If you think that Snow White was kissed on the mouth to wake up, it means that you do not know Snow White’s story as it “really” is, but Disney’s version of the story. Disney and other popular cultural expressions have in many ways taken over the dissemination of cultural heritage, possibly transformed into commercialization. Believing the kiss was crucial to Snow White’s awakening is a bit like believing that Vikings wore something as impractical as plastic helmets with horns.
This was one of the topics addressed during the FEST symposium held on 9 and 10 June, where Hungarian Csenge Virág Zalka went through the stereotypes that ever so often are addressed as criticism on the use of folk tales. I will not go through her very good lectures here, but explain my own thoughts.
Often the criticism of folk tales is directed towards the presentation of gender, it is a reaction to the female characters who are portrayed as women which not necessarily fits a postmodernity. The criticism of folk tales is problematic in so many ways, partly because, we as storytellers, are hesitant towards changing the traditional narratives towards a contemporary perspective. We storytellers, tend to cultivate a belief that there is something eternal about the traditional and shields the narratives from a natural development.
For me, much of the natural development occurs in the face of contemporary listeners. Listeners own the story through their inner participation and respond, which then leads to change in the storyteller and thus the story. Furthermore, I believe that the changes take place through a contextualization of the narrative, how the storyteller positions herself in the choice of the narrative and indirectly argues for her position through choices the storyteller has made in working with one particular story.
There might reasons why one should tell folk tales the way they were written down, but then I think one must argue these reasons. The changes you make must of course be based on a deep knowledge and reflection. One example I have done myself is in the Norwegian folk tale called Lurvehette or Tatterhood as it is called in English. Here I have removed Lurvehette’s sister, the beautiful sister who is mutt throughout the story. Her narrative function, which is to serve the main actor, contrasting the main character it is not needed – in my version. I also cut the wedding at the end. There is a transformation of Lurvehette, she goes from being the one who is ugly to being beautiful, as the folk tale conveys it. I’ve kept the transformation, but it’s not in Lurvehette it happens, it’s in the eyes of the mother who can now see her daughter the way the daughter really is.
The main problem with the stagnation of folk tales is that there are far more powerful and commercial forces behind it. It’s the same popular stories that are re-published with small linguistic changes. Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Cinderella do not seem to go out of fashion, it has become family traditions to meet these stories over several generations, in book form, where the story has been bound up by a written frame. Therefore, it gives the impression that folk tales is something that happened at a time when there were other norms. It is not the fault of the narrative; it is the market-driven messengers who have provided this stagnation.
So, I think my task is to still believe in the folk tales, as I am telling them in the perspective of contemporary topics.
By the way, one of the photos used in this blog today, is taken on the graveyard. it is a statue of Birgitte Esmark, a Norwegian researcher in nature (special field snails) who lived from 1841 to 1897.