by Conner Shaw

Fairy tales are everywhere, both geographically and temporally.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that fairy tales have existed in most societies from nearly the dawn of time.  More recently, they have been canonized in our popular culture through, among other things, their recreation by Disney.  Nearly all children are introduced to these tales in some form or another and each tale carries a theme and a plot that are recognized and remembered, more or less universally, by these children throughout the rest of their lives.  With so many retellings and adaptations of these tales, it is difficult and probably impossible to trace their geneses.  Some themes, such as the theme of not talking to strangers that is present in “Little Red Riding Hood”, have existed for centuries and, almost mystically, have no birth.  However, the written versions of these fairy tales do have a traceable birth.

It is Charles Perrault who first published a compilation of these tales in 1697.  In a sense, he canonized the stories and the plots that we are so familiar with today.  To say that the stories have lasted is not to say though that Perrault’s words have enjoyed the same fate.  Although Perrault put to paper stories that existed before him, much to the detriment of the importance and richness of his versions of the tales, his lost contribution to the existing genre was his manner of writing them.  Due to this importance given to plots and themes over words, Perrault’s tales are detrimentally examined at that same level; the level that has survived and that our culture has deemed most important.  Through an examination of his words, the tales of Perrault are brought into a new light of complexity, intricacy, and cultural richness that is so easily overlooked by our modern view of fairy tales.  Perrault is thus redeemed from his accused simplicity and misogyny by a more textual, and more faithful for that matter, comprehension.

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