great contribution of feminism to the morality of rape is to put issues of consent and coercion at center stage. The ultimate motives of the rapist are irrelevant. I want to close with some brief remarks about a remarkable ilm that relects upon the possibility for cultural transformation or change. She is picked up on a highway by a serial rapist and killer, and because she is so street smart, she manages to turn the tables on him, grab his gun, and shoot him. She then takes his car but is arrested because the rapist miraculously survives.

Two detectives interrogate her, but largely due to their male prejudices, they do not believe her story about attempted rape. In prison Vanessa succeeds in escaping while the two detectives follow leads from people they interview that convince them that the rapist was really lying. When she arrives, she bravely beats him to a pulp, and the astonished detectives, who had wanted to help her, show up only to witness how Vanessa can easily take care of herself. The contested representations suggest that there is another way of viewing desire, seduction, and violation.

If there are really such things as memes— and I am convinced there are—and if memes can inluence us and be changed as our behavior is transformed, it is important that we take the theory of memes and fairy tales themselves more seriously. As we know, tales do not only speak to us, they inhabit us and become relevant in our struggles to resolve conlicts that endanger our happiness. Although there is some truth to these assumptions, they conceal the deep cross-cultural and multilayered origins and meanings of these pan-European tales that also have fasci- nating connections to northern Africa and the Orient, including the Middle and Far East.

Of course there can be no denying that the tales are culturally marked: they are informed by the languages that the writ- ers employed, their respective cultures, and the sociohistorical context in which the narratives were created. In this regard one can discuss the particular Italian, French, German, or English afiliation of a tale and also make regional distinctions within a particular principality or nation-state.

The truth value of a fairy tale is depen- dent on the degree to which a writer is capable of using a symbolical linguistic code, narrative strategy, and stereotypical characterization to depict, expose, or celebrate the modes of behavior that were used and justiied to attain power in the civilizing process of a given soci- ety. Whether oral or literary, the tales have sought to uncover truths about the pleasures and pains of existence, to propose possibilities for adaptation and survival, and to reveal the intricacies of our civilizing processes. Historical Background For the past three hundred years or more scholars and critics have sought to deine and classify the oral folk tale and the literary fairy tale, as though they could be clearly distinguished from each other, and as though we could trace their origins to some primeval source.

As I have stated in the previous chapter, this is an impossible task because there are very few if any records with the exception of paintings, drawings, etchings, inscriptions, parchments, and other cultural artifacts that reveal how tales were told and received thousands of years ago. In fact, even when written records came into existence, they provided very lit- tle information about storytelling among the majority of people, except for random information that educated writers gathered and presented in their works.

Naturally, the oral folk tales that were told in many different ways thousands of years ago preceded the literary narratives, but we are not certain who told the tales, why, and how.