Once Upon A Time: Fairy Tales Were Once About Social Consciousness. Then Along Came Disney
If a balloon floats into the atmospheric realm known as Oblivion, then it follows that anyone grasping hold of that balloon’s ribbon will float into Oblivion, too. Which brings us to the fairy tale—that happy helium-filled thing—and all the academics dangling thereupon.
In the most recent of his oeuvre’s sixty-plus books, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, Jack Zipes—a former professor and Director of the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Minnesota—contends the genre has sufficient ballast to remain culturally relevant. But then up, up he goes: carried ever higher even as he argues that his feet are on the ground.
But let’s start from the beginning. (Or, actually, an approximation of the beginning. As Zipes declares several times, it’s impossible to define folklore’s origins. So here we are unable to resist: our story begins a while ago, back then, once upon a time.)
“Fairy tales, like our own lives, were born out of conflict,” Zipes writes. The stories “confront the injustices and contradictions of so-called real worlds.” As such, their function was-and, as Zipes would have it, still is-to engender solidarity and hope among disenfranchised classes, and spread awareness of social inequality. In the tales, peasant women want to marry princes and peasant men want to be them; straw is spun into gold and domestic pets develop the ability to speak and help their owners toward financial prosperity; evil kings and queens (and step-parents) are punished and the proletariat triumph. “The magic of the tales,” we learn, “can be equated to the wish-fulfillment and utopian projections of the people.”