Introducing our fairytales campaign!
Buy all three as a bundle and save £9
Tiny Owl have published, and continue to publish, many fairytale and folk tale retellings from around the world in our One Story, Many Voices series. We think fairytales and folk tales should be preserved as they help to convey important messages for children, but only if they’re in keeping with modern values. (We’ve previously discussed this issue in our blog ‘Are fairytales still relevant today?‘) That’s why we’re launching a campaign to promote the importance of reading traditional stories from different cultures, and to consider ways that we can update them for contemporary readers. We’re interviewing experts to hear their views!
To kick-off, we spoke to the fabulous author Elizabeth Laird!
What was your favourite folk story as a child?
I must confess that I loved Cinderella. It was just the idea of a fairy godmother being able to whisk such wonderful things out of the air with her wand. And in my childhood book of fairy stories, Cinderella had a dress that was every little girl’s dream – all flouncy and frilly, covered with bows and tucks. It was fantasy, pure and simple.
Why do you think it’s important for children to read fairytales?
Fairytales come to us out of the mists of time. They’re incredibly old – much older than most of us realise. They have lasted for so long and with such enduring appeal because of their psychological depth and profound truth. They bypass reason and set up home in our subconscious minds. For the rest of our lives, we’ll recognise the archetypes they created without ever realising where they came from.
How can we update fairytales to fit with modern values?
I think “updating” fairy stories should be attempted with caution. It’s been done frequently before, of course, over many centuries, as writers have changed the stories to reflect the norms of the societies they lived in. The Brothers Grimm were adept at this, sanitising such stories as Little Red Riding Hood (who in original versions was eaten by the wolf, never to appear again). It was they who introduced the Huntsman, who rescues Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother from the stomach of the wolf after he had gobbled them both up.
Our focus today is on the pernicious sexism in many fairytales, in which girls are passive recipients of a prince’s heroism. or where old women are either cruel stepmothers or wicked witches. There’s not much to be said for this state of affairs, but radical attempts to switch the sexes of, for example, the Sleeping Beauty and the Prince, or Beauty and the Beast, can seem contorted and even silly. Some tweaking, of course, can go some way to putting things right.
I think the solution is to look for the many wonderful folk and fairy stories from around the world which do have strong female characters, and which can be set in the balance against the ones we know so well. It takes a bit of delving, but those tales are there: stories of clever women who outwit the powers that be, brave girls who set out on perilous journeys to rescue princes who have fallen under enchantment, or warrior women, such as the wonderful Gordafarid, in the Shahnameh, Firdowsi’s great Iranian epic, who dons a suit of armour and rides out to challenge the great hero Sohrab in single combat.
Elizabeth Laird is the author of many children’s books including Grobblechops, published by Tiny Owl. She has lived all over the world, and spent time collecting and recording folk stories in Ethiopia.