The BBC’s article last week revealing that the origins of some fairytales, like Beauty and the Beast, are thousands of years old wasn’t really that much of a surprise for me. Modern day humans like to dream, to fantasise about an alternate reality that improves their current existence so why should ancient humans be any different? Sure, the nitty-gritty details of a fairytale vary depending on the target audience, but the outcome and message tend to be the same.
Take the undoubted master of fairytales 20th century revival, Walt Disney. (Beast’s library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast could be a fairytale in itself.) Disney’s own blog helpfully compiled this list of basic ingredients needed to form a fairytale: a land far, far away; a handsome charming prince winning the beautiful girl and an Evil villain being overcome by Good for a satisfactory happy ever after, often with the aid of bona fide magic.
And fairytales aren’t just for children. I know I’m not the only adult with quite a substantial Disney film collection that can’t be excused by having children of my own. How many adaptations of classic fairytales have there been in recent years? Cinderella (Cate Blanchet), Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Mirror Mirror (Julia Roberts) etc. And the market’s appetite for more doesn’t seem to be waning as Beauty and the Beast is currently being remade for 2017 release, starring Emma Watson.
But fairytales go beyond the classic renditions, as The Economist’s article here points out: Star Wars and the Marvel films could themselves be modern day fairytales (I understand most men are particularly partial to lightsabers etc). This is a theory that could easily be applied to other films and of course, books.
As I’m sure it is for many people, reading for me has always been the ultimate escape. A way to explore different worlds and broaden my horizons through the power of the author’s and my imaginations. A way to realise and fantasise about the endless possibilities in life. A way to live the dream. I was one of those children constantly reading and writing stories about intrepid pets, magical lands and heroes my own age. A good few years later and here I am, writing another story which, as I endure the brutal self-editing process, in its crudest terms it also strikes me as a grown up kind of fairytale for women.
The old adage says that you should write the kind of book that you want to read. So I turned my attention to my bookcases. Unsurprisingly, my love of historical fiction is very evident here, certainly fulfilling the ‘once upon a time in a land far, far away’ element. But I’m also rather partial to some contemporary romance too and here I notice a theme. Without wanting to offend anyone who thinks that a woman should rely on herself to attain the things she wants in life (with which I agree) – how many hundreds of novels have there been in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey with billionaire heroes? Is blistering romance with a generous helping of financial security the modern day fairytale for women? After all, no five year old girl in her princess outfit dreams of marrying anyone but a rich Prince Charming. No adult dreams of a financially unstable dead-beat as the love of their life. Mrs Bennett could’ve been on to something with her unabashed obsession with men possessing large fortunes.
Looking at my extensive historical novel collection, I can count on one hand the novels where the heroine is the one with the money, not the hero. And not one novel concludes without financial security for the happy couple. Even when the novel is about ordinary people, rather than the aristocracy or royalty, financial security is something found in one or both of the main characters. The lower class man always has to go off and make something of himself before winning the hand of his lady. Idealists may espouse true love overcoming all odds but where would Aladdin be if Princess Jasmine’s character had been another street kid on a hand-to-mouth existence? Aladdin’s fantasy was living in the palace and having enough food. The gorgeous, rich Princess was a way to fulfil that fantasy. And, let’s face it, being poor forever more isn’t even remotely romantic. Nobody dreams of just managing to get by on their salary; we dream of the fast cars, sleek yachts and joining the mile high club on a private plane. Or perhaps that fairytale castle with central heating (and Beast’s library). So is financial security (if not outright obscene wealth) a pre-requisite for fairytale love?
Fortunately, whilst there are still plenty of gender battles for women to fight, we now have the option to reach for the stars in our careers and often succeed far beyond what we ever dreamt. Whilst this is fabulous, I don’t know about you, but sometimes the reality of managing the many facets of boring day-to-day life can get quite tiresome, particularly if there are more bills than money, for example. Or the depressing experience of navigating a self-complete tax return alone. And perhaps sometimes, in certain situations, winning the lottery or having a handsome, rich man sweep you off your feet and take care of you for a little while sounds like the perfect fairytale, even to a modern woman.
It would certainly take some fairytale magic to win the lottery jackpot these days so, although that’s certainly one daydream I do like to indulge in, perhaps being swept off my feet by a handsome gazillionaire my own age who shares my interests is marginally more realistic. No financially stable and independent single woman I know would turn down the feet-sweeping either (for a time, at least). Fairytale love can reassure us that our Prince Charming is out there somewhere. And for women in committed, financially stable relationships, the romance in a modern day fairytale, in which the hero provides out-of-this world orgasms several times a day, neatly glossing over his snoring that keeps you awake all night, certainly has its appeal. The hero’s collection of super cars, staff to wait on you hand and foot and luxury holiday villas are just a very appealing added bonus.
Personally, I can’t see fairytales going out of fashion any time soon. They will change their details with the times to reflect the most prevalent fantasy of the target audience but the basic ingredients will remain the same. Humans will always need the fantasy of ‘what if’ to mitigate the grim reality of yet another Monday morning early start. The Economist’s conclusion is: “ultimately, these modern myths are so compelling because they tap primordial human urges—for refuge, redemption and harmony.” I’m happy to leave the men to fighting their battles between Good and Evil (with or without lightsabers) in their fairytale escapades. As for my fairytale happy ever after, why, it’s to become a best-selling author on a par with the likes of J. K. Rowling, of course.
© This blog is an original rambling of Eleanor Small
Pictures (girl) – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/princess-pretty-little-girl-girl-869721/ and Beast’s library – http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Library_(Beauty_and_the_Beast)