“Are You My Prince? You Certainly Took Your Time.” The Reality Of Fairy Tales

Jennifer Shacker_Christine Jones
BooksEducationHistory 10 Comments

Once upon a time, in different lands far, far away, there lived two scholars… Christine Jones, associate professor of literature and languages at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT), and Jennifer Schacker, professor of English at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada). United by a common scholarly interest and complementary expertise, they embarked on an epic collaboration that crossed both academic disciplines and geographic borders. Their subject… the happily (and sometimes not so happily) ever after world of  fairy tales, a classic literary genre, which is enjoying renewed popularity today thanks to Hollywood. As 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, it seems a fitting time for Christine and Jennifer’s story to begin.

Jones and Schacker represent the new generation of scholars studying this historic genre. Their collaboration in fairy tale studies started with a major new anthology they co-edited, having commissioned 15 specialists to write new essays about the genre. Entitled Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives, their highly anticipated book will be published by Broadview Press this fall and will include new translations of older versions.

Grimm's Fairy TalesAs the work on their book got underway, the professors’ collaborative partnership extended into their classrooms last year – Schacker’s University of Guelph seminar covers the history and influence of fairy tales on English literature, while Jones’ University of Utah course focuses on French women who wrote fairy tales in the 1690s with a sidebar emphasis on Charles Perrault, the more celebrated French fairy tale author from that period. They teach these very different courses at their respective institutions, each bringing new insights to the understanding of the genre from the perspective of each of their disciplines. But, three times a semester Jennifer and Christine virtually connect their classes, via the internet, hosting online discussions with their students about the materials both classes have read. This year, thanks to a Great Ideas In The Humanities Grant from the College of Humanities at the University of Utah, Jones and Schacker were each able to visit the others’ classes to “guest teach”, which further broadens their students’ intellectual experience, enhances learning and brings their educational collaboration to a truly tangible level.

Recently, Teresa Pitman of the University of Guelph wrote an in-depth piece and interviewed these Women You Should Know about their collaborations. The article is fascinating and one of the more intriguing parts for us was learning what Charles Perrault’s 17th-century Sleeping Beauty (yes, she’s that old) said to the prince when she woke up. Read on to find out what the princess uttered… but just know that Disney tricked us!

Apparently, Hollywood really needs to consult with Jones and Schacker before they remake another fairy tale and dumb-down any more heroines.

Excerpt from the Pitman interview:
Sleeping_BeautyJones says that from a historical literary perspective, rediscovering early versions of some stories can be quite revealing. For example, she is now re-translating Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty, “La belle au bois dormant”. In the well-known Disney version, the sleeping Princess Aurora is woken by a kiss from the Prince. “In that version, the princess is comatose and passive, awaiting the prince’s kiss – a sign of his power over her – to waken her,” says Jones.

In Perrault’s version, she says, the sleeping princess wakes up on her own when the curse ends simply because the prince has entered the room. As he falls to his knees at the sight of her, she sits up and says, “Are you my prince? You certainly took your time.”

It’s a very different way of reading that scene, Jones points out. Schacker adds, “The irreverence in the princess’s comments are there in the original – we tend to think of those qualities as very post-modern. We imagine that fairy tales are serious, oriented towards life lessons, but they have always contained lots of irony and playfulness.” The dark side of fairy tales – as shown in TV’s Grimm, for example, was also part of the original stories. “We think these dimensions are new twists, but they’re not,” says Schacker.

To read Teresa Pitman’s full article “Once Upon a Time, Fairy Tales Had a Dark Side” click here.
  • Anne

    Kudos to Jones and Schacker!! Fairy tales have always been a favorite of mine, and now I’ll be able to read new translations of old versions when their book comes out. I just loved what Sleeping Beauty said to the prince!! Who knew Disney had it all wrong.

  • Alice

    WOW! Think of all the girls that would benefit from knowing that ending of Sleeping Beauty. I hope Jones and Schacker bring their new perspectives to Hollywood and set it all straight!

  • JA

    I love the concept of connecting two classes across international borders… that must be really fun for the students but also for these two women leading the classes.

    PS – I’m also happy to know that Sleeping Beauty was really a snarky bad-ass. 🙂

  • Guy from Hells Kitchen

    I’d love to read the original versions of “modern day” fairy tales. How different they must be. Great stuff.

  • TheUncharmingPrince

    I had the great pleasure to be a part of Dr. Schacker’s course this semester. I must say, the experience was tremendously rewarding. While I only met Dr. Jones once, I can say with conviction that both of these women are absolutely enthralling to listen to. Their passion and base of knowledge is undeniable. I can also honestly say that I am a more knowledgeable individual as a direct result of having been in that class.

    On another note…

    Disney didn’t get the tales “wrong”; they reinterpreted them. There are many variations when it comes to these stories; each one plays with previous versions and reinterprets the text. We can’t point a finger at any variation and state that it is the definitive version. New variations should be welcomed as their intertextuality only helps to complicate and enhance the other versions. I think Henry Glassie said it best when he stated that there “is no author of ‘Cinderella’; there are thousands of authors of thousands of ‘Cinderellas.’”

    That being said; In my opinion, Disney does often manage to produce the least interesting versions of these tales.

  • LRB

    This is a course I would have really enjoyed taking in college and the ability to connect with students not only at another university, but in a different country, altogether, is an incredible educational opportunity. These two women should be commended not only for their academic accomplishments but for their obvious passion and dedication to educating our youth.

  • CaffeineFree

    As someone whose only experience with fairy tales was having them read to me or reading them myself as a child, I had no idea that there were different versions of the same stories. I’m now very interested in reading this anthology because I’d love to see if I know any of the fairy tales they included and how different they are from the versions I know. Really fun subject!

  • Dorn

    Such a nice piece to cover! The excitement of learning, inter-university instruction, online introductions and discussions, collaborations across disciplines, and 2 professors who love their subject matter.

  • Elisa

    In one of the darkest parts of human history, the Third Reich also re-wrote Sleeping Beauty (among many other fairy tales) in order to educate Hitler’s Youth. Sleeping Beauty represented the German nation, and Adolf Hitler was the prince who kissed them into awakening.

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