Category Archives: Fairy Tales

The Analysis of Socio-Cultural and Political Perspectives of Childhood Through Cross-Media Adaptations of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”

© Olivia Moore, Ryerson University

In twenty-first century Western society, there are many examples of children’s literature, in particular picture books, being altered and adapted to become cross-media sensations. As technology continues to develop and children are exposed to more forms of stimuli, picture books and the stories they depict are also evolving to compete within this multimedia market. This analysis will conduct a focused case study on two texts, “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Cap” within “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” in order to gain a more concrete understanding of how picture books transform into cross-media phenomena. It will additionally explore the manner in which this results in making the stories more attractive to young audiences, and how these changes reflect societal perceptions of what is deemed appropriate for young audiences.

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“Grimm’s Fairy Tales”. New York: Mershon Company, 1901, Children’s Literature Archive, Ryerson University, accessed 2017. Public Domain.

Picture Books & Cross-Media Adaptations

Before analyzing the transformations of the Grimm’s tales, it is imperative to first understand why cross-media adaptations are so popular with young audiences and how incorporating aspects of interactivity cause children to be more likely to engage with these stories. Many picture books have become hybrid book-toy (Meibauer 252) merchandise. In her analysis of the evolution of picture books, Meibauer states, “By and large, these books are distinguished by a playful approach to broadening the child’s spatial concept, but they also demand that the beholders pay active attention,” (Meibauer 252). Instead of simply reading a picture book or having a picture book read to them, children are able to gain tactile, auditory and sometimes scented experiences through picture book-toy hybrids. Being exposed to all of these different forms of stimuli help a child to stay interested within the picture book and thus enable them to engage more directly with the story. This concept can also be applied to the adaptation of picture books to film or apps. Through being able to have an improved visual representation of the story and discover more details about their favourite characters, children can better relate more to the story and therefore become more invested. This heightened engagement of the young audience allows for further marketing and advertising. Toys are developed so that children can continue creating stories with their favourite characters and further invest themselves within the original plotlines. Branding ensures that young readers remain familiarized with their favourite stories and characters, in order to continue consuming goods based on stories that have ultimately derived from picture books. It is evident that in such an age of technological advancement and being in a society where information is obtained so instantaneously, children are currently bombarded with different forms of stimuli. In order for picture books to resonate successfully with children in twenty-first century Western society, they must have the ability to offer different types of stimuli in order to stimulate engagement and interest.

The Evolution of “Rapunzel”

Focusing on the story of “Rapunzel” within “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, it is apparent that the text has been adapted several times using different methods to appeal to both adults and children. It has been retold in the form of picture books such as Debbie Lavreys’s “Rapunzel” published in 2010. The story has been adapted from that of the Brothers Grimm to be more appropriate for young children. In order to be perceived as suitable for a young audience, the more sinister undertones of the original story are muted. In Zipes’s analysis of the adaptation of the Grimm’s tales he states, “The tendency of most Grimm picture books and small collections for children is to infantilize the texts and to

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“Tangled”, International Movie Database, 2010. Public Domain.

provide illustrations that downplay sensitive but significant social issues,” (Zipes 57). This demonstrates twenty-first century Western society’s perspective towards children as altering these texts demonstrates that they are considered too sensitive and vulnerable to be educated on critical social issues. The most recent adaptation of “Rapunzel” is Disney’s film “Tangled”, released in 2010. Although “Tangled” loosely follows the plot of “Rapunzel”, many important plot points from the original story are dismissed. In this version of the tale, Rapunzel serves as a rambunctious female heroine, thus reflecting changing societal ideologies concerning female independence and empowerment.

Adaptations of “Little Red Cap”

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“Science on the trail of The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood.” Durham University, November 2013. Public Domain.

The second text, “Little Red Cap”, after further research, seems to be an adaptation of another story altogether. “Little Red Cap” is thought to be an adaptation of “The Wolf and The Kids”, which was published around 1st century AD (“Science on…”). However, the Brothers Grimm also wrote a tale titled “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids”. This demonstrates how many times the story of “Little Red Cap”, now more commonly known as “Little Red Riding Hood” has been altered over time to appeal to society depending on the adaptation’s time of publication. The story was adapted to children’s film in Disney’s short film “Little Red Riding Hood”, released in 1922. The latest film rendition of “Into The Woods”, released in 2014, is the most recent adaptation of the classic tale. “Into The Woods” exhibits an inquisitive and autonomous Red Riding Hood character, similar to the adaptation of Rapunzel’s character, thus further appealing to societal perceptions that value female independence and expression. As a result of the transcendence of “Little Red Cap” through time and generations, a plethora of merchandise has been created based on “Little Red Riding Hood”. T-shirts, mugs, and even hand-crafted jewelry have extended the story beyond its plot in literature and film. Different forms of media enable a child to navigate different forms of media outside that of literature (Meibauer 261).  As a result, children may be exposed to the plot of certain stories through the acquisition of associated products as opposed to the story itself.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and Childhood in the 21st Century

Through analyzing these two texts belonging to the “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, it becomes evident that children’s stories are adapted to conform to societal views pertaining to what is deemed as appropriate for young audiences. These stories are then transformed into cross-media sensations as children are able to experience the story through different forms of media. Therefore, having more opportunities to form connections to the stories and thus becoming more likely to invest in merchandise affiliated with the plots and characters. This analysis illustrates the manner in which picture books and children’s literature must adapt to compete with new technology and integrate themselves within the new technological and commercial world in order to appeal to younger audiences. However, this also ensures that these classic tales continue to be passed from generation to generation despite the alterations that have been made to adapt them.

Works Cited

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” New York: The Mershon Company, 1901, Children’s Literature Archive, accessed 2017.

Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina. “From baby books to picturebooks for adults: European picturebooks in the new millennium”. Word & Image, vol. 33, no. 3, Taylor & Francis, 2015, 249-261.

“Science on the trail of The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood.” Durham University, November 2013.

“Tangled”, International Movie Database, 2010. Public Domain.

Zipes, Jack. “Two Hundred Years After Once Upon A Time: The Legacy of the Brothers Grimm and Their Tales in Germany.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 28, no. 1, 2014, pp. 54-74.

Lessons on Heroicism, Religion, and Manliness in Kingsley’s Retelling of Greek Myths

Inside and Outside Titles
Figure 1: Cover and Title Page

© 2013, Sarah Lane

Kingsley, Charles. The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children. Illus. W. Russell Flint. Plymouth: The Medici Society Ltd., 1912. Print.

The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children by Charles Kingsley was first published in 1855 at Christmas (Alderson 81). The version found at the Children’s Literature Archive was published in 1912, in Great Britain, by the Medici Society who subsequently reprinted it many times throughout the early 20th century. The Medici Society, founded in 1908, originally published works of art for the general public. Eventually, the company began publishing different items including children’s books (“A Short History of Medici”). The nine illustrations featured in this edition of The Heroes are prints of water-colour drawings by W. Russell Flint. Flint, a Scottish born painter, began his work as a medical illustrator and later shifted his focus towards illustrating story books, including this one (“About Sir William Russell Flint”). It is possible that the Medici Society, being interested in publishing artwork, published Kingsley’s The Heroes mainly for the sake of showcasing Flint’s illustrations. Although, arguably, both the illustrations and the text can be considered works of art. Bound with a simple green cover embossed with an image that also appears on its inside title page, this edition of Kingsley’s Heroes is simple in design (see figure 1). Yet, the quality of both Kingsley’s text and Flint’s illustrations make it a beautiful piece of work.

Theseus and the Minotaur
Figure 2: Theseus Slays the Minotaur
[Theseus] caught him by the horns, and forced his head back, and drove his keen sword through his throat
In 1855, when Kingsley wrote The Heroes, England was fighting against the Russians in the Crimean War (“Crimean War”). War is a time when young men, theoretically, go off to fight a common enemy for the benefit of the greater good. This is similar to what the heroes experience in Kingsley’s text. Theseus, for example, ventures out across the country, defeating evil monsters, to reclaim the land for himself and his people (see figure 2). Many of the soldiers who fight in real life wars, as well as the young heroes of the Greek myths, begin their journeys as boys but are matured by their experience and come home as men. Through his reiteration of these Greek myths, Kingsley is showing young boys, for whom the threat of war is very real and the possibility of one day becoming a soldier very likely, that men, particularly warriors, can be heroes. For this reason, it is understandable that Kingsley’s book has continued to be published long after his death. War, unfortunately, plagues the world quite frequently. Whether it be on a grand scale such as the world wars, or on a smaller civil war scale, many young men, and now women, have to do as the Greek heroes did and go out and fight for what they believe is right. In 1912, when this edition of The Heroes was published, England was not at war (though WWI would begin only two years later), but their military was still developing and preparing young soldiers for conflict (“The Army Manoeuvres of 1912”). Therefore, this edition of The Heroes still served a similar purpose as Kingsley’s original version, in that it taught children about heroism and how to be a soldier for the Lord.

Cheiron Prays for the Safety of the Argonauts
Figure 3: Cheiron Prays for the Argonauts
He went up to a cliff, and prayed for them, that they might come home safe and well

It may at first seem surprising that a devout Christian, such as Kingsley (Fasick 106), would choose to write about the Greeks. However, despite the fact that they worshiped different deities, many Christians in Kingsley’s Victorian society were very interested in comparing the similarities between ancient Greek and modern Christian religions (Louis 331). Some of the parallels, such as ideas regarding heaven, hell and sin, make themselves known in The Heroes. These Greek tales gave Kingsley an opportunity to teach his children valuable, religious lessons, while at the same time entertain them with the fantastical elements often found in Greek myths. His children could learn to serve the Lord as the Greeks served their Gods – selflessly and actively. Yet, Kingsley also made sure that his children knew that the Greeks, unlike the Christians, fell from God’s grace. When the Greek heroes pleased their Gods, with prayer and good deeds, the Gods helped them in return (see figure 3). However, when they grew too proud or displeased the Gods, as Theseus did, they were punished. In both 1855 and 1912, when religion was being debated constantly and facing some serious changes, this book and the lessons within it would have been valuable to Christians wanting to instil their own values on their children (“Volume E”; “Volume F”). This text also allowed Kingsley, specifically, to explore his interest in a more unique branch of Christianity.

Christian manliness or, as it was later called, Muscular Christianity, was a branch of Christianity, which Kingsley advocated, that favoured a balance between strength, manliness, and piety (Fasick 106). Kingsley did not like the idea of men being inactive. He wanted them to go out in the world and do God’s work, or do things that would please the Lord (Norman 31). In The Heroes, Perseus, Jason, and Theseus are bold, strong, and courageous, but they are also extremely devout and show a softer side as well. This is the type of man that he wanted his son, and all young boys, to try to become. Through these stories Kingsley was able to give them role models to try to live up to, role models that he shaped into ideal images of Christian manliness.

Beyond the aforementioned reasons, Kingsley’s Heroes has one final appeal that would have been valuable for the books audience in both 1855 and 1912. The Heroes, like many children’s stories, seems as though it is meant to be read aloud and enjoyed by the whole family. Family meant a great deal to Kingsley and that is apparent in this text (Fasick 107). Throughout the stories, he addresses his children; he engages with them. Such a writing style provides a great opportunity for parents to bond with their own children. The limited number of illustrations also allows children and adults alike to use their imaginations to picture the events that occur within the story. Combining stories that are meant to be told, not just read, with minimal illustrations that left much to the imagination, this book would have been a great gift to share with family. In Kingsley’s time, he probably read the book to his children. Whereas, in 1912, when this edition was published, schooling had become compulsory and more and more children were learning how to read on their own (“Volume F: The 20th Century and After”). Yet, despite the fact that the reader, the audience, and the presentation may have changed, at its core, this text remains the same. It remains a beautiful collection of stories that anyone can enjoy.


Works Cited

“A Short History of Medici.” The Medici Society Limited. The Medici Society, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2013

“About Sir William Russell Flint.” Sir William Russell Flint Prints. Sir William Russell Flint Prints, 2013.     Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Alderson, Brian. “Heroic Reading.” Children’s Literature in Education 26.1 (1995): 73-82. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“The Army Manoeuvres of 1912.” Cambridge County Council. Cambridgeshire County Council, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013

“Crimean War.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013

Fasick, Laura. “The Failure of Fatherhood: Maleness and Its Discontents in Charles Kingsley.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 18.3 (1993): 106-111. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

Louis, Margot. K. “Gods and Mysteries: The Revival of Paganism and the Remaking of Mythography Through the Nineteenth Century.” Victorian Studies 47.3 (2005): 329-361, Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Norman, Vance. “Kingsley’s Christian Manliness.” Theology 78 (1975): 30-38, Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“Volume E: The Victorian Age.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition: W. W. Norton StudySpace. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

“Volume F: The 20th Century and After.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition: W. W. Norton StudySpace. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

view this exhibit on the CLA Omeka site