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The Evolution of Fairy Tales

Fairy tales have been a part of human culture for centuries, and they continue to captivate us to this day. Face it, I'm a bit of a folklore junkie. From the classic stories of the Brothers Grimm to the modern retellings of Disney, fairy tales have evolved with the times and adapted to new audiences. And yes, I'm about to go on a deep dive into how they've changed based on what's popular in culture at the time. It's a really interesting look at how they reflect our values of compassion and courage over the years.

Compassion in Fairy Tale Retellings

Compassion is a central theme in many fairy tale retellings, and it often manifests in the form of empathy for the villain or antagonist. In the classic tale of Snow White, the evil queen is portrayed as a cruel and jealous woman who will stop at nothing to maintain her power. The tale of Snow White dates back to the early 19th century, and it is likely that the values it portrays reflect the cultural norms and beliefs of the time. One interpretation is that the evil queen in Snow White represents the fear of aging and the desire to remain youthful and beautiful.

In many cultures, youth and beauty are highly prized, and the fear of losing them is common. The evil queen's obsession with her appearance and her fear of being supplanted by a younger, more beautiful woman could reflect these societal values. Additionally, the queen's willingness to go to extreme lengths to maintain her power and control could be seen as a reflection of the importance of power and status in society at the time.

Overall, the tale of Snow White can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the dangers of envy, vanity, and the pursuit of power at any cost. It highlights the importance of kindness, compassion, and humility as opposed to arrogance, greed, and jealousy.

However, in the retelling "Fairest" by Gail Carson Levine, the queen is given a backstory that explains her motivations and makes her a more sympathetic character. By showing us the queen's inner turmoil and struggles, Levine encourages us to see her as a complex person rather than a one-dimensional villain.

I feel like this represents a shift in cultural values and beliefs from the time of the original tale. In the modern era, there is a growing recognition of the complexity of human emotions and motivations. Rather than seeing people as purely good or evil, there is a greater appreciation for the nuances and contradictions that make us who we are. Instead of simply demonizing those who are different from us or who behave in ways we don't understand, there is a greater willingness to seek to understand their perspective and to find common ground.

Overall, the retelling of Snow White in "Fairest" represents a more nuanced and compassionate approach to storytelling that reflects modern cultural values. By exploring the inner lives of its characters and challenging traditional notions of good and evil, it encourages us to see the world in a more complex and empathetic way.

Courage in Fairy Tale Retellings

Courage is another important theme in fairy tale retellings, and it often manifests in the form of female helplessness vs. empowerment. In the original story of Little Red Riding Hood, the titular character is portrayed as a naive and helpless girl who is easily tricked by the wolf. The original story of Little Red Riding Hood dates back to the 17th century, and it is likely that the portrayal of the titular character reflects the cultural attitudes toward women at that time. In many cultures, women were expected to be submissive and obedient, and their roles were often limited to those of wife and mother. They were not encouraged to be independent or assertive, and their lack of agency was seen as a desirable quality.

In the original story, Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as a young girl who is easily tricked by the wolf, emphasizing her innocence and vulnerability. This could reflect the societal belief that women were inherently weak and in need of protection. Furthermore, the story reinforces the idea that women should be obedient and submissive, as Little Red Riding Hood's disobedience leads to her downfall.

Overall, the portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood in the original story reflects the cultural attitudes toward women at the time, which were often limiting and oppressive. However, it is worth noting that the story has been reinterpreted and retold in many different ways over the years, reflecting changing cultural attitudes toward gender roles and women's agency.

In contrast, the modern retelling of "Scarlet" by Marissa Meyer challenges the old-fashioned view of women as helpless and submissive by portraying its titular character as a strong, capable, and independent young woman. Meyer's Scarlet is a skilled mechanic who runs her own farm and fights fiercely to protect her loved ones. This portrayal of Scarlet reflects current cultural views on womanhood, which emphasize the importance of female empowerment, independence, and agency. Meyer's version of Scarlet defies traditional gender roles and expectations, challenging the idea that women are limited to domestic roles or require protection from men. Moreover, Scarlet is not the only strong female character in Meyer's series, "The Lunar Chronicles". The other female protagonists, Cinder, Cress, and Winter, also exhibit traits of strength, intelligence, and independence. The series presents a diverse cast of female characters, each with her own unique strengths and weaknesses. The series serves as a reminder that women can be heroes in their own right, capable of taking on challenges and fighting for what they believe in.


Fairy tale retellings have come a long way since their origins, and they continue to reflect our changing values and attitudes towards compassion and courage. By showing us more complex and diverse characters, these retellings encourage us to be more empathetic towards others and to stand up for what we believe in. Whether we're reading a classic story or a modern retelling, fairy tales have the power to inspire us and remind us of our own humanity.

What are some observations you've made about modern retellings? I'd love to hear any thoughts you have in the comments.

Happy Reading!

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