Many thanks to Elizabeth Daniels for guest blogging! Today she is taking on the subject of society’s recent instance that the characters in fairy tales make for poor role models. For those of us who love romance, it takes a shot at the very heart of that whole Happily Ever After thing we love so much. Is it still okay to enjoy a good Cinderella story? Read on…
Like most lovers of paranormal romance, I grew up loving fairy tales, both in books and on the big screen. Fairy tales were my first exposure to fantasy. The thought of magic and the otherworldly, of mystical kingdoms and strange worlds fired my imagination as a child, and it’s a fire that never dimmed. It’s why I write. More importantly, it’s why I write what I write.
So imagine how I felt when I read that fairy tale princesses – and fairy tale heroines in general – are getting some bad press these days.
At the heart of the controversy, past the objections to crowns and pink and girly spangles, is a claim that strikes my heart as a livelong lover of fantasy: that fairy tale heroines, Disney or otherwise, are poor role models for girls. According to these people, we should not only discourage our daughters from reading any but the most PC and revised fairy tales, but also shun the classic fairy tales altogether.
As a paranormal writer and as a mother, I was hit with both barrels of this argument, as it were. I’ve learned to shrug off criticisms of romance and erotica, but this disturbed me. As a writer, I wondered if I was feeding a problem if I chose to use a fairy tale as inspiration for a story. As a reader (and a mother), these claims made me worry I was inadvertently harming my daughter by sharing these much-loved tales and movies with her.
I decided I’d take an objective look at some of these claims and see if they really did have merit.
The good news was that my researches set my mind at ease. The bad news was that a lot of the claims were based upon people who apparently believed that all fairy tales stopped and ended with Disney. Very few seem to have also read the tales upon which the movies were based, or at least, if they did, they failed to mention it.
But hey. I’ll give them a pass; not everyone cherished their copy of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales (blood, guts, murdered mothers, cut off horse heads and all) as I did. The language can be archaic. And some fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen’s in particular) are just downright depressing.
Yet even in the most mass-marketed Disney-ized fairy tales, the situation isn’t as dire as the naysayers would have us believe. Just to prove the point, let’s analyze two of the most reviled Disney princesses and see what positive lessons we can draw from the stories.
1. Cinderella. Cindy is tops on the hit parade for the anti-fairy tale crowd – hit parade, as in, they’d like to put a hit out on her. The chief objection is that Cinderella really does nothing more than sing sugary songs while she passively waits for her prince to come and give her the glass Manolo Blahnik slipper she lost. Of course, he does and la-la, things are solved.
That’s their view. Here’s mine.
Cinderella’s stuck in a bad family situation with stepsibs and a stepmother she doesn’t like who hate her in return. She really hasn’t the resources to get out of that situation, either.
There’s few of us who can’t sympathize with some aspect of her predicament. Even if we haven’t been cursed with the Stepfamily From Hell, we’ve probably been stuck in a job we couldn’t afford to quit with a boss and/or co-workers we hated. So Cinderella’s situation is realistic and relevant. Given the age of the original fairy tale, that’s pretty impressive.
How does Cinderella handle her situation? She sticks it out. She never quits, she never stops hoping, and she never stops believing in love. The lesson? That sometimes in life, you’re going to be stuck in a place you don’t want to be, a place you can’t change to suit yourself, no matter how much you might like to do so. The trick is to stay true to yourself, keep going, and believe that good things still exist in the world – even if at the moment, you’re sure not getting any of them.
I’d call that a good lesson.
2. Ariel. The Little Mermaid star comes under fire because she has everything, yet she’s willing to throw away all she has and even change what she is for the chance to win the love of a prince she barely knows. Her detractors claim it sends little girls the message that only the love of a man is worth having, and that winning one is more important than maintaining who they are.
At least nobody can claim Ariel’s passive!
As with Cinderella, most of us can relate to some aspect of Ariel’s situation. How many of us have had to move to a strange place to take a job offer? How about spouses of military personnel who choose to follow their spouses to obscure corners of the world? How many of us have been attracted to someone with a completely different lifestyle than our own and wondered how to find common ground with them?
Ariel wants the prince, but what’s conveniently forgotten is that her curiosity about worlds outside her own existed before she met him. He was just the impetus to get her to take action. She has to take a giant leap of faith and do some things which are painful and even frightening in order to get what she wants. In the end, however, her belief in her ability to accomplish her goal pays off.
The lessons learned? That we should not be afraid to try something different. We may have to leave behind those we love. We may have to change in unexpected or even painful ways. Yet with no risk, there is no reward.
While I disagree with the fairy tale detractors, I am glad their claims caused me to go back and re-examine the roots of my love for the paranormal. Our fairy tale heroines give us life lessons, entertainment and a happily ever after. And there’s nothing at all wrong about that.
— Elizabeth Daniels
Find out more at ElizabethDaniels.com