Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fairy Tale or CSI?

Fables: Legends in Exile is a compulsively readable contemporary reworking of the traditional fairy tales. Incorporating characters from such classics as Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast, this story, which is rendered in comic book form, takes place in modern-day New York City.

In many ways, the fairy tale has been updated to reflect a more contemporary milieu. Characters are decidedly modern: they use profane language, make raunchy jokes, and essentially look and behave like normal humans, dressing in modern garb and using public transportation. Moreover, the female characters have evolved from passive, demure creatures to autonomous and assertive individuals. Many of the story’s female characters are divorcees, and many, like Snow White, occupy positions of power in society. Unlike the traditional fairy tale, a rigid patriarchal framework does not underlie Fables, mirroring the more progressive conception of women in today’s world.

Another way in which Fables deviates from, say, a traditional Grimm Brothers tale is through its explicit sexual content. Many of the scenes are explicitly erotic, and characters frequently make bawdy jokes and references. For example, Prince Charming emerges as a shameless womanizer who sleeps with a steakhouse waitress simply to nab money off her. In this way, Fables departs from the decidedly de-sexualized 19th century fairy tale and returns to the outright crudeness we see in older tales such as “The Story of Grandmother.”

One of the most marked digressions from the fairy tale tradition is the glaring lack of magic. In order to blend into humanity—or, rather, the “mundane” masses—the characters refrain from the use of magic. Indeed, in order to solve the crime, the Wolf relies solely on his wits, employing crime scene investigation techniques to unravel the mystery. No “magical helper” swoops in to elucidate the truth and uncover the murderer.

Aside from the fact that it borrows fairy tale characters, Fables is more evocative of an episode of CSI than an actual fairy tale. Willingham has revised the fairy tale almost beyond recognition, in my opinion. Really, the only way I could understand Fables as a “fairy tale” is the fact that it adheres to Vladimir Propp’s Five Functions of a fairy tale—there is a lack of something (Red Rose is missing); a quest (the Wolf sets out to solve the mystery); presence of helpers (Snow White jumps in to help) and opponents (Bluebeard proves uncooperative); tests (trying to unravel the case); and finally, a reward (the mystery of Red Rose’s disappearance is deduced). What do you think? Are they any other ways in which Fables is distinctly paralleling the fairy tale tradition?

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