Fairytales: Not Just for Kids Anymore
By Abigail Swanson
Fairytales have been a staple in children’s literature for centuries, but for many years adults viewed them only as children’s stories. However, things have shifted with fairytale-based television shows such as NBC’s “Grimm” and ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” aimed at adults and gaining popularity. Movies such as 2011’s “Red Riding Hood” and this year’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” also capitalized on the new trend of fairytales for adults.
These stories have been around for centuries, so why are they gaining such popularity with adults now?
Several theories exist, and they are more closely related than one might think.
“I think it's because most fairytales, honed over the years, work so very well,” author Neil Gaiman wrote in an article for The Guardian. “They feel right. Structurally, they can be simple, but the ornamentation, the act of retelling, is often where the magic occurs. Like any form of narrative that is primarily oral in transmission, it's all in the way you tell 'em.”
Because so many different versions of fairytales exist while still being indisputably the same tale, the flexibility of the genre is appealing to adults. The story will turn out in its old, reassuring way, but new details and plot twists add excitement and wonder.
Professional storyteller K. Sean Buvala agrees with this, saying that fairytales offer a comfortable familiarity during times of stress and uncertainty.
“Fairytales give voice to uncertainties and struggle, even if we cannot express these thoughts ourselves,” Buvala says on his website, Storyteller.net. “We learn that while there may be evil in the world, that evil can and will be overcome.”
Others suggest that fairytales provide an easy way to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
“In the modern era where information is more accessible than ever, where megabytes and gigabytes abound, technology is solving more of the world's mysteries and finding the answers to more questions every day,” Lara Smith wrote on her blog. “While the value of this progress cannot be understated, perhaps the more we know of the universe and its inner workings, the more our own unconscious needs a little magic/mystery of its own to ponder.”
An element of nostalgia might be connected to this as well. Since fairytales are among the first stories read to children, they remind adults of a simpler time of life when magic could solve any problem.
Connected to this is the recurring fairytale theme of hope for a happy ending. Against all odds, Cinderella escapes the clutches of her step family and marries the prince, the princess guesses Rumpelstiltskin’s name and keeps her child, and Beauty’s love turns the Beast back into a prince and they all live happily ever after.
This message of hope is central to ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”
“For us, that’s what a fairytale is,” says Edward Kitsis, the show’s co-creator and executive producer. “It’s that ability to think your life will get better. It’s why you buy a lottery ticket—because if you win you get to tell your boss that you’re quitting and you get to move to Paris or wherever and be who you always wanted to be. And that’s Cinderella, right? One day she’s sweeping up and the next she’s going to the ball. [Co-creator] Adam and I just wanted to write about something hopeful that for one hour a week allows one to put everything aside and have that feeling that your dreams just may come true.”
Happily ever after is a universal human dream, and fairytales show that it can happen, no matter your age.
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